It all comes back to fun
September 21, 2014 3:11 PM   Subscribe

When the champion of adult culture is portrayed, even by himself, as an old curmudgeon yelling at the kids to get off his lawn, it suggests that this adult culture is one of the unfortunate but necessary costs of coming into adulthood. We give up the pleasures of entertainment for the seriousness of art. I just don’t think that this is true. Christopher Beha on Henry James and the Great Young Adult Debate.
posted by shivohum (47 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow, this was lovely, and a much better response than I ever thought I'd see to that awful mess of an essay by A.O. Scott or that execrable Ruth Graham whinefest. Thanks so much for posting this! I liked it very much!
posted by Greg Nog at 3:40 PM on September 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


For the most part, this involves simplifying things—first the diction and syntax, but finally the whole picture of life.

This is 100% pure unadulterated bullshit. First of all, every piece of fiction simplifies the "whole picture of life", this is why we generally see very few characters sleeping, eating breakfast, waiting for their toast to cook, peeing, waiting in lines, etc. Art always makes choices about how to pare down what it is representing: a photo chooses its angle, its frame, the size of its subject within it, etc; this does not mean that it is poorer than a photo that chooses to encapsulate more.

The idea that YA fiction is somehow something adult that has been whittled down to be made readable by dumb children is absolutely absurd.

Yes, YA novels have to be accessible to teenagers, but teenagers aren't stupid. They tend to have certain areas of interest and they often tend to want to read fiction in which they are reflected, if only so that they may identify with the characters, so they tend to be young. They also tend to have pretty high emotional stakes, because that's just how being an adolescent is; things feel like the end of the world when they're bad and the height of your life when they're good. This makes that life stage a pretty good setting for fiction, because you already have the emotional magnitude of what's happening amplified somewhat by the characters. This allows writers to do things with YA that you can't do with adult or children's fiction.

The idea that what YA readers are doing is "reading a book that might just as easily be enjoyed by a child" is also spurious; I read a lot of YA and I take a pretty different reading from it now than when I read it as a child or as an adolescent. Part of it is that I spend time writing myself, so I recognize elements of craft that I didn't before. Part of it is that I have more life experience, so I am more discerning about fictional elements that read as so unrealistic as to jar me out of reading; I notice sexism and misogyny and heteronormativity and race in ways I didn't when I was younger. My taste in YA has a lot of overlap with the stuff I liked to read as a teenager, but there are lots of books I loved then that are far less good than I remembered upon reread; likewise there are things I probably would never have been interested in when I was younger that I do like now.

I'm better able to tease out the social commentary in novels as well as the stuff included by the author as a part of their basic worldview. I read a lot of dystopias and apocalypses, so I see all the ways that people see the world ending, the things that they fear taking over their government, the elements of government they are afraid of taking a greater hold, the structures of society that they see as ready to crumble, and through what's popular and the way people talk about what they're reading I can see what of those elements resonate with people. This is something you can do with science fiction in a way that you can't do with anything else, and if The Hunger Games and The Giver are somewhat heavy-handed in their portrayals of these worlds, so are 1984, Brave New World and The Handmaid's Tale.

I'm going to make kind of a weird jump here and compare this to Katamari Damacy, because I've been thinking about that game because of the earlier post on it today. Katamari Damacy manages to use the graphical capabilities available to it in a way that is smart, funny, and beautiful. It takes the constraints that game designers have to constantly run against and flourishes within them; anyone playing Katamari would likely look at the blocky graphics and think that they put it like that because they thought it looked good, because it suited the gameplay, not because they had a limited amount of polygons to work with, though, in a way, both of those things are true. The same thing can be said of the graphics of many older games. Baldur's Gate II has gorgeously painted isometric backgrounds, Myst chose to sacrifice some ability to walk/turn/move intricately in order to give detailed, beautifully rendered scenery.

YA fiction is often the same way. You have a story to tell, and you want to tell it in a way that's accessible to a certain audience, and you choose to work within the limitations of that. It doesn't mean you're choosing to dumb down your writing or reduce the complexity of life portrayed in it. Saying that we're choosing to read something "accessible to children" when we could be reading something for adults seems as ridiculous to me as asking why I would want to play Baldur's Gate II when I could play something with fancy modern graphics, and my answer is that there is beauty that can be achieved with isometric art that you don't get with modern 3d renderings. There are some stories that you can tell better as YA, and many of those are stories that I personally find interesting and fun to read.
posted by NoraReed at 3:59 PM on September 21, 2014 [24 favorites]


I confess that I began reading this with the expectation - given that it begins with some braggadocio about reading the entire Jamesian canon - that it would be fraught with the kind if abstruse, self-important literary criticism that has nowadays caused me generally to eschew essays on high art in literature. However, with every paragraph in this essay, I found myself pleasantly surprised by a new nugget for contemplation that propelled me into each subsequent paragraph, until I was at last dismayed to find I'd reached the end.

There is much to reflect on and respond to here. I'll simply say that Beha hits at the key of all this, for me, when he describes, near the end, the source of frustration in reading some YA fiction:
The picture of life that it gave was so obviously false that it seemed designed to appeal to someone who hadn’t lived very much of it, and thus couldn’t tell the difference.
Of all the criticisms I've heard for the "Twilight" series, for example, this one, by far, seems to get at the heart of it.

Even fantasy, it seems, should respect its reader.
posted by darkstar at 4:09 PM on September 21, 2014 [12 favorites]


A little more of that quote:

But I disliked “The Goldfinch” precisely because I found it so boring. It was boring not because it was insufficiently “literary” but because it was overly “literary.” Not a single character or moment in the book felt lived in any meaningful way. The picture of life that it gave was so obviously false that it seemed designed to appeal to someone who hadn’t lived very much of it, and thus couldn’t tell the difference.

The last sentence is indeed good, but I'm not so happy with the second one. If we are going to use "literary" in a way that excludes Grace Paley and Alice Munro but includes The Goldfinch, Perdido Street Station, and Twilight, we're using it in a way that's really, really far from what people customarily mean by the word.
posted by escabeche at 4:15 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, ok, but I don't think that the problem with the Twilight series is that it's YA. I think the problem is that it's really bad YA. Tom Clancy novels aren't good, either, but that's not because adult fiction (or adult genre fiction, or thrillers, or fiction by right-wing nutjobs or whatever other category you want to slot hem into) is inherently bad.

