I can be a bit of a book snob.
I’m not proud of it, but I judge non-readers pretty harshly. There are people out there who say things like “I don’t read”, and they don’t seem to think that it’s a serious hole in their lives, which is very difficult for me to understand.
Books are, for me, a necessity. Since the day I was able to read Grover At The Farm all by myself, I have been reading. I have a quick link to my library’s website on my Firefox toolbar, and I choose new purses based primarily on their size, because they must have enough space for an average hardcover. I have read hundreds of books, from classics to to sci-fi to non-fiction on almost any topic, and I’ve got a “to-read” shelf (currently growing online at that never seems to get any shorter. I deeply regret that I only have one lifetime during which to read, because I’ll never be able to read everything I want to.
I think more people should be regular readers. The digital world is slowly chipping away at our attention spans and encouraging us to absorb written words in small, manageable paragraphs, instead of pages and chapters, so I smile when I see people at bus stops or in coffee shops, holding an open book. So why, then, do I feel such hostility towards adult readers of tween-and-teen-targeted “literature”? See, right there, I used sarcastiquotes without even thinking about it. I get all sorts of annoyed when I see a grown person paging through Twilight. They’re reading something, so I should be happy about it – they made a decision to acquire and read a book, which is what I want more people to do.

But why would anyone other than a 12-year-old girl voluntarily read about angsty sparkling vampires (unless they’re parents of teens and tweens who want to be familiar with what their kids are reading)? My parents weren’t standing in line at the store, waiting excitedly for the next Babysitters Club book to be released so they could discuss it with their friends at work, so what changed over the past 20 years? Did young adult (YA) literature get more complex and adult along the way, blurring the lines?

It sounds sort of rhetorical, but it’s a question I’m honestly asking of my readers: has there been a shift in the complexity of YA books over the years, making them closer to adult books?

I’ve done a lot of thinking about my hostility towards the YA stuff, and I posted my thoughts to one of my message boards to start a discussion there, learning more about myself in the process. A big part of my problem is that I assume that someone reading “kids’ books” isn’t going to want to read Asimov, or John Irving, or a history of the life of Henrietta Lacks. But how do I know what else is on their shelves? Just like someone at Taco Bell might cook fancy gourmet dinners 95% of the time, some people who read lots of good stuff sometimes like to read “fluffy” books because they’re easy.

I think I tend to lump all YA into the “bullshit fluff” literature category, because of what I remember from the books of my childhood. The problem with that, if I think about it, is that I enjoyed the Harry Potter series, and if I’m being honest, I have to say they were better written than Sophie Kinsella’s “Shopaholic” stuff, which was aimed at adult readers. So where’s the line? What’s a YA novel and what’s a crappy grownup novel? I count Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Anne of Green Gables among my favorite books and I’ve read them dozens of times, despite the fact that they’re intended for younger readers. But they’re good. Conclusion: maybe I’m putting more overlap in my Venn diagram of “YA” and “crappy writing” than is warranted.

Why should it even matter that people are reading badly-written junk? It’s not my business what people read, and on a conscious level I know that, but I see someone in a waiting room reading Fifty Shades of Grey and I die a little inside. I’m sure there are folks who will look down on my collection of science fiction and medical memoirs and declare that I’m not a real reader if I don’t know Tolstoy and Dumas by heart, and I’m sitting here in my glass house, tossing stones around. 

Full disclosure: I haven’t read Twilight or 50 Shades, mostly because I’ve heard enough about them and read enough reviews and quotes from them to know that they won’t be to my taste. Hunger Games, on the other hand, is being recommended to me from all sides, by people I know and whose opinions I usually trust, and that’s a big reason why I started this thread. I really don’t want to read the books, and I’m not entirely sure what my resistance is about. I don’t think I’m the hipster type who avoids things when they get popular, so what is it? I thought maybe it was the YA label that was doing it, but I’m not sure, given that I do count some children’s classics among my favorite books.
Maybe I’m guilty of lumping the Hunger Games books into the same category as the Twilight series, when it belongs elsewhere? Is it more Little Women than Sweet Valley High?

I’d like this to open up into a discussion, if anyone’s game. I need help pinning down what it is that bugs me so much about the popularity of fluff, because otherwise I’m not sure how I will ever change that prejudice.

