Blog,  Rants,  Reflections

You should be embarrassed if you’re embarrassed to read YA (or Children’s books)

Um…I know I’m late to the discussion of the controversial article by Ruth Graham on the Slate Book Review called “Against YA.” Like 3 months late, but I was working on the site at that time, and I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while!

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I linked to it above, but it’s a provocative post that seems like it was written to get people mad. Which, worked, frankly. The subtitle is, “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.”

Madeline Kahn "Flames on the side of my face" from Clue
Not to mention that sentence is clunky, but let’s not split hairs in malice, shall we?!

My junkie genre is children’s lit, and I have a whole shelf full of them, as well as my favorite YA books, of which there are many. And since I’m writing what I consider YA or Middle-Grade high fantasy, I was a little peeved that she would feel the need to be so snippy about something I hold so dear.

So no. No, you shouldn’t be embarrassed. Because people shouldn’t be bullies making blanket statements. You shouldn’t be guilted or shamed into doing or not doing something you find adds value to your life, especially something as universal and wonderful as reading in your spare time, seriously. It’s like she doesn’t even bother to consider that other people have a variety of interests that are as valid as her own, and that’s just plain arrogance.

I think adults should strive to read books with deeper themes to round out their perspectives and ideas, and I don’t want to rule out the thought that Graham is trying to make a point, and not just trying to get clicks. However, the way the article was written could have been said differently without stepping on so many toes. If you taunt, people are going to lash back.

angry goat
My goat/ibex was got. Got good. Maaahh.

So I respectfully disagree. There.

For deeper discussions, and to funnel my frustration into seeking out the well-worded edification of others who shared my sympathies, I read a few rebutting articles, and here are some of my favorite quotes from them. And I’m only scratching the surface. Just search, “you should be embarrassed to read YA” and you’ll find these and more.

Hilary Kelly, in her short, great article that waxes on the wonder of YA that helps you connect with your younger self, says,

…The article’s biggest problemaside from its snide, nasty, belittling tone and self-satisfied, obviously click-baity headlineis Graham’s exceedingly limited understanding of why someone reads, and why they might choose to read a book that doesn’t challenge them on an academic level … [she] confuses literary criticism and review and dissection for smug scolding. She doesn’t unpack why adults would want to revisit their childhood via literature. … [I read YA] to remind myself of how deeply the decisions of my childhood have ingrained themselves on my soon-to-be-thirty brain. It’s a chance to remember that the complexities of adulthood are just variations on those from childhood.

Kathleen Hale brings up in her amazing satirical article that,

[YA isn’t] an actual genre, it’s a market designation, and it shifts over time. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was originally published for children, and everyone from Flannery O’Connor to snobbish reporters at The Atlantic used to grumble about how adults shouldn’t read it—your arguments about taste are nothing new. They’re not as radical as you think.

Non Pratt is a girl after my own heart:

I have a confession to make: I am an adult and I only read YA (and children’s books.) … There is no intrinsically beneficial reason why I should value complexity over simplicity, or ambiguity over clarity. What Ruth Graham seeks from novels is not what I seek from novels, but that does not make me a lesser adult than her. It makes me a different one. Something that YA has always kept in the forefront of my mind – a concept too simple for adult consumption – is that difference is something to be celebrated, not shamed.

Alyssa Rosenberg of the Washington Post stands up for “A Wrinkle in Time” and “The Chronicles of Narnia,” two of my favorite classic books/series in my genre niche:

Graham waves aside “the transparently trashy stuff like ‘Divergent’ and ‘Twilight,’“apparently dismissing the idea that any young adult fiction in the science fiction or fantasy modes might merit a defense as serious literature. The writer and critic Michelle Dean named “A Wrinkle in Time” and C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series as two examples that might meet that standard. Both are deeply engaged with Christian ideals. The former is a sometimes-terrifying meditation on the ways in which great intelligence can betray us. The latter tells us that growing up means the expulsion from paradise.

In a two-for-one article on the B&N website, Ester Bloom makes a good point about Graham’s possible intent, which I don’t disagree with,

As an adult, you do not have an obligation to expand your mind, to challenge yourself, to expose yourself to new and potentially difficult ideas. But it is often the right thing to do. Graham’s tone sometimes gets in her way, but that’s all she is really trying to say.

And Dahlia Adler writes,

The thing about book-shaming—whether YA or Romance or comic books—is that more than anything, it just declares to the world that the person doing the shaming isn’t well-read enough to have found the gems.

And finally, Elisabeth Donnelly, (who I linked above, and said Graham is trying to make a point) tells us that this belittling attitude of Slate’s towards YA isn’t a new thing, and concludes,

You should be ashamed of reading sh*tty books that don’t do anything to stimulate your curiosity and reveal some hint of human experience and connection, whatever its “quality.” There’s good and bad in every genre, from the most insufferable piece of self-indulgent, experimental, literary adult stuff to the most transparent picked-up-by-a-publisher New Adult fan fiction disguised as a book.

So yeah. Booyah.

Lydia Bennet from Lizzie Bennet Diaries, "Talk about your truth universally acknowledged, am I right?"

I'm gonna go read a book with pictures


  • Jessica Dragon Cheramie

    Great post, Christina. I completely agree with you. Everyone has different tastes, and just as you said, it’s never right to judge or persecute someone because they are different from you. Aren’t we trying to teach our children that bullying isn’t right? When will adults start practicing this? I think she did that just for publicity. Sad. I’d never stoop to that level to get my name out there. I’d rather be a nobody.

  • Sarah Shotts

    Honestly I think much YA is better than adult fiction because the market is more competitive. Although that was a notion I picked up in high school so not sure if it’s still valid. But either way the designation doesn’t matter. It’s ridiculous.

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