I think that many novels can be enjoyed by people at different stages of life, who can take different things from them. I have a theory that teenagers tend to read The Fault in Our Stars and think the central relationship in the book is between Hazel and Gus, and adults tend to read it and think the central relationship is between Hazel and her parents. I'm not saying that TFIOS is great literature (but then neither are a lot of the adult books that I read), but it's a book that reads differently depending on your life experience, which is probably pretty typical for novels in general.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:23 PM on September 21, 2014 [9 favorites]


I think the editing process failed Donna Tartt. There are some really great scenes, but there is also a lot of sloppy and repetitive writing. Dickens was writing and publishing quickly, but Tartt's Artful Dodger/Oliver fanfic novel was the product of years of work.

It does seem like American literary fiction has more child protagonists than its British equivalent. Maybe one day I'll sit down and compare the National Book Awards longlists vs Booker.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:40 PM on September 21, 2014


Well, ok, but I don't think that the problem with the Twilight series is that it's YA. I think the problem is that it's really bad YA.

Fair enough. "A Separate Peace" and "Lord of the Flies" are considered YA fiction, but one could argue that their underlying themes are as "mature" as anything in Faulkner. I can buy the argument that they're just more accessible to younger people with less life experience, but older folks can read them and glean insights based on their greater life experience and maturity.

As I say, much to consider in this essay - thanks for posting!
posted by darkstar at 4:42 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


First of all, every piece of fiction simplifies the "whole picture of life", this is why we generally see very few characters sleeping, eating breakfast, waiting for their toast to cook, peeing, waiting in lines, etc.

*cough*

The idea that YA fiction is somehow something adult that has been whittled down to be made readable by dumb children is absolutely absurd.

Well, the article argues that YA can mean either 1) books about things that kids like to read about ("And it does seem that many books have the Y.A. label slapped on them purely because of their subject matter. [...] But, in these cases, the label is simply a marketing tool, which isn’t something that a critic ought to be paying attention to.") or 2) books that intentionally simplify/falsify their depiction of the world in order to be more accessible to kids. Thanks to Beha's amiable failure to provide examples, every reader is free to suppose that the YA novels they like belong in the first category and the ones they dislike belong in the second.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 4:45 PM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm less interested in judging the idea of young adult fiction being popular with adults, and more interested in why it's happening. And these articles are all a bit too broadly stated to get at that.

First of all, it's not all adults reading these books; for the most part it seems to be twenty- and thirty-something women. That's part of why the backlash from within that demographic (Ruth Graham) was particularly harsh, and the responses from male writers (Scott, Beha) strike a more general tone of bafflement.

Second, they are not reading A Separate Peace or S.E. Hinton or Judy Blume, they are reading a particular set of *current* young adult writers, maybe exemplified by Green, who have their own set of standard rules and standard plot elements, which are different in many ways from those of their predecessors.

For example, it seems like one of those plot elements is a particular kind of boy-girl romance (even if unconsummated) in which at least one of them is sort of awkward and/or quirky but both are terribly sincere in their feelings for each other in a way that's maybe a little beyond their years? And would it be crazy to speculate that this is an appealing form of "escapism" at this moment in time because of the caddish and immature behavior (bemoaned in so many other articles) of many men of the readers' own age?

I really don't mean to sound critical. As an example, I like private eye novels; I am well aware that there are formulaic elements to these books, that they appeal to a certain demographic of readers, and that they appeal to us for clearly articulable reasons. I think that's all interesting to discuss and does not necessarily detract from the value of the work. I'd like to have the same kind of discussion about the current wave of young adult books, about what they're really tapping into at a sociological level, but that's impossible if we don't get a little more specific about who's reading them and what they contain.
posted by neat graffitist at 5:13 PM on September 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


First of all, every piece of fiction simplifies the "whole picture of life", this is why we generally see very few characters sleeping, eating breakfast, waiting for their toast to cook, peeing, waiting in lines, etc.

EVERY MORNING I WAKE UP AND OPEN PALM SLAM A VHS INTO THE SLOT. IT'S JEANNE DIELMAN 23 QUAI DU COMMERCE 1080 BRUXELLES AND RIGHT THEN AND THERE I START DOING THE MOVES ALONGSIDE WITH THE MAIN CHARACTER, JEANNE
posted by Greg Nog at 5:21 PM on September 21, 2014 [16 favorites]


First of all, every piece of fiction simplifies the "whole picture of life", this is why we generally see very few characters sleeping, eating breakfast, waiting for their toast to cook, peeing, waiting in lines, etc.

Karl Ove Knausgaard. Not saying it's good, just that it exists and is very detailed.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:37 PM on September 21, 2014


Lem Dobbs: "Teenagers used to be a niche audience. Now everybody else is."


NoraReed: YA fiction is often the same way. You have a story to tell, and you want to tell it in a way that's accessible to a certain audience, and you choose to work within the limitations of that. It doesn't mean you're choosing to dumb down your writing or reduce the complexity of life portrayed in it.

How is telling a story that's accessible to young adults not necessarily reducing the complexity of life? Young adults just don't have the same frames of reference as adults. That's not their fault. It's just the truth of life. Thus, if YA is made for a teenage audience (as you said "the limitations" of the telling), it means YA does not elevate teenagers to the level of adults as much as it pulls adults down to the level of teenagers.
posted by hadlexishere at 7:08 PM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Reading something like Henry James really is ambitious for most people though, even if there's something about it that's "fun" in the subtle extension of "fun" or whatever, and I doubt much of anybody would do it who didn't hope or expect to be edified or improved in at least some sense. And I think some non-zero part of this debate really does reduce to attitudes about how aspirational our reading should be, which, even if "aspirational-ness" has to be relativized to a reader or a readerly cohort, maybe there's something to the thought that Harry Potter is insufficiently aspirational.

