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Random Thoughts Dark: On Reading YA

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I don’t ever post about hot-button issues here on the blog. It’s my happy place. It’s where I opt to share my love for books, not my need to chime in on drama. I had originally planned on posting a review today, but I couldn’t quiet my thoughts last night to sit and write a review. Because I was incensed.

First, I want to apologize for blowing up my timeline last night with tweets, drawing attention to the drama. It’s the first time I’ve felt so strongly about something that I felt the need to chime in publicly. And once I got started, I just couldn’t stop.

Second, I want to apologize for this post, which is so anti what I’d normally post about here on the blog. But I need to get past these dark, angry feelings so I can move on to more positive ones.

So what’s this all about?

My attention was drawn to an article on Slate yesterday (which I refuse to link to) that was written by a freelance “journalist” who felt the need to share her opinion – yes, it’s only an opinion – that adults should be embarrassed for reading young adult literature.

The title was meant to inflame. The weakly written and researched article meant to incite. And, after some of my own research about this article’s author, I see that it’s something she does. With other articles entitled “Gay Sex, Hookups, and Porn: What Would Jesus Do?” and “‘My Life Is a Waking Nightmare’: Why do parents make parenting sound so god-awful?” it’s clear she’s a writer looking for attention.

Which normally would have made me calm down, roll my eyes and walk away. But not this time.

Why?

Because the idea that her words may have caused one reader to set down a book because they were ashamed, makes me ill. It makes me sick to think about the fact that someone with a need to put down a large group of people just so that they can get attention for themselves could take away someone’s enjoyment of a book.

I can’t understand how someone who puts pen to page and write could possibly do that. But perhaps because hers is not the writing she holds in such esteem – certainly no one is claiming what she’s putting out in publications such as Slate is “great literature.” Hers is at best sensationalist, at worst it’s harmful.

And that’s what makes me so angry.

Because it is harmful. She may have thought it to be nothing more than attention-seeking behavior that would rile up a community, and perhaps prove her point about adults not behaving as she feels adults should. But she wasn’t insightful enough to think about the cost.

Is it not better for an adult to read any book than none at all? Is it not better for an adult to have an escape that takes them away, if but for a few hours, from the rigors of their daily life?

Is it not better for someone to find stories they can relate to, connect with, than to feel isolated and alone?

While she is entitled to her opinion and to like or dislike a genre, shouldn’t she be as accepting of other people’s choices as she expects others to be of hers? Is she someone who doesn’t have peccadillos of her own that are far more embarrassing than being a reader who enjoys a well-written book?

She is entitled not to enjoy YA. She’s entitled to debate whether it’s to be considered “great literature” or not. She’s entitled to think it’s not as well-written as other genres. But without being an avid reader of the genre, she’s certainly not an expert who can give a fair and balanced opinion.

And she’s certainly not a writer that can claim to be anywhere in the realm of “great” when her latest pieces appear to be written for their inflammatory nature and to increase pageviews and comments.

Shouldn’t it be she who’s embarrassed for riding the coattails of the popularity that is YA – the very thing she demeans – in order to gain attention for herself? Shouldn’t it be she who is ashamed to call herself a journalist when what she writes about isn’t of the highest journalistic integrity?

But most of all, shouldn’t she be ashamed of attempting to turn someone away from a book?

That to me is her most heinous crime.

No one should ever be ashamed for choosing to read a book. No one should ever be embarrassed for opting to read instead of watching television, seeing a movie, doing something that requires far less engagement.

No one should ever feel ashamed for making an emotional connection. No one should ever feel ashamed for falling in love with a story and its characters. No one should ever feel ashamed for appreciating a writer who poured their heart and soul into their work.

A few keys clicked and this woman puts down an entire group of readers. She dismisses stories as “trashy” that she knows little about. Is a story that opens up the world of reading for someone worthless? No. Is a story that allows someone to expand their minds, use their imaginations, feel something garbage? Absolutely not.

Her words are toxic. Her words are dangerous. And yet, with so little thought to their impact, she presses publish.

The shame should NEVER be placed on someone who reads. The shame SHOULD be someone who dissuades someone from reading. So it’s not adults who read that should be ashamed, it’s adults who dismiss those that do. So, to you, Ruth Graham, I say, “Shame on you!”

On a personal note…

I am reader. I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. I’ve always preferred a book to any other medium. It allows me to use my imagination. And yes, it does provide an escape. One that I needed more as a child, but one I enjoy having as an adult.

I might be considered by some to be well-read and well-educated. Others might even consider me to be intelligent.

I’ve read and loved books from all sorts of genres. Yes, even those the author considers to be appropriate for adults.

I enjoy, and have the ability to read, any genre. And still I choose YA.

I can discuss Shakespeare and Calvino and Eco and Poe and Kafka and even Adam Smith. And still I choose YA.

I choose to only read well-written books. And, after nearly six years, I’ve yet to come close to running out of well-written YA books to read. Because quality writing is not the exclusive property of adult fiction.

A story that can hold my attention, that can make me feel for its characters, that allows me to build a world created in part by my own imagination, is a good story. Scratch that. It’s a great story.

I don’t need to surround myself with books deemed “great literature” in order to feel smart. I don’t need to feel the need to prove my intelligence to anyone by listing the number of “important” books I’ve read, the number of degrees I hold. Having read a classic doesn’t make me a better person than someone who hasn’t.

Having read a book, any book, puts me in with a wonderful group of people called readers. And to me they are all equal.

So, no, I am not ashamed of reading YA. I am not ashamed to recommend some of the amazing books I read to adults of all ages. I am not ashamed for attempting, with my blog, to get people excited about books and about reading. I’m not ashamed for trying to enhance someone’s life by suggesting they pick up a book. I’m not embarrassed to try to open someone’s mind to YA.

I am ashamed that I read that article in Slate. I am ashamed that I allowed it to derail me from my plan to finish one amazing book and to write a review for another. I am ashamed that I wasted one second of my very limited time thinking about someone who is so clearly not worth it.

But as far as reading YA goes? I will never, EVER, be ashamed.

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