Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

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Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby Derek » 12 June 2014, 17:56

Max made me think of this. A few days ago, this Slate article caused a minor stir. In it, the author, Ruth Graham, contends that there is a phenomenon of adults unabashedly expressing their enthusiasm for literature aimed at teens, whereas in days past such reading proclivities would cause embarrassment—for good reason.

Ruth Graham, 'Against YA' wrote:Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this. 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. 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.


Specifically, the article is written in response to the buzz around John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (though she also mentions books like Eleanor & Park, The Perks of Being a Wildflower, and It's Kind of a Funny Story). Graham is unimpressed with the novel's popular acclaim:

Ruth Graham, 'Against YA' wrote:I’m a reader who did not weep, contra every article ever written about the book, when I read The Fault in Our Stars. I thought, Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds. If I’m being honest, it also left me saying “Oh, brother” out loud more than once. Does this make me heartless? Or does it make me a grown-up? This is, after all, a book that features a devastatingly handsome teen boy who says things like “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things” to his girlfriend, whom he then tenderly deflowers on a European vacation he arranged.


The reaction to the article has been overwhelmingly negative, variously casting Graham as snobbish and condescending or accusing her of mischaracterizing the larger body of young-adult fiction. So the question is, do you think adults should be embarrassed to read this stuff?

I hadn't really put my thoughts together before reading it, but it resonated with my experiences on social media sites. It's not so much that I care what other people are reading, but I am made uncomfortable by the way folks my own age gush. I'm not sure whether to attribute to their poor taste or mine.
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby Brenden » 12 June 2014, 18:02

I don't think they should be embarrassed simply for reading such books (some of them can be quite good!), but I do agree with your point on gushing. It seems, to me, really unbecoming of an adult to gush about anything, let alone a book specifically written for a teenage audience. I think it shows a clear lack a maturity.
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby Derek » 12 June 2014, 20:43

Brenden wrote:I don't think they should be embarrassed simply for reading such books

Which ones do you consider good?
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby xyz72 » 12 June 2014, 20:54

I think adults should be embarrassed for only or mainly reading(and otherwise consuming) material aimed at teenagers and straying away from more challenging material. However, I don't think the age of the target audience is as much of an issue as the sheer stupidity of so much literature out there.

Young adult literature can be used to introduce teenagers to concepts of philosophy, morality and science - yes, it's usually sloppily done, but even the attempt to give some depth to the material is better than some of the adult-oriented literature out there. Dan Brown novel #29, unscientific bullshit self-help book #2878, "romance"(read: erotic fantasies) novel #3974 - those are written specifically for adults, but to me would be far more embarrassing. Uwe Boll and Roland Emmerich movies, How I Met Your Mother...there's plenty of utter shit with no value aimed at adults - people like to pretend that material "for grown-ups" is better by default, I say there's shit everywhere. I don't discriminate.
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby Brenden » 12 June 2014, 22:00

Derek wrote:
Brenden wrote:I don't think they should be embarrassed simply for reading such books

Which ones do you consider good?

Happy Potter, His Dark Materials, Hunger Games (the first, not the rest), Looking For Alaska.

There's also the classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Call of the Wild, and Flowers for Algernon.
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby Brenden » 12 June 2014, 22:54

xyz72 wrote:[…] but even the attempt to give some depth to the material is better than some of the adult-oriented literature out there. Dan Brown novel #29, unscientific bullshit self-help book #2878, "romance"(read: erotic fantasies) novel #3974 - those are written specifically for adults, but to me would be far more embarrassing.

Oh, God, that's a really, really good point, André.
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby poolerboy0077 » 12 June 2014, 22:56

I'm unabashedly immature so I rarely experience embarrassment of such things. Interest in certain elements of these adolescent works is understandable given our biology. For instance, the video I posted featuring Ogi Ogas talks about how because women, regardless of age, have certain sexual cues about male competency, exterior ruggedness, internal tenderness and a yearning for alpha males, books like the Twilight series tap into their psychology. Edward Cullen isn't simply a teenager after all. He's inhabiting the body of a hot teen, but is hundreds of years old because vampires live a long time, thereby combining the experience and maturity of a grown man with the attractiveness of an adolescent body. These books to some degree serve as a kind of emotional pornography and I see no problem with it. I have yet to see a compelling case for why I or anyone should feel ashamed. I read dry and dense books of a sophisticated caliber and those that appeal to my nostalgia of simpler, care-free and more imaginative times. I can enjoy watching When Harry Met Sally but also Bridesmaids and Mean Girls. I can enjoy a fine glass of Dom Perignon yet still appreciate the dry fruitiness of a cheap Stella Rosa prosecco from my local Albertsons. The only fault I see is when people deprive themselves of the breadth of literature available, which seems to be the author's main gripe: "But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something." Emphasis on the "if."