4 thoughts on “Booksnobbery

  1. rockinlibrarian

    Hi, I was linked here by my friend Angelique who was linked here by your friend Natasha (if I’m following this correctly!) She’d immediately thought of me because I’m a YA librarian, and I’ve been a vocal advocate for all-ages reading– and for that matter, most of the books I read ARE YA or even children’s, just because that’s what I have to keep up with and my to-read list gets so long just from doing collection development that I don’t have TIME to throw in much of anything else. So maybe I can answer some of your questions and help you see where you should go from here.

    In every genre, written for any age level, there is junk and there is brilliance. There is still a lot of “junk” in YA and children’s books– there always has been– but most of adult books are junk, too (50 Shades, by the way, is an adult book. NOT YA AT ALL). (One can even argue that even juvenile junk is BETTER than adult junk, because at least juvenile junk is more tightly edited– extraneous stuff is cut out– and they’ve been found to have less typos, too). Likewise, there’s always been GOOD stuff for both, too, but lately the good stuff in YA has been getting more attention than it used to BECAUSE, since Harry Potter, it’s become more “accepted” for adults to read it.

    In other words, you can’t compare The Hunger Games to Sweet Valley High– okay, they are completely different genres for one thing– but you can’t compare, say, Twilight to Christopher Pike… or Sweet Valley High. You can compare The A-List or Gossip Girls to Sweet Valley High. Compare Twilight more to, say, Forever by Judy Blume– not the greatest books in the world, but more likely to be ABSORBED as meaningful than your fluff series like Gossip Girls or Sweet Valley High. And The Hunger Games can’t be compared to Twilight, either, because it’s entirely, completely different. It would be more, like, say The Giver by Lois Lowry. That may be pushing it– I ADORED The Hunger Games, but The Giver is a freaking BRILLIANT book and really is a league above that– it’s a young-YA-older-children’s from the mid-nineties, so yes, the quality stuff existed back then, too.

    The actual difference between YA and adult is hotly debated even in the industry– really it’s just a marketing term. The way I see it as a YA librarian is that YA are books that see through the eyes of teens– usually (but not always) the protagonists are teens and they’re dealing at heart with teenage concerns like Who Am I? What Is My Place In the World? Do I Have What It Takes To Get By? and other general coming of age issues (sometimes these things are faced in a high school setting. Other times they involve zombies. Same basic questions, though). This usually does not include books where an adult is looking back at their teenage years and saying “Boy, was I dumb” or “Boy, those were the days”– it’s more IN THE MOMENT than that. And adult concerns are only gone into in as much as they affect a teenager. So, once you meet that requirement, all bets are off: it can be crappy and formulaic or gorgeous and mindblowingly unique; it can be sexual or romantic or none of the above; serious or funny; any genre whatsoever (you’re also more likely to see genre crossover within YA)… I just realized I already wrote a post on this. Here:

  2. rockinlibrarian

    My full comment was too long for one comment, so, moving on…

    Okay, specifics. Like I said, I, personally, adored The Hunger Games– the worldbuilding was fascinating and the suspense was intense and the characters were mostly interesting if not always likeable, and I still have dreams about it sometimes. Oh, and it is not remotely either Little Women NOR Sweet Valley High– more, uh, 1984, maybe. Twilight is another completely different style of book and really shouldn’t be lumped in with it– I can’t vouch for the quality (though I hear it’s Not Great But Yet Strangely Compelling) because I’ve just never had any interest in it– and way too many books to read to start it!

    Suggestions: current YA books that are getting loads of buzz from adults who read them include Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Historical suspense) and Wonder by R J Palacio (school/friendship/tearjerking story, may be more middle-grade than YA). I always have to plug Michelle Cooper’s Montmaray series for anyone who likes historical drama or the book I Capture the Castle (which it is very like in tone). Libba Bray. I love her. She’s insane. But anyway let me point you to some other sources:

    Here’s a Goodreads group:

    Here’s the Forever Young Adult blog, but they DO tend to like crappy guilty-pleasure junk as well as good stuff, so may not be the BEST place for High-Quality recs:

    FOR high-quality recs, here’s a blog devoted to guessing the Printz award winner, which is given to the best (artistic quality-wise) YA book:

    Okay, I’ll stop there. But if you have any other specific questions, let me know!

  3. Jen

    Thank you, rockinlibrarian, for sharing your perspective. I’ll be checking out the links to see what they have to say, and if I see any interesting books there I’ll do my best to look past the YA label and enjoy them for what they contain. I’ve enjoyed many books that are written from a teen’s perspective, and I guess I’ve been fooling myself by calling them “classics” or some such.

    I guess I’m more anti-junk than anti-YA, but I was lumping the two together, apparently unfairly.


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