There's been a lot of fuss lately about grown-ups reading Young Adult (YA) fiction. The most recent hubbub started after Ruth Graham's piece, Against YA, appeared on Slate.com As you can probably surmise from the title, she has a bit of a problem with adults reading "maudlin teen dramas." She fears that grown-up readers are missing out on the big, mind-expanding masterworks (and just so you know, Ruth was reading them when she was a teenager- So there!) because they're stuck in an unfortunate rut of trite adolescent love stories.
As you can imagine, the rather large population of adult Y/A readers did not take kindly to Graham's criticisms. Among many other insults, she was accused of being a genre snob. Book and literacy advocates got their knickers all bunched up too. People are reading. Even better, people are enjoying what they're reading. Lay off!
Look, I get both sides of the argument. I finally read The Fault in our Stars because it was all anybody was talking about. Here's my review as it appeared on Goodreads two weeks ago:
This is a Y/A novel and belongs to the twelve and thirteen year olds out there who might get something from the very simple pathos of this love story. I'm not sure why (and somewhat discouraged that) grown adults are reading and loving this book in such numbers.
And I still haven't read one word of Harry Potter. So yeah, I get where Graham is coming from. There are so many excellent, thought-provoking books to read. Too many to read in a lifetime of avid reading. So why are grown-ups using any of that precious time to read things that aren't asking big questions, that aren't reflecting life experience as the difficult, confounding, and beautiful mess that it is?
On the other side, I understand the appeal of books that are simple and satisfying. It's like food: we love to talk about the smoked trout and apple feuilleté we tried at the latest fancy restaurant (The Goldfinch/The Luminaries), but at the end of a long and stressful day, sometimes the best thing is a grilled cheese sandwich (The Fault In Our Stars/Catching Fire). Y/A is comfort food for the brain. We know what to expect, and we've been enjoying it since we were very young.
I like grilled cheese. I love it especially so with thinly sliced vidalia onion and swiss cheese. (fancy, right?) I also love to partake in an excellent chef's tasting menu. I love the nuances, the envelope-pushing, the unfamiliar ingredients that you might have to train your palate to enjoy. Usually, I eat somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, like most people. Ruth Graham is someone who really enjoys haute-cuisine. And the Y/A-fanatic adults out there mostly eat grilled cheese. Both are perfectly acceptable choices that fall on opposite sides of the spectrum. The trouble is, Graham basically walked into the middle of a Mom-and-Pop diner with a tray of raw oysters and a bottle of shallot vinaigrette and began haranguing the grilled cheese-loving patrons: Life is short. You should really try this. If you don't like it, there's something wrong with you. And later you'll thank me for opening your mind to all these fresh flavours.*
But instead of telling Graham to get lost with her high-brow opinions, instead of ignoring her, a lot of supposedly proud Y/A-reading adults got very defensive. They started up huge comment strings on various webpages, justifying the genre by pointing to all the books in the literary canon that could be classified as Y/A (Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Diary of a Young Girl, etc.) Mark Medley wrote an especially snarky piece for the National Post in reply to Graham that imagines him chucking all of Shakespeare's work in the garbage because Romeo and Juliet were teenagers. The piece is supposed to be satirical, but it comes across very earnestly, which in my mind is a bit of a failure of form. I can't understand why so many adult Y/A fans are getting het up about one writer's opinion.
But let's get back to that food analogy (Is it lunch time yet?) ... Some people don't like oysters. They'd never think of eating one. Others can't stand the formula of (bread + cheese + bread )griddle = meal. But if we are grown-ups, that means we get to choose what we consume, and that also means we shouldn't care too much what other people think of that choice.
*Also, there are better ways to get someone to try something new than yelling at them, or shaming them.
Erin Bedford, writer.