Brenden wrote:
xyz72 wrote:[…] but even the attempt to give some depth to the material is better than some of the adult-oriented literature out there. Dan Brown novel #29, unscientific bullshit self-help book #2878, "romance"(read: erotic fantasies) novel #3974 - those are written specifically for adults, but to me would be far more embarrassing.

Oh, God, that's a really, really good point, André.

Devastatingly good point. :lol:
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby Brenden » 12 June 2014, 23:16

poolerboy0077 wrote:The only fault I see is when people deprive themselves of the breadth of literature available, which seems to be the author's main gripe: "But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something." Emphasis on the "if."

John Green very actively encourages his fanbase to read a wide range of literature, both classic and contemporary.
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby Derek » 12 June 2014, 23:51

poolerboy0077 wrote:I read dry and dense books of a sophisticated caliber and those that appeal to my nostalgia of simpler, care-free and more imaginative times. I can enjoy watching When Harry Met Sally but also Bridesmaids and Mean Girls. I can enjoy a fine glass of Dom Perignon yet still appreciate the dry fruitiness of a cheap Stella Rosa prosecco from my local Albertsons.

Like making passionate love to Justin Bieber after a beautiful evening at a 5-star restaurant, but also jacking off to 18boy.

I'm not sure if I share your opinion. I loved Harry Potter growing up, but I have no desire to revisit it. It's just too childish to appeal to me anymore, and I couldn't help but judge someone my own age who is still an active fan. I'm not convinced someone can have tastes broad enough to encompass books like The Fault in our Stars and serious works of literature. There are other examples that feel less forgiving, like an adult who still watches Sunday morning cartoons, or an adult who still listens to vapid Disney tween pop. I think reading Twilight is just as bad.

The books André mentioned are similar cases. I read Dan Brown's works when I was 12, because even though it isn't aimed at teens, it's just as stupid as most YA fiction. I tried rereading one recently and stopped after one chapter.

But what I'm talking about isn't just enjoying these books. It's the way people advertise their interest in them with fan art, fan fiction, conventions, sharing quotes, and other things that suggest an intellectual preoccupation with them. I don't see how someone with a broad range of cultural experience can seriously become intellectually or emotionally engaged with something fifteen years under their age group.
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby poolerboy0077 » 13 June 2014, 01:23

Derek wrote:I don't see how someone with a broad range of cultural experience can seriously become intellectually or emotionally engaged with something fifteen years under their age group.

It takes a special kind of personality, I think. Just ask Lostpainting Alex.
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby Derek » 13 June 2014, 02:04

poolerboy0077 wrote:
Derek wrote:I don't see how someone with a broad range of cultural experience can seriously become intellectually or emotionally engaged with something fifteen years under their age group.

It takes a special kind of personality, I think. Just ask Lostpainting Alex.

...Well yeah, just ask Alex. Liking that guy requires... compartmentalization.
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby homomorphism » 13 June 2014, 02:17

Derek wrote:But what I'm talking about isn't just enjoying these books. It's the way people advertise their interest in them with fan art, fan fiction, conventions, sharing quotes, and other things that suggest an intellectual preoccupation with them. I don't see how someone with a broad range of cultural experience can seriously become intellectually or emotionally engaged with something fifteen years under their age group.



I guess I'm going to be in the minority and side with Derek on this one, especially this last paragraph of his. It's not necessarily a bad thing if you enjoy reading, to quote Brenden,

Ha[rr]y Potter, His Dark Materials, Hunger Games (the first, not the rest), Looking For Alaska.


as an adult, which is why the article says you should be embarrassed about it, not that you're a shitty person. Sometimes I enjoy sitting back and consuming completely escapist media too; it offers me nothing intellectually or emotionally, but it can be enjoyable to do, in much the same way that I sometimes like eating fast food, despite it being the nutritional equivalent of eating fried plastic.


But there's nothing to them. Take, for instance, everyone's favorite book-turned-to-HBO-TV-series, Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire. There are entire communities dedicated to a "thoughtful analysis" of the series, and they're quite defensive of this endeavor as actually being some sort of legitimate, adult interest. But examine what they're doing for a moment; certainly, the books offer political intrigue, a fully fleshed out history, military maneuverings (I assume so, anyway), and generally a lot of content which have real life analogues that adults talk about. But the entire world is fictitious. If you dig long enough, you realize the entire endeavor of studying the history of this world is pointless and contrived, because the world is made up. Why did the blond people win a fight? Because Martin decided they should. There's no other reason. There's nothing to study. There are no lessons to take away that can be applied anywhere outside of this make-pretend series.
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby poolerboy0077 » 13 June 2014, 03:06

homomorphism wrote:But the entire world is fictitious. If you dig long enough, you realize the entire endeavor of studying the history of this world is pointless and contrived, because the world is made up. Why did the blond people win a fight? Because Martin decided they should. There's no other reason. There's nothing to study. There are no lessons to take away that can be applied anywhere outside of this make-pretend series.