Something funny about the debate though, is that 15 or 20 years ago, you used to hear more of the idea that escapist and insipid culture grew in the soil of various kinds of political and socioeconomic disfunction--worlds that were in some way too enervated for better things. Even as a kid, I feel like I inherited or absorbed a standard kind of critique of mass culture in the '80s--slasher movies, car chase tv shows etc.--as being pegged to various kinds of Reagan-era political and economic uncertainties and so on. Systemic things. But now, so often, the final "end of the line," bottoming out sort of answer to the insipid culture question seems to be some variant of: well, you are immature babies who just want to gorge on marshmallows all day. And, again, in a way, it kinda feels like the baby boomers are playing their trick of shutting the door behind themselves to full fledged citizenship in some way, in this case membership in some foggy local value of "adulthood."
posted by batfish at 7:16 PM on September 21, 2014 [10 favorites]


How is telling a story that's accessible to young adults not necessarily reducing the complexity of life?

Someone is going to have to seriously convince me that life is more complicated as an adult than it is as an adolescent. The things we care about/focus on/be responsible for change, and the consequences of ignoring those things may be more harmful to us in ways that are harder to fix, but I think life is just about equally complicated no matter what age you are.

Now, the problems a rich middle-age white guy faces may seem trivial to a poor younger black person, or the problems of a tween girl might also seem trivial to a retired professor, but I am convinced that my life now is no more complicated than my life at ages 10, 20, 30 or 40.

Part of what convinces us that life gets more complex is that as we get older, we get answers to the big problems of our younger selves, and because we know those answers it makes those problems seem trite compared to the things we're still battling.
posted by maxwelton at 7:22 PM on September 21, 2014 [7 favorites]


I didn't say that stories "about" young adults couldn't be complex, but that stories that were "accessible" to young adults often necessarily lack complexity. I teach high school English and know that high school students often have a very small window through which they comprehend the world that isn't their immediate experience. As one grows and matures, that window widens -- that's part of the joy of reading more challenging material; it helps you widen that window.
posted by hadlexishere at 7:29 PM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


EVERY MORNING I WAKE UP AND OPEN PALM SLAM A VHS INTO THE SLOT. IT'S JEANNE DIELMAN 23 QUAI DU COMMERCE 1080 BRUXELLES AND RIGHT THEN AND THERE I START DOING THE MOVES ALONGSIDE WITH THE MAIN CHARACTER, JEANNE

you son of a
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:37 PM on September 21, 2014


I enjoyed that, thank you, and I do agree with his contention that there is something about development or growing - or its lack - that is intrinsic to our idea of a novel.
posted by smoke at 7:40 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Part of what convinces us that life gets more complex is that as we get older, we get answers to the big problems of our younger selves, and because we know those answers it makes those problems seem trite compared to the things we're still battling.

Absolutely. It's not that an adult life is more complex -- but life experience strips away the value of simple answers to problems. The difference between youth and age is experience. A teenager can be moved by and accept solutions than an adult would consider naive at best.

Teenagers, like everyone, have bullshit detectors. But those detectors have not been calibrated by extensive use. (Granted, this applies to many adults as well, but that's a different argument.) Fiction grappling with life problems intended for an adult should possess the nuance that gets it past an experienced person. We've lived long enough to know that the simpler answers and understandings come with major problems. That nuance can sap vitality from a narrative, sad to say. But if you've lived and paid attention to life past a certain point, a lack of nuance when grappling with life problems makes a story seem facile or childish. If you aren't to that point, then adult-level nuance is unsatisfying, an unnecessary diffusion of intensity or muddling of waters. Better to read what feels truer and more alive, right?

The regular defense of YA, that it's as sophisticated as adult literature, just isn't true. John Green's novel about people with cancer lacks the complexities of (non-shitty) adult novels of the same topic. YA can be brilliantly constructed and well written, but that does not make it an adult book. This is not a dig. A well-composed string quartet piece is not a symphony, because it was never meant to be. ...that was probably a terrible analogy. Ah, crap.

All that said, I agree with the idea that you should read what speaks to you and feels true and right to you. That's the point of literature, goddammit. Also, I have longboxes full of comic books in my house that back up my bona fides on this. I got no ground to sneer at anyone's choice of material. ("Oooh, how is Spider-Man going to defeat the Hobgoblin?" is not a question Henry James ever asked. He should have, but he didn't.)

The essay linked to in the original post here is bang on. Great stuff.

By the way, Henry James is worth a read. Daisy Miller is quality shit, people.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 7:46 PM on September 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


Putting down “Harry Potter” for Henry James is not one of adulthood’s obligations, like flossing and mortgage payments; it’s one of its rewards, like autonomy and sex.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:06 PM on September 21, 2014


Young adults just don't have the same frames of reference as adults. That's not their fault. It's just the truth of life. Thus, if YA is made for a teenage audience (as you said "the limitations" of the telling), it means YA does not elevate teenagers to the level of adults as much as it pulls adults down to the level of teenagers.

Every method of storytelling reduces the complexity of life because life is enormous beyond all comprehension; any way of telling a story takes things out because that is a limitation of not only every method of storytelling but a limitation of humans. There is no such thing as a story that is not reduced in complexity both because we are limited by our lack of omniscience and limited by our language to communicate constantly in approximations; this is a standard part of the human condition that we have to come to grasps with in order to live. It seems completely absurd to say that stuff that's written to an age group that is in the midst of a really important, formative time of their life is somehow reduced because of that.

Adults don't have a perspective that's, you know, childhood + adolescence + adulthood or whatever. Humans are constantly forming and reforming our memories, approximating our own lives, simplifying and reducing our own narratives. It's really, really easy to dismiss teenagers because it's an age where you're really emotional and you care about things, but there are a lot of depths of feeling that are pretty much impossible once you're out of that life stage. It varies what those are from person to person, and a lot of us are happy to lose them, but there is a certain perspective that ONLY teenagers can access, because while we adults can look at them fondly or patronizingly as we want, we've calmed in a way where we lose that capacity, just like we lose a lot of our capacities to play, to learn, to ride rollercoasters without throwing up, etc. One of the things that reading YA literature does is allow you to see a bit of what currently speaks to that group of people, even if it gives "simplistic answers"; it can be really grounding, and it can be sweet, and it can help keep you from losing the empathy for adolescents that turns a lot of adults into patronizing wiser-than-thou jackasses.

