memo to ruth graham: readers who try to shame other readers should be embarrassed by their narrow-mindedness

Ruth Graham, writing in Slate, says, "You should feel embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children." How sad. If anyone should feel embarrassed, it's Graham. She apparently writes this commentary without realizing how narrow-minded, outdated, and ignorant it makes her appear.

Then again, what can we expect from a person who describes a love scene by saying a young man "deflowers" his girlfriend? Perhaps Graham hasn't noticed, but in the 21st Century, women are not passive objects; their first sexual experience is not imagined as a loss of innocence and delicacy. Hazel, the hero of The Fault in our Stars, is not "deflowered". She chooses to have sex.

Graham mentions that it was "once unseemly" for adults to read young-adult lit. When was that, I wonder? I'm at least 10 years older than Graham, who places herself in the 30 to 44-year-old demographic. I've read young-adult fiction all my life, and I don't remember there ever being a negative connotation. She also lists Tuck Everlasting as a sophisticated book from her youth. Except Tuck Everlasting is a children's novel. An excellent book, but not to be confused with young-adult lit.

Graham says she didn't cry when she read The Fault in our Stars, and wonders if that makes her either heartless or "a grown up"? I answer both questions in the negative. Why would "saying 'Oh, brother' out loud more than once," make a reader more mature than a reader who cries? Is it childish to be deeply affected by reading? Is it mature to roll our eyes in cynical dismissal? I not only cried from The Fault in our Stars. I cried without shame.

"These books," Graham writes, "consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying..." And maybe that's the key to the proper response to Graham's essay. Anyone who thinks the endings of The Spectacular Now, Looking for Alaska, The Book Thief, or It's Kind of a Funny Story, to name a few, are satisfying and too simple is poorly equipped to analyze literature at all. I wonder, too, how Graham knows "what teenagers want to see", and which teens she's referring to. I spend quite a lot of time with teens, but I would hesitate to make such a sweeping statement about any people based solely on age.

Graham writes, "Life is so short, and the list of truly great books for adults is so long."

Here's my edit. Life is so short. Read whatever you like. And never, ever be embarrassed by your choices.

I quickly dashed off this post after Allan brought the story to my attention. More fully fleshed-out responses abound.

Really? Are we still genre-shaming people for the books they like? by Lauren Davis at io9

No, you do not have to be ashamed of reading young adult fiction in WaPo

In Praise of Reading Whatever You Want in New Republic

Slate’s Condescending “Against YA” Couldn’t Be More Wrong - Young Adult Fiction Is for Everyone in FlavorWire


Kyahgirl said...

Great post Laura. That judgmental attitude infuriates me. I have favorite books in every genre and age category....who the hell cares.

How many steps down the road is it from 'judging' to calling for books to be censored because someone doesn't believe the rest of us should be exposed to them.

allan said...

So it sounds like Graham gets every factual point of her essay dead wrong. And her ill-informed opinions reveal her to be little more than a scolding crank.

allan said...

Graham writes: "the list of truly great books for adults is so long".

Yet she doesn't mention even one book that adults SHOULD be reading. She name-drops Dickens, Wharton and the Bronte sisters. That's it! ... Oh, wait, she mentions Megan Abbott, who published her first book in 2005.

I guess the 20th Century was a pretty dead time for novels.

Kirbycairo said...

Maybe I am naive but I was genuinely shocked that anyone (and I mean anyone) would hold such a strange position. And I say strange because it simply strikes me of nothing but odd that anyone would care what kinds of books other people enjoy reading. I mean I could see people encouraging the idea that we should read a wide array of different kinds of books if only because diversity is interesting. But I can't imagine why anyone would complain about a a particular genre - particularly one that is so full of interesting works. My father was the most widely read person I have ever known and he loved so-called children's or young adult fiction. He would go from some nineteenth century classic novel like, say, Mill on the Floss, to a young adult novel like, say, John Christopher. And he enjoyed all of the genres. I can't imagine a person who enjoys fiction would think otherwise.

James Bow said...

Hey, there! Long time no see! I happened upon your post here while searching for the article you were critiquing. I wrote something similar myself: http://bowjamesbow.ca/2014/06/09/ruth-graham-is-.shtml

laura k said...

Kyahgirl, how nice to see you here, and thanks for your comment. You're so right. I was thinking of the ignorance and annoyance, but there's a danger, too - a slippery slope.

Kirby, I cannot fathom it either. Some of my favourite books in the world are children's books, and not out of nostalgia or because they are cute. They are just great books. Why would anyone (a) care and (b) think I should be ashamed of this?

Allan nails it: she's a scolding crank.

laura k said...

Excellent post, James Bow. Thanks for sharing!

laura k said...

Notice, too, she's only talking about realistic fiction. Everything else is dismissed as trash! She mentions Twilight and Divergent, and based on her estimation of those two series as trash, dismisses all Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Kirbycairo said...

Though I am not as familiar with contemporary authors, I was thinking about just a few of the authors of the past whose books are very often considered even by the rather elite part of the literary community to be genuine classics - among them being Milne, Kenneth Grahame, Captain Marryat, Arthur Ransome, Geoffrey Trease, Leon Garfield, Judy Bloom, RLS, J. Meade Falkner, J.D. Salinger, just to name a few. It is funny that anyone would go after novels for young adults when one considers this kind of company.

impudent strumpet said...

Relevant 15-second Youtube video

laura k said...

The New York Times Book Review picked this up, calling it "the great YA debate".

But it's not a debate, really. It's just one person scolding us for reading something she doesn't approve of.


laura k said...

Relevant 15-second Youtube video

Just saw this now! Love it! And so true. At some point we have to learn to either say "I love that, too!" or to shut up.

laura k said...

It is funny that anyone would go after novels for young adults when one considers this kind of company.

I think this person would say, sure, those are good books, just not for adults.

But yeah, it's not rational.