I can be a bit of a book snob.
I’m not proud of it, but I judge non-readers pretty harshly. There are people out there who say things like “I don’t read”, and they don’t seem to think that it’s a serious hole in their lives, which is very difficult for me to understand.
Books are, for me, a necessity. Since the day I was able to read Grover At The Farm
all by myself, I have been reading. I have a quick link to my library’s website on my Firefox toolbar, and I choose new purses based primarily on their size, because they must
have enough space for an average hardcover. I have read hundreds of books, from classics to to sci-fi to non-fiction on almost any topic, and I’ve got a “to-read” shelf (currently growing online at Goodreads.com
) that never seems to get any shorter. I deeply regret that I only have one lifetime during which to read, because I’ll never be able to read everything I want to.
I think more people should be regular readers. The digital world is slowly chipping away at our attention spans and encouraging us to absorb written words in small, manageable paragraphs, instead of pages and chapters, so I smile when I see people at bus stops or in coffee shops, holding an open book. So why, then, do I feel such hostility towards adult readers of tween-and-teen-targeted “literature”? See, right there, I used sarcastiquotes without even thinking about it. I get all sorts of annoyed when I see a grown person paging through Twilight
. They’re reading something, so I should be happy
about it – they made a decision to acquire and read a book, which is what I want more people to do.
But why would anyone other than a 12-year-old girl voluntarily read about angsty sparkling vampires (unless they’re parents of teens and tweens who want to be familiar with what their kids are reading)? My parents weren’t standing in line at the store, waiting excitedly for the next Babysitters Club book to be released so they could discuss it with their friends at work, so what changed over the past 20 years? Did young adult (YA) literature get more complex and adult along the way, blurring the lines?
It sounds sort of rhetorical, but it’s a question I’m honestly asking of my readers: has there been a shift in the complexity of YA books over the years, making them closer to adult books?
I’ve done a lot of thinking about my hostility towards the YA stuff, and I posted my thoughts to one of my message boards to start a discussion there, learning more about myself in the process. A big part of my problem is that I assume
that someone reading “kids’ books” isn’t going to want to read Asimov, or John Irving, or a history of the life of Henrietta Lacks
. But how do I know what else is on their shelves? Just like someone at Taco Bell might cook fancy gourmet dinners 95% of the time, some people who read lots of good stuff sometimes like to read “fluffy” books because they’re easy.
I think I tend to lump all YA into the “bullshit fluff” literature category, because of what I remember from the books of my childhood. The problem with that, if I think about it, is that I enjoyed the Harry Potter series, and if I’m being honest, I have to say they were better written than Sophie Kinsella’s “Shopaholic” stuff, which was aimed at adult readers. So where’s the line? What’s a YA novel and what’s a crappy grownup novel? I count Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Anne of Green Gables among my favorite books and I’ve read them dozens of times, despite the fact that they’re intended for younger readers. But they’re good. Conclusion: maybe I’m putting more overlap in my Venn diagram of “YA” and “crappy writing” than is warranted.
Why should it even matter that people are reading badly-written junk? It’s not my business what people read, and on a conscious level I know that, but I see someone in a waiting room reading Fifty Shades of Grey and I die a little inside. I’m sure there are folks who will look down on my collection of science fiction and medical memoirs and declare that I’m not a real reader if I don’t know Tolstoy and Dumas by heart, and I’m sitting here in my glass house, tossing stones around.
Full disclosure: I haven’t read Twilight or 50 Shades, mostly because I’ve heard enough about them and read enough reviews and quotes from them to know that they won’t be to my taste. Hunger Games, on the other hand, is being recommended to me from all sides, by people I know and whose opinions I usually trust, and that’s a big reason why I started this thread. I really don’t want to read the books, and I’m not entirely sure what my resistance is about. I don’t think I’m the hipster type who avoids things when they get popular, so what is it? I thought maybe it was the YA label that was doing it, but I’m not sure, given that I do count some children’s classics among my favorite books.
Maybe I’m guilty of lumping the Hunger Games books into the same category as the Twilight series, when it belongs elsewhere? Is it more Little Women than Sweet Valley High?
I’d like this to open up into a discussion, if anyone’s game. I need help pinning down what it is that bugs me so much about the popularity of fluff, because otherwise I’m not sure how I will ever change that prejudice.