A lot of this stuff really rubs me the wrong way because I have pretty much given up on reading books by dead white men. They do not have more "life experience" or "answers" than me, they are boring, and I do not care what they think, because most of the time they are misogynist, homophobic, racist jackasses who did not know what a germ is. I read a fair few classics by women, many of which would probably have been considered YA if that category existed at the time, since they were generally about women in their late teens/early twenties for the duration of the narrative (though often their childhood is gone over at the beginning, as in Jane Eyre). These are far more interesting than books by dead white men, because women have to learn to empathize with men by living in a world where men are basically incapable of shutting up about their perspective, so they have twice as much perspective and generally are better writers for it; they also are much better at being funny than men. So that's why I'm not going through a lot of Great Literature, though I am reading some of it.

There are YA novels that I would absolutely put up against any adult novel in its genre as a paragon of its type. David Levithan's Every Day was gorgeous and enchanting and surreal and will linger on your mind for days. Rachel Hartman's Seraphina has some of the best characters and most intriguing worldbuilding I've ever read. Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire's Newsflesh series, which I'm in the middle of, is one of the most interesting approaches to journalism in science fiction that I've seen and manages to be a zombie book that doesn't spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the actual zombies, since they actually are pretty boring. Ellen Kushner's The Privilege Of The Sword manages to draw elements from Regency romances and swashbuckling adventures and create a coming-of-age story that's rich and smart and queer and funny. Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is beautiful and sad and smart and funny with both characters and worlds that can stand against any classic fantasy and stand tall.

But I think the real reason that reading this pissed me off, that the sort of faux-incredulity the author expresses, is that I'm a part of the generation of young women who reads a lot of YA, and you know what? We've been fucked six ways from Sunday. We can't find jobs, we all have friends we worry about who are struggling, we're seeing all the progress made in civil rights be rolled back. We are old enough that we saw the towers fall but young enough to have felt completely powerless in the political process that used them as a rallying point for paranoid jingoism. We're old enough to have watched every level of support fail the people of New Orleans again and again and again after Hurricane Katrina. We're young enough that we actually had to go through the steaming pile of bullshit that was abstinence-only sexual education and old enough to have figured out that we were literally fed lies about our own bodies; those of us who found out early enough to save ourselves from harm all still know people who didn't.

I think it is incredibly dense of anyone to look at women in my generation and say "why would you want to read something like that". It's a book about a woman who gets used and traumatized and ends up becoming a symbol for a revolution and then is able to make one single decision, the One Big Thing she does AS HERSELF, and that's the way she can change the world, can try to fix things, can get them in a better direction, and she ends up FUCKED UP to ALL HELL but she SURVIVES IT. And don't give me that bullshit about it being "wish fulfillment", because no one WANTS to be Katniss, but a lot of us hope that if we had to, we could. (Also, because there is a pretty significant portion of literature by men that is so incredibly masturbatory and Mary Sue-ish that the idea that being a reason to dismiss something is completely absurd.)

So basically we've been told by this establishment that if we go to college, we can get jobs, and we did and we can't, and we are finding out everything else that we were lied to about over the few decades of our lives, and really, where is the credibility of the age group telling us that we should be reading classics to improve ourselves and that we should be having fun doing it? I read constantly, so everything tends to remind me of a passage from a book; this attitude makes me think of a passage from Jane Eyre:
“Do you read your Bible?”

“Sometimes.”

“With pleasure? Are you fond of it?”

“I like Revelations, and the book of Daniel, and Genesis and Samuel, and a little bit of Exodus, and some parts of Kings and Chronicles, and Job and Jonah.”

“And the Psalms? I hope you like them?”

“No, sir.”

“No? oh, shocking! I have a little boy, younger than you, who knows six Psalms by heart: and when you ask him which he would rather have, a gingerbread-nut to eat or a verse of a Psalm to learn, he says: ‘Oh! the verse of a Psalm! angels sing Psalms;’ says he, ‘I wish to be a little angel here below;’ he then gets two nuts in recompense for his infant piety.”

“Psalms are not interesting,” I remarked.
I'm with Jane: a lot of the shit people tell me to read isn't interesting and doesn't speak to me, and I guess there are some people who might find pleasure in it but it's pretty obvious that asshole six-psalm kid is sucking up for extra gingerbread-nuts. I have no reason to trust the institutions that determine Great Literature, because they have basically failed me and my generation in every other conceivable way.

And because of this, I'm pretty much willing to give a pass to anything that young women want to read-- and don't pretend that this isn't about young women, because we're the demographic that reads (and often writes) YA. Yes, there are men among our numbers, but like the backlash against Fifty Shades of Grey, Beyonce and mobile gaming, this is yet another thing in which something enjoyed by women is being shit on for Not Being Cultured Enough, a standard to which men's entertainment is not held to nearly as often.

It's actually entirely possible that a lot of us are reading this shit for escapism, that we are reading junk food novels; I know that's why I choose to read a lot of what I am interested in, which is mostly genre fiction. The world is fucking shitty and we've lost trust in the institutions that are supposed to protect us. If we want to read shitty books about dragons and vampires, that's our prerogative. Frankly, I think we'll all do whatever childish shit we want to, because with so many of us having to move back in with our parents, with many of us struggling for jobs and healthcare, with many of us who have jobs trapped in them because we won't find another one or because we can't afford to lose our health insurance, it's clear that we've been cheated out of the access to personal agency that adulthood is supposed to bring; we got all the responsibility and none of the security and if we're using what agency we have left to eat Froot Loops and read about teens falling in love, I think that's our goddamn prerogative.

So basically my point is: A ton of YA is really quite good and gets unfairly shat on by the literary establishment; that is rooted in misogyny, but even if it was all 100% junk food fiction that we read for purely entertainment value, the idea that this is just one more way we're going to get shit for failing to be adult enough is really shitty because we were cheated out of most of the good parts of adulthood anyway.
posted by NoraReed at 9:23 PM on September 21, 2014 [29 favorites]


Yeah, the simple recognition that young adults aren't as sophisticated as adults - emotionally, socially, intellectually - is not the same as saying that young adults are "stupid" or don't have meaningful, valuable, or interesting experiences.

But I have to wonder if what's happened is that maybe adults *aren't* particularly more sophisticated than teenagers anymore, and wonder what the reasons for that might be.

