To read or not to read? That is not the question. Everyone should read. The question is: what? Let’s look primarily at fiction.
Will you read the classics or will you read general literary fiction?
Will you read romance books or will you read mystery?
Will you read bestsellers or indie?
Will you read young adult?
Also known as YA, the young adult genre has had great success in the past several years. While other literary phenomena have swept the nation, like Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, the most popular books these days seem to be YA. It all began with Harry Potter, of course, back in 1997, but the genre’s popularity remains strong with the Twilight and Hunger Games series. While teenagers are certainly the most enthusiastic about these books (as well as their film adaptations), it is not at all unusual to see an adult digging into the latest YA series to hit the shelves. Some, however, find this trend appalling.
An article in the New York Times on this subject made a splash a couple of weeks ago. Titled “Adults Should Read Adult Books,” the article maintained that it is embarrassing for an adult to be seen reading YA fiction. Adults should read books with a depth of language and character, author Joel Stein argues, and while it’s okay for adults to watch kids’ movies, reading YA books is a ridiculous because “books are one of our few chances to learn.” After admitting that he’s never read The Hunger Games and has no idea if its themes address complicated issues or its characters are complex, Stein bluntly states: “I don’t know because it’s a book for kids. I’ll read The Hunger Games when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction for adults.”
So many statements in Stein’s argument infuriate me. Why is it okay to watch kids’ movies, like Pixar films, but it’s not okay to read YA books? Aren’t they both simple entertainments? And how can he completely refuse to read something purely because it’s YA? He even admits that it might be wonderful and complex, but he doesn’t intend to find out either way (unless he gets through that 3,000 years of adult fiction prerequisite). Ignoring some of those blatant fallacies, I’d like to look at the basic argument at hand: is it okay to read YA if you are an adult?
No, YA books generally don’t delve into the most serious or complex of themes, but do all adult novels? And while we read fiction for many reasons, the primary reason is usually entertainment. So whether your favorite is The Hunger Games or Jane Eyre, as long as you enjoy yourself, I’m really just happy that you’re reading. Plus, some YA books probably have stronger themes than adult books. I know I might be contested on this, but I think Harry Potter explores more themes and portrays more complex characters than a number of adult books I’ve read. Just because a book is classified as adult, that doesn’t make it more complex or interesting or intellectually stimulating. The Phantom Tollbooth made me think more than The Old Man and the Sea ever did.
All that being said, however, it is inevitable that a 50-year-old man reading The Hunger Games may be viewed by society as silly. Just as a teen who reads only Tolstoy and Dickens may be viewed as pretentious. Just as an adult who claims Moby Dick is their favorite may be viewed as boring. It’s life. People judge. Will I (inwardly) gawk at a 50-year-old woman reading Twilight? Yes, I will. But really, I’m just happy she’s reading.