There’s been a lot of press given to a certain article that ran in the Slate last week (no, I refuse to link to it – Google it if you haven’t seen it yet), calling out adults who read young adult novels. The author of the article berates them, and emphatically states that they should be embarrassed to read YA. This is not the first time I have heard this. First, the fact that anyone feels superior enough to mock someone else’s reading preferences really pushes my shit-o-meter. Really? What makes what you read so much better than what I read? Here’s the funny thing. When I was a young adult, all I read were adult books. Now that I’m an adult, I read everything. Well, pretty much everything. I still avoid pompous literary works like the plague. Mock Dick?? Crime and Punishment?? Really? Did someone somewhere actually enjoy these dull, ponderous novels that are best relegated to nighttime sleeping aids?
I have been made fun of for the books I read for decades. DECADES. And I’m tired of being judged by what I read. Or because I read. (Yeah, that always a fun one. I read, therefore I must be the most boring person on the planet.) I have always loved books, but after reading the Chronicles of Narnia in grade school, I was a reading addict. My uncle pointed me to Alexander Lloyd and John Christopher, and once I discovered sci-fi and fantasy, forget it. It was all over. I quickly read anything I could get my hands on – The Sword of Shannara, The Stainless Steel Rat. Nine Princes in Amber, The Maker of Universes. The list goes on and on. What was wrong with these books? Well, apparently those books were written for males. Since I don’t have a penis, there must be something wrong with me for reading them. Again – really??
Then my friend introduced me to Harlequin Romances. This was in middle school. I loved them! They were quickly added into my reading rotation. Then, suddenly, I was made fun of, publically, for reading romances. By whom? My high school English teacher, right there in the middle of one of my elective classes – I can’t remember exactly what it was called, but the whole point of the class was to read books of your own choosing and write up little papers about them, in addition to some “literary” classics of the teacher’s choice. I think we were supposed to read a book a week. I was reading about a book a day then. I think the class was more for reluctant readers, but back then, I jumped on any excuse to get an extra hour a day to read. Wouldn’t you?
Anyway, during one class, I happily pulled out my latest HR, The Ice Maiden by Sally Wentworth. I loved this book. It was funny and cute, and the heroine was a walking disaster. (I recently found a copy of this old treasure, and I’ll share my adult impressions of it soon!) The teacher noticed that I was reading a Harlequin Romance, and promptly began it ridicule the book, and by extension, me. I was mortified. My teenage self abhorred any kind of attention in class, and being made fun of by a teacher was a terrible blow to my self-esteem. I was already bullied by classmates (you know, because I was always reading and was therefore the biggest dork in school), and the fact that I still seethe with anger over this should tell you how much it hurt me. I avoided confrontation back then, and still do to a certain extent, but how I wish I could have told her how much her mockery bothered me. So, to that incredibly thoughtless teacher, whose job was to encourage learning and reading – was it in your teaching contract to make fun of your students, especially the quiet ones who never would have dreamed of being a problem in your class? I hope you enjoyed all of the John Norman and Sharon Green book reports that I turned in after you mocked my sweet Harlequin Romances. If you were trying to move me down a feminist path, making fun of me and my reading choices, was not the way to influence me or let me know that you thought romances were worthless bits of drivel.
When I moved on to college, I discovered comic books. I had a heavy workload, was working, and didn’t have much time to read. But! I couldn’t just give up reading for pleasure! That would be like sticking needles under my nails. So I started reading X-Men and Superman, and all of those delightful Image Comics titles that started peppering the shelves. Then I bought Ranma 1/2, and oh, my! I started reading any manga I could get my hands on. This was before the big “manga revolution,” (thanks, TokyoPop, for both kick starting the revolution, and for also bringing it to its knees) so there wasn’t much to choose from. And guess what? I was not treated well when I went comic store hopping, looking for manga. Dean didn’t have to deal with any sort of blowback for shopping for superhero books. Only I got the guff, and I don’t know, to this day, if it was because I was a woman venturing into a comic book store, or whether manga was the weak link there. Ugh! Thank goodness for online shopping! Amazon doesn’t make fun of me for my purchase decisions!
I have another confession to make. I love to read picture books. I will go park in a chair at the library and read them one after another. Some of them have moved me to tears (City Dog, Country Frog, I am looking at you!), and that is why I read in the first place. I want to feel an emotional attachment to the characters breathing within the pages of a book. If I am so engaged in the story that I think about the characters when I’m not reading it – then it’s a winner! I rarely feel that involved in literary fiction, which the exception of The Red Tent and The Kite Runner, and I’m not even certain our YA bashing journalist would approve of those titles. (One was, after all, clearly written with a female audience in mind, and we all know what kind of respect women readers and authors have been getting last week!)
I will be fifty years old in December. I have earned the right to read whatever the hell I want. Without judgment. Without flak. So if you don’t like it, young adult critics, start writing books that are as appealing to today’s readers as the young adult tripe you ridicule. In a day when there are so many other methods of entertainment competing with reading, and as readership continues to decline, stop being jealous of the success of other writers. Labeling their work as beneath the notice of older readers is not only rude, it’s the mark of a snob. A good book, a “classic,” if you will, transcends gender, age, and social station. Get over yourselves.