One thing I find interestingly missing from this debate is any discussion of what the lack of a wartime experience (and a different experience of war [fought against 'terrorists', carried out by drones, etc]) has done to foster this sense of a 'loss of adulthood'. There's even the complaint that today's soldiers think of war as being more like a videogame.

The 'end of patriarchy' correlation that A.O. Scott made always seemed less obvious a culprit to me than the end of a common wartime experience and a beginning to the service economy.

Today so few people have the common experience of taking the heavy responsibility over life and death that past generations took on - through a combination of agricultural work (managing animal lives, essentially) and war. So many Americans now, at all class levels, live inside the bubble of deathlessness presented by marketing and TV, where even the death is more deathless. Violent, sure. Gorey. Dramatic. But ultimately not all that serious. You have a water cooler conversation about how, say, the Red Wedding on GoT "totally freaked me out", and then you go on about your week.

And when you don't really believe you're going to die, well, isn't that a kind of perennial childhood?
posted by macross city flaneur at 9:30 PM on September 21, 2014 [7 favorites]


I don't think I know many people who haven't had friends die young of suicide or overdose. Almost all of us have spent a decent amount of time living in fear of getting sick or injured during a gap in healthcare coverage.

College students in particular struggle with high levels of depression and suicidal ideation. Many young adults grew up in, worked and/or went to school in violent neighborhoods; we've seen posts on the Blue about the rates of PTSD among people living in the inner city being comparable to soldiers in wartime. We're seeing the news stories about people our age our younger getting gunned down by police and seeing no justice, though that hits Black folks much harder than everyone else. I seriously doubt that anyone in Mike Brown's neighborhood, where he was left in the street for four hours, lives in a "bubble of deathlessness".

If there's a reason that adults aren't more sophisticated than teenagers, it's because this generation of teenagers has had a world of information at their fingertips their whole lives; many have gotten a basic sociology and social justice education from Tumblr, sex ed from Wikipedia, Scarletteen and other similar sites, politics from blogs who actually give a shit about the issues that actually affect their daily lives and their futures. I'm constantly coming across stuff on Tumblr that I thought was well-written and smart, reblogging it, and then clicking back to look at the author and finding out they're like 18. We have some really fucking sophisticated teenagers right now, and the web is managing to fill in the gaps that established educational and cultural institutions leave, making a culture of their own to compensate for the failures of the one we've given them. They're fucking brilliant, and frankly the fact that I keep seeing these incredibly talented kids teaching themselves outside of the existing systems is one of the things that actually gives me hope, because they might actually have a chance at fixing shit.

This generation of teenagers is doing for social justice what my generation did for computers; not all of them are good at it, but enough of them are that they're going to be able to drive culture better. Older generations are dismissing it, because unlike having a group of kids around willing to fix your broken printer for low wages; the group of teenagers that are emerging (a minority among their demographic, but so were those of us who were tech-savvy) with a more nuanced understanding of sexuality and gender than most trained social workers aren't nearly as easily exploitable, so they're dismissed instead of used, but they're smart as hell and seriously sick of being lied to, exploited and underestimated.

It's funny that this whole YA revolution came largely out of Harry Potter, because before that they wouldn't publish long books. They said kids wouldn't read them. And then you got a bunch of 11-year-olds carrying these huge tomes around and their parents and siblings reading them too and suddenly everyone could write big books for teenagers. They didn't think they'd sell because they underestimated teenagers, because they forgot how incredibly fucking smart and motivated they can be if you actually can give them something they care about.
posted by NoraReed at 10:05 PM on September 21, 2014 [12 favorites]


If being an adult requires war--and war always has its start with "adults" in power acting like spoiled, psychopathic toddlers--well, fuck that noise. What a sad space to occupy, the idea that only by being co-opted by human's least intelligent, cruelest, basest actions can you mature.
posted by maxwelton at 10:18 PM on September 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


Hmm, when I was in my twenties I went about 5 years without healthcare coverage. But I didn't really "live in fear" because of it. Now maybe I wasn't very smart, and it's certainly not a good thing that I had to do that. But the "live in fear" thing seems a bit hyperbolic. And the suicide and overdose thing is real enough. I don't wish to undermine it. But I wonder whether it's as widespread as you seem to think it is. It's certainly not new.

One thing that is true, according to the statistics I've seen, is that rates of violent crime are at all time lows. (http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/29/justice/us-violent-crime/)

Your point about teenagers using the internet is interesting. And it may well be that teens today are more informed about a lot more things, and even exposed to a lot more of the world, because of the internet. I certainly do hope that a new generation of teens are taking activism in new directions. We certainly need it.
posted by macross city flaneur at 10:21 PM on September 21, 2014


Well put, maxwelton, and I should make clear that I'm not "wishing" for war at all. More thinking that we perhaps need to think of adulthood differently in a world where not every young person's life (in the west) has to be touched by war.

But another way of thinking of it is that we haven't left war behind at all. Our governments have just become better at managing it, through the maintenance of a highly technological and professional standing army. So war hasn't gone away. It's still with us all the time. It's just that instead of being fought by an army of volunteers, on a scale that required the participation of almost everyone - the government doesn't involve most of us in their wars anymore.
posted by macross city flaneur at 10:25 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


But I didn't really "live in fear" because of it. Now maybe I wasn't very smart, and it's certainly not a good thing that I had to do that. But the "live in fear" thing seems a bit hyperbolic.

Your story isn't everyone's. I spend a lot of time around people with chronic illnesses and mental health issues and other stuff going on. I've spent time terrified that I'll be denied medications that I will kill myself without and have spent time with a low-level worry about friends who I'm afraid will kill themselves if they don't get access to what they need. Maybe you did the "invincibility" thing in your youth, but that doesn't mean everyone does.
posted by NoraReed at 10:34 PM on September 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


And America does involve a lot of us in their wars. It involves the Black kids being shot down without consequence, it involves the people in their neighborhoods. It involves everyone who's watched the militarized local law enforcement run through their neighborhood. It involves every piece of privacy we've given up in the name of security, every person of color held disproportionately long in a prison and used as a slave labor force, every cop, every terrifying jingoistic "border guard" militia.