Isn't that true of all fiction, though? Is what you value only those fictional works which are almost indistinguishable from memoirs or documentaries?
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby Derek » 13 June 2014, 03:11

I think what he means that there is a difference between engaging intellectually with works of fiction and delving into them so deeply that every meaningless detail becomes a discussion. Granted, some works of fiction do call for that level of attention, but no tv show or YA novel does.
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby Paragon » 13 June 2014, 04:50

You know what, on that point, I do enjoy when people speculate on whether or not an author intended this or that detail to be meaningful. It's the reader taking ownership of the work and exploring, and that's wonderful. However, insisting that the meaning is there and disregarding a wealth of interpretation, in that typical high school English teacher way, that's just obnoxious.

On the main point, embarrassment is a function of social awareness. i.e. it wouldn't be the reading of the book itself, but that other people are going to think less of you if they knew that you did. And for what? Going for fiction that is accessible and relatable and often more honest? There's a heck of a lot of different reasons to read fiction, and #1 among them is that it's actually enjoyable. That ought to come first, and any other lofty ideals about expanding horizons and pretenses of sophistication should come after.
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby poolerboy0077 » 13 June 2014, 05:54

Paragon wrote:That ought to come first, and any other lofty ideals about expanding horizons and pretenses of sophistication should come after.

Perhaps it's because I often read more non-fiction than fiction and therefore have a stunted or underdeveloped appreciation for this genre but am I the only one who doesn't read fiction for the purpose of stumbling onto epiphanies? Apart from mere enjoyment of a story, complex or not, what can a work of fiction provide intellectually that a work of non-fiction cannot?
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby homomorphism » 13 June 2014, 06:27

@pooler/Derek

It was a bad example, and, upon a rereading of the article, I realize that.


Paragon wrote:You know what, on that point, I do enjoy when people speculate on whether or not an author intended this or that detail to be meaningful. It's the reader taking ownership of the work and exploring, and that's wonderful. However, insisting that the meaning is there and disregarding a wealth of interpretation, in that typical high school English teacher way, that's just obnoxious.

On the main point, embarrassment is a function of social awareness. i.e. it wouldn't be the reading of the book itself, but that other people are going to think less of you if they knew that you did. And for what? Going for fiction that is accessible and relatable and often more honest? There's a heck of a lot of different reasons to read fiction, and #1 among them is that it's actually enjoyable. That ought to come first, and any other lofty ideals about expanding horizons and pretenses of sophistication should come after.


It's not suggesting that you shouldn't read young adult fiction because other people will think less of you. It's that you shouldn't even be able to find this kind of stuff enjoyable passed a certain age. The experiences they're talking about are aimed at children. The experiences and concerns you're drawing from are those of adolescents. Presumably, as an adult, the issues of high school aren't really something you relate to anymore, and the concerns of children aren't really your concerns anymore. If you're reading this stuff as an adult and still enjoying it, it's because it's utter escapism for you. And I guess you have a guilty pleasure. Most people do. But, when this forms a sizable percentage of what you read, I think it's worth contemplating why you consistently find yourself wishing to immerse yourself in the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and strife of children.
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby Iago » 13 June 2014, 06:29

Ruth Graham mentions complexity and ambiguity as markers of mature fiction, and that teenagers' fiction (young adult is a distasteful euphemism) is of a lesser quality because its themes and situations are simple. But I think it is a mistake to characterise mature fiction as necessarily more complex and grey-shaded. A statement like "we are all going to die one day" is perhaps too obvious to need stating, but the significance lies in how it is treated. Just as someone might get a 'second lease' on life after being involved in a car crash, despite already understanding the frailty of human life, so too can truisms and platitudes be given a real feel of profundity if they are elaborated with eloquence. I haven't read any teenagers' books in a long time, so I can't think of any examples, but I imagine this is why To Kill a Mockingbird has persisted so well. Likewise, a simple narrative scenario is not inherently weak, but is only as weak as the author writes it. Presentation is the art of the the narrative writer.
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby homomorphism » 13 June 2014, 06:33

poolerboy0077 wrote:
Paragon wrote:That ought to come first, and any other lofty ideals about expanding horizons and pretenses of sophistication should come after.