I saw a virtual explosion of anger yesterday at this article published on Slate, which admittedly doesn’t have a great reputation for journalism. The title was absolutely atrocious: “Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed To Read Young Adult Books.” Accusatory, shaming, and outrageously stupid to target such a huge demographic with such inflammatory language. In and of itself, that statement, I think, inspired huge streams of commentary. And rightly so. Nobody has the right to shame people for their literary choices, and, later in the article, the author even says so, even though there’s a bit of clear tongue-in-cheek when talking about the “ethos of our era.”
“I know, I know: Live and let read. Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. “
Now I could go on a bit of a tangent on the trend of titling articles in recent internet journalism – it seems just about everything is shameless clickbait – but I think that’s for another time. Suffice it to say that, in this case, the title of the article severely damaged the author’s reputation and, more importantly, the content, which was actually sort of worthwhile.
My point? Chill for a second. At the risk of simply restating the article’s content, there are actually a lot of good points. The weirdest part is that it contains information that, I suspect, most literary-minded folks already knew. If you don’t diversify your reading portfolio, you might be missing something important, if what you are doing is trying to use literature to enrich your understanding of life. If you read literature as an escapist, or as a sort of relaxing leisure activity where the point is to distract you from a life that is nasty, brutish, and short, then I’m not sure that the article was really even intended for you. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. I think, perhaps, the author came off as even more snobbish by not drawing those lines in the sand (though she does probably stick a couple burrs by implying that “serious readers” don’t read YA – I didn’t say the article was perfect).
YA literature is written for young adults. Middle Grade literature is written for kids. There’s always a target audience, and with that targeting come certain things that address the specific concerns of that audience. Adults probably aren’t dealing with bullying at school, nor are they dealing with the same sorts of identity crises that teenagers are. I think the point of the article is that adult literature deals with adult concerns and can enrich the experience of adults in a way that YA literature cannot.
And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose. But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something. [emphasis mine]
Again, this line totally doesn’t fall in with the title of the article, supporting my statement that whoever titled it is a buffoon. There’s no real shaming going on here, but more of a qualification of the hypothesis. But I think this is the real point of the article, and it’s one worth paying attention to. It’s not about whether or not adults enjoy reading YA novels; it’s about whether or not they are substituting growing as an adult with experiencing a second teenage existence vicariously through novels. If it’s not substitution, it doesn’t really fall into what the author of this article is saying, despite her casting a stupidly wide net with that idiotic title. Some of the other language of the article is snobbish, yes, but I’m not sure they’re the fighting words that everyone seems to think they are.
Look; I love cartoons. I will love them until the day that I die. I love video games, too. I’m replaying the Quest for Glory series at the moment, games that were made in the early 1990s, and lately I’ve been watching an awful lot of Sesame Street, thanks to my daughter. But at some point, after my twelfth episode of Daniel Tiger or even Dexter’s Laboratory, I need to go off and do something adult-like to keep myself mentally and spiritually healthy. I love milk, too, and I will damn well continue drinking milk until the day I die because it goes great with cookies. But milk is for babies (or calves). It has some of the stuff that’s going to keep me healthy, but I can’t subsist on it if I want to remain a healthy adult.
A couple of obtuse analogies later, it boils down to this: I’ve outgrown cartoons, and I’ve outgrown milk. I still like both. I will still consume both – and there’s absolutely no shame or embarrassment in that. But there’s more to life than cookies and cartoons, and I’m healthy enough to realize it.
Now, if someone going to title an article “Men Who Watch Cartoons Should Be Fed To Wild Dogs,” well…