Frankly, it sounds like you're the one living in a bubble and projecting out, marcross city flaneur, if you aren't seeing all these things and recognizing them as the slow beginnings of an occupation. I can't look at the photos of Ferguson and not see people at war, or at least trying to start a war, behind those shields, throwing that gas, shooting those protesters.
posted by NoraReed at 10:41 PM on September 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


I totally recognize that it's not everyone's experience. But at the same time, the relevant question is, I think, whether the numbers of people suffering from the lack of healthcare (as well as the other, again, very real and disturbing phenomena of youth violence, suicide, and drug use you mentioned) represents a shift in experience great enough and recent enough to correlate to the shift in attitudes being discussed.

I don't feel sure about the answer, but I have to wonder whether those things you mention really fit as an explanation, when the lack of healthcare coverage is not new, and drug problems and youth violence are also not new (and even used to be worse). Now maybe it's not any better, and there's just been a shift to prescription drugs. And the suicide rates you mentioned are real enough. But honestly those seem like symptoms to me rather than a cause. Symptoms of what, exactly, I'm not sure.

But my personal suspicion is that is has to do with our media culture and the way our lives are filled with marketing and content that is designed to sell us things and keep us working at relatively meaningless, narrow, dead-end jobs (that was the part of your analysis that resonated the most for me). Filling emotional needs and needs for human connection with all manner of products and "mediated" experiences like "likes" and "friending" and 140 character status updates.
posted by macross city flaneur at 10:47 PM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Plenty of YA fiction involves topics that adult adults' life experience doesn't bestow any advantage to understanding or dealing with. The protagonists may be teenagers, but their challenges aren't always strictly about teenager stuff. I'm old enough to have teenagers of my own, but I wouldn't be any better at, say, traveling through a tesseract and rescuing Dad than Meg Murry and her sibs. Or, in a more real-world setting, subverting the DHS than Marcus Yallow.
posted by El Mariachi at 10:58 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


" I can't look at the photos of Ferguson and not see people at war, or at least trying to start a war, behind those shields, throwing that gas, shooting those protesters."

I think we can recognize what's going on in Ferguson as seriously wrong and troubling and deserving of our attention and political action while letting go of the notion that it resembles anything like what goes on in war.
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:08 PM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


Question: is there any meaningful difference between Terry Pratchett books released as Young Adult and the rest of his work?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:49 PM on September 21, 2014


Filling emotional needs and needs for human connection with all manner of products and "mediated" experiences like "likes" and "friending" and 140 character status updates.

This is the same dismissive attitude I keep hearing, as if the fact that we are able to communicate with each other differently is somehow destroying us emotionally or something. I get to see stuff about my friends' lives. There's nothing less valid about a conversation on Twitter than a phone call and the fact that some of these services impose length limitations isn't new; we used to have to pay by the minute for long distance, remember?

The whole luddite "kids playing with their phones/computers not socializing" thing is a crock of shit, because we've all been given access to more people than anyone in human history; we can find friends and cultivate social groups across continents and time zones, and there's nothing unreal about those interactions. They often are healthier and safer than the ones in physical proximity, since there is less opportunity for abuse and coercion; this can make them an excellent way for people with anxiety conditions or recent abuse to get back into socializing.

I'm really sick of hearing this because I've been socializing online my whole life and would probably have killed myself as a teenager without the web; I've formed long friendships with people through this. But I also spend time on Twitter, and it's a great platform for information and conversation. I get to see conversations between artists that I like, give my favorite game writer book recommendations when he solicited them before a plane ride, tell my favorite writers that I love their work, get updates on touring musicians, hear jokes, interact on a mundane level with people I know and care about. My dad is a science writer and a water wonk and he talks to people on there too, and great conversations happen. People follow him because they like him, because they like his style, and because they want to stay informed. I constantly hear people talking about the impersonalization that comes from interacting through a screen, but I get to pick up books and know a bit of the chatty, day-to-day details of the writer's life, about how she copes with her chronic illness. Capitalism and the fetishization of the commodity have disconnected us from our goods so that we don't have that kind of chain of social connection to where most of them come from, but we get to have that with artists, with scientists, with musicians and writers and software developers, and that changes the way you look at media; it makes it richer.

Ferguson looked like a war to me because it looks like what happens when totalitarian governments try to suppress their populations, or like wars against severely militarily inferior foes. The way Palestinians and Ferguson residents were sharing tips for dealing with tear gas, which is banned for use in war, is telling. But I wasn't trying to get into a definitional debate about what counts as war, I was trying to point out that there totally are places, right now, where civilians are going through comparable trauma to what they might have living through a war.

And maybe the healthcare thing isn't enough of a shift to count, by your logic, but as society gets increasingly shitty and people get more economically vulnerable, people end up getting more mentally fucked up; it's harder to get out of abusive relationships or get treatment for the mental health problems caused, brought out by or exacerbated by the utter shittiness associated with the lack of agency in modern capitalism. I don't know or particularly trust the stats about drug use, but I do know that the incarcerated population, who are essentially used as legal slaves, is growing, and people know it. In my social sphere, people I know are still afraid of police, something that it seems would've died down when we stopped being teenagers. I think we're being pushed, culturally, towards fear of a lot of different things, and it definitely affects our outlook.

I'm not even sure that I buy that any of this actually results in adulthood, since it all seems to resemble the "get bullied/hurt/participate in things you hate/etc, it builds character" bullshit that gets spouted constantly at children. There's a certain amount of contact with reality that you need in order to be an adult, I think, but I don't think that declaring folks immature because they haven't been made tough is productive.

All the stuff like going to war and everything else that Puts You Through Some Shit, that's all the stuff that makes YA characters grow up in their coming-of-age stories, and I don't think real life is like that. I think people learn to get empathy for other people through contact with them, through reading their words and hearing their stories, reading their history and sometimes through reading their fiction. Sheltered, childishly unempathetic immaturity is something that only the privileged are really able to have, and it usually revolves around a failure to understand what privilege is, what systems of oppression are, and the ugly parts of how the world works (or doesn't).

