It’s Sunday, which means I’m late getting to the links of the week. In the spirit of better late than never, here goes:
* Writing in Slate, Ruth Graham endeared herself to legions of YA fans with an essay about why grownups ought to be reading More Serious Books.
...even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia….But the very ways that YA is pleasurable are at odds with the way that adult fiction is pleasurable….
Most importantly, these books 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, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering.
* N.B.: Graham’s editors at Slate went with a headline (“Against YA”) and deck (“Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children”) that, as they must have known, turned out to be the editorial equivalent of tossing a lit match into a keg of gunpowder. Graham’s essay set off a series of explosive/feisty/incredulous/WTF-inflected reactions on Twitter, where YA fans collectively demonstrated 1) they are legion, 2) they love them some YA, and 3) they don’t really care to have a critical discussion about the merits of Graham’s argument. (And there is at least the makings of an interesting conversation in Graham’s piece, although I don’t overall agree with it; she takes a certain strain of YA lit–think The Fault in Our Stars–and proceeds to generalize about YA as a whole, which seems reductive and unfair to me. The bigger question of how we define literature for kids vs. literature for grownups, and where the boundaries lie, is worth serious conversation, though. )
*Neil Gaiman had one of the more measured responses on Twitter, BTW, and scored a good critical point at the same time. I liked his followup, too: “Ah, well, chacon a son gout. I think I’m with C.S. Lewis, that putting aside childish things includes the childish need to be thought grownup.”
*Other mags, newspapers, and blogs raced to publish rebuttals and ripostes (many with huffy or let-me-set-you-straight headlines):
TNR, “In Praise of Reading Whatever the Hell You Want” (deck: “Don’t let Slate make you ashamed for reading what you love”), by Hilary Kelly:
You should never be embarrassed by any book you enjoy. And you certainly shouldn’t let some woman you’ve never met make you feel inferior for reading beneath your grade level.
The Atlantic, “Of Course YA Books Can Be Complex,” by Noah Berlatsky:
For all their claims to dislike pat solutions, though, it seems that it’s critics like Graham who wants a simplified world.
WaPo, “No, you do not have to be ashamed of reading young adult fiction,” by Alyssa Rosenberg:
Unless we are to define young adult fiction as having a certain kind of ending or perspective, this is a rather odd mold to try to force around a vast and varied category that includes books in multiple genres.
*My favorite response so far is probably this one in Salon by the ever-astute Laura Miller, who combines a critical take on the book and movie versions of “The Fault in Our Stars” with thoughts on YA more broadly:
As for Graham’s complaints about the genre as a whole, it’s certainly true that there is a lot of crappy, formulaic, simple-minded and above all sentimental YA out there, but of course there’s also an awful lot of adult fiction with the very same qualities.
*Graham went on NPR this weekend to talk about the original piece and the, uh, lively response to it:
There have been a few strains to the criticism. One says, you know, actually the best YA is much richer and more sophisticated than I give them credit for. And I think that’s a totally valid argument to have, and that’s a discussion that we can have.
But then there’s this whole other strain of criticism that boils down to how dare you tell me what to read. And I guess I find that a little bit troubling. You know, the job of criticism is to make distinctions between good things and bad things and between complicated things and simplistic things….I’m making an argument that YA is more of a guilty pleasure.
*Somebody posted a link to a great article from a couple of years ago about historical distinctions, or lack thereof, between fiction for children and fiction for grownups. If/when I find it, I’ll post it.
Seen any other notable ripostes to Graham’s essay? Any responses that agree with her argument? Note ’em below. Happy reading.