I guess as more and more people move from the middle to the lower class you might get more people kicked out of the demographic that's actually able to have that kind of immaturity. There certainly are a lot of people seeking it through white flight, private schools/homeschooling, and gated communities. But these aren't the majority by any stretch.
posted by NoraReed at 12:52 AM on September 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


Today so few people have the common experience of taking the heavy responsibility over life and death that past generations took on - through a combination of agricultural work (managing animal lives, essentially) and war.
You know who else had no direct experience of war or agricultural work? Edith Wharton. George Eliot. Charlotte Bronte. If you make war and agricultural labor into the thins that define adulthood, then most women novelists and readers throughout the history of the novel are going to fall into the category of permanent children. That's a really weird argument with a lot of ugly implications, and I'm wondering if you really want to go there.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:14 AM on September 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


It does seem like American literary fiction has more child protagonists than its British equivalent.

This comment reminded me of a really swell recent NYT essay The Death of Adulthood in American Culture, which tags the same Slate article mentioned in the New Yorker essay above, and covers some similar ideas.
posted by ovvl at 4:29 AM on September 22, 2014


The New Yorker piece actually discusses that NYT essay at length.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:45 AM on September 22, 2014


If you make war and agricultural labor into the thins that define adulthood, then most women novelists and readers throughout the history of the novel are going to fall into the category of permanent children. That's a really weird argument with a lot of ugly implications, and I'm wondering if you really want to go there. ArbitraryAndCapricious

But women from previous generations would have had more experience with death because they would have been more likely to care for aged relatives, more likely to lose children, more likely to die in childbirth, right? The women would be the ones caring for the men who didn't die quickly on the battlefield and they would be the ones keeping life going for the people who lived. So they would have had more life/death experiences than many people from my generation. I love Victorian novels, but they really make getting pregnant seem like a wildly dangerous thing to do.
posted by MsDaniB at 5:29 AM on September 22, 2014 [6 favorites]


And America does involve a lot of us in their wars. It involves the Black kids being shot down without consequence, it involves the people in their neighborhoods. It involves everyone who's watched the militarized local law enforcement run through their neighborhood.

Almost proving the original point, this is not the audience for YA fiction, which seems more geared towards 20- and 30-something women.

To be an adult enjoying YA fiction, there has to be some kind of yearning for young adulthood/teenager years. The potential audience is very young people who can read about the lives of young adults and see something to look forward to and some older adults who want to experience some kind of nostalgia or escapism about their younger years OR -- and this is the thesis of some of these recent articles -- that many adult readers of YA fiction don't see any separation of their lives from those of the YA characters or at least wish they did not.
posted by deanc at 5:47 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Every method of storytelling reduces the complexity of life because life is enormous beyond all comprehension; any way of telling a story takes things out because that is a limitation of not only every method of storytelling but a limitation of humans. There is no such thing as a story that is not reduced in complexity both because we are limited by our lack of omniscience and limited by our language to communicate constantly in approximations; this is a standard part of the human condition that we have to come to grasps with in order to live. It seems completely absurd to say that stuff that's written to an age group that is in the midst of a really important, formative time of their life is somehow reduced because of that.

I'm not sure what this is saying other than that art is necessarily excludes things. Of course it does. But it's a question of scale. Traditional adult literature is more complex than YA literature in the same way that YA literature is more complex than picture books.
posted by hadlexishere at 6:02 AM on September 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


NoraReed, you are KILLING IT in this thread, and I can do nothing to improve on what you've said but quote Jane Austen:

“Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding—joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body.”
posted by nonasuch at 6:41 AM on September 22, 2014


Novels which would be marketed as "YA" today very likely include To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in The Rye, and The Member of the Wedding.

The idea that a book that speaks to teens can have nothing interesting to say to anyone else is ridiculous. As is the idea that reading books that speak to teens is a sign of childishness.

The same accusations have been made about science fiction. Or fantasy. Or mystery. (Except, of course, when it's the "right" kind of science fiction or fantasy or mystery, marketed Properly in the Correct section of the bookstore.)

Anyone who lets a label determine what literature they read or don't read deserves to ... well, to miss out on all the great books they're going to miss out on.
posted by kyrademon at 7:15 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Fair enough. "A Separate Peace" and "Lord of the Flies" are considered YA fiction, but one could argue that their underlying themes are as "mature" as anything in Faulkner.

But a book's maturity level, like its quality level, is not based on its underlying themes, it's based on the execution. Spiderman's origin story has a theme not dissimilar to The Iliad, but they're operating on very different levels.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:43 AM on September 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


An excellent and thought-provoking essay; thanks for posting it. (Among other things, it makes me interested in trying James again; I loved some of what I read by him early on and embarked on a similar read-all-of-James program, but bogged down somewhere around The Bostonians and gave up; that was decades ago, and I may be more ready for him now.) Beha's essential point—that reading "adult," "literary" fiction should be fun, not something you take on as a burden of adulthood—is spot on, as is the point made both in the essay and in this thread that the problem with bad YA fiction is not that it's YA but that it's bad fiction, badly thought-out, constructed, and/or written. Good writing is hard: it's not enough just to have a clever idea and throw some characters into a plot designed to illustrate it, whether the result is called YA, sf, or whatever. Such writing can be very enjoyable, but hopefully we learn to get beyond it and appreciate the value of a really well-turned sentence and a really thought-through plot (in the sense of "how the author arranges the material" rather than "what happens"—what the Russians call syuzhet rather than fabula).

I'm currently engaged in my own insane reading project, working my way through 19th-century Russian literature year by year. The thing is, it's not work, because if I don't like what I'm reading, I give up on it and move on, and I'm discovering a huge amount to like; the fact that I'm reading it in chronological order means that I get the additional enjoyment of seeing how trends develop and how authors build on each other (it's a cliché, if a true one, that everybody stole from Gogol, but who knew Gogol stole from Narezhny?). Perhaps the most exciting thing is discovering great writers who have been utterly forgotten, like Alexander Veltman; the more I read of him (I'm on my sixth novel now, Salomeya), the more I'm convinced he was one of the great novelists of the nineteenth century. The frustrating thing is that I have no one to discuss him with! And it's hard to urge him on people even if they read Russian, because he's perversely leisurely in his style of constructing a novel: he starts off very slow, deliberately frustrating the reader ("But I'm not going to talk about that now..."), and only after you've gotten several chapters in do you start getting hooked. Ah well, at least I'm having fun.
posted by languagehat at 8:27 AM on September 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


Anyone who lets a label determine what literature they read or don't read deserves to ... well, to miss out on all the great books they're going to miss out on.

Yep. Or, in the words of Henry James quoted in this article, "There are bad novels and good novels, as there are bad pictures and good pictures; but that is the only distinction in which I see any meaning."

I have no reason to trust the institutions that determine Great Literature, because they have basically failed me and my generation in every other conceivable way.

I think the main reason I'm still able to read and enjoy so-called canonical texts is that at some point I started mentally removing the "Great Literature" watermark, the one that says "this book is designed to bestow culture upon you and make you a better person." In my opinion and experience, Faulkner, G. Eliot, Kafka etc etc are pleasurable and great in ways that have little or nothing to do with any institution's imprimatur, any goal of education or bullshit character-building. One major purpose, if not the major purpose, of Cultural Institutions of Literature is to harness the disruptive and pointless energy of aesthetic pleasure in order to try to make it serve some culturally valorized end like "maturity" or "tradition," when in fact the only reason to read a book is because it gives you pleasure. If the book is The Hunger Games, awesome. If it's In Search of Lost Time, awesome. If it's The Hunger Games this week and In Search of Lost Time next week, double awesome.

Of course, the idea that the actual content of the books stamped "Literature" is at cross-purposes with the educational/ideological aims of the cultural institutions that wield that stamp ain't exactly new. Witness Lord Byron on the young Don Juan's classical education:
His classic studies made a little puzzle,
Because of filthy loves of gods and goddesses,
Who in the earlier ages raised a bustle,
But never put on pantaloons or bodices;
His reverend tutors had at times a tussle,
And for their Aeneids, Iliads, and Odysseys,
Were forced to make an odd sort of apology,
For Donna Inez dreaded the Mythology.

Ovid's a rake, as half his verses show him,
Anacreon's morals are a still worse sample,
Catullus scarcely has a decent poem,
I don't think Sappho's Ode a good example,
Although Longinus tells us there is no hymn
Where the sublime soars forth on wings more ample:
But Virgil's songs are pure, except that horrid one
Beginning with 'Formosum Pastor Corydon.'

Lucretius' irreligion is too strong,
For early stomachs, to prove wholesome food;
I can't help thinking Juvenal was wrong,
Although no doubt his real intent was good,
For speaking out so plainly in his song,
So much indeed as to be downright rude;
And then what proper person can be partial
To all those nauseous epigrams of Martial?

Juan was taught from out the best edition,
Expurgated by learned men, who place
Judiciously, from out the schoolboy's vision,
The grosser parts; but, fearful to deface
Too much their modest bard by this omission,
And pitying sore his mutilated case,
They only add them all in an appendix,
Which saves, in fact, the trouble of an index;

For there we have them all 'at one fell swoop,'
Instead of being scatter'd through the Pages;
They stand forth marshall'd in a handsome troop,
To meet the ingenuous youth of future ages,
Till some less rigid editor shall stoop
To call them back into their separate cages,
Instead of standing staring all together,
Like garden gods—and not so decent either.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 8:34 AM on September 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


Excellent quote, DaDaDaDave! (For those who don't know, Juan has to be pronounced "JOO-uhn" when reading Byron.)
posted by languagehat at 8:48 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh this is rich. We have a bunch of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers actually doing the whole shtick of "What's wrong with kids these days? What's wrong with kid's media? Why can't they enjoy adult stuff?" All of which is completely unlike what they went through when they were kids in that...actually, it IS the same stuff, internalized and regurgitated, right down to "They need to go to war- that'll make adults out if them! Because as you know, your average vet or contractor back from Iraq is SO much more mature than other people. Take that notion far enough, and you get Heinlein's notion that the franchise should only extend to veterans...is there ANYBODY here that thinks that's a good idea?

So basically, give Boomers enough time, and they too will worship at the altar of aged wisdom, and their representatives Dead White Men. Where forty years ago it was "Don't trust anyone over 30", now it's "The youth are too naive and unsophisticated to give their opinions any credence." It is to laugh.

Also:

Putting down “Harry Potter” for Henry James is not one of adulthood’s obligations, like flossing and mortgage payments; it’s one of its rewards, like autonomy and sex.

Because I read far too much Henry James, I can say this: Henry James is not a reward. It's more like one of those visits to the dentist where you sit in a chair for an hour waiting for the novacaine to take effect, the doctor comes in, concludes you need more, and then you sit around waiting another hour. It's the sort of thing that gets assigned in university courses because he's an "Important Dead White Male, and because the professor secretly hates his students.
posted by happyroach at 11:15 AM on September 22, 2014


This thread makes me glad that I came to literature via a friend's suggestion that I read "Infinite Jest" and not because it was beaten into me by a lit professor.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:34 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed this article and I think the points Beha makes are interesting. I have also been fascinated by the larger recent debate about adults reading YA, and I've eventually concluded that it misses the point of my own reading experience (which I know isn't everyone's experience, but bear with me). I read pretty much all the time, and sometimes I want to read something capital-L Literary and sometimes I don't. When I'm in the mood for a good story, I might read a YA novel or I might read a crime novel. Even though the latter is notionally adult, I don't think there's anything inherently more mature or sophisticated about it, besides the fact that the characters are generally adults. When I'm looking for something more literary, then I'll pick up a copy of Borges stories or finally get around to Anna Karenina or whatever.

But the two experiences are totally different for me. When I want to read for a fast-paced plot, I'm not going to pick up Washington Square Park, regardless of whether I then decide to read a book that's technically "adult" or "YA." When I'm craving some intellectual food for thought, I'm not going to turn to Harry Potter. I find it hard to believe that if adults were shamed away from reading The Fault in Our Stars they would magically pick up Gravity's Rainbow instead. The books just don't serve the same need.

I like Beha's idea that reading James shouldn't be a chore. ("Putting down “Harry Potter” for Henry James is not one of adulthood’s obligations, like flossing and mortgage payments; it’s one of its rewards, like autonomy and sex.") But I'm not sure that enjoying James and enjoying YA are incompatible, as part of an overall balanced diet. I don't think that I'm regressing--or my generation is--because of a desire to alternate Harry Potter with Henry James from time to time.
posted by ferret branca at 11:57 AM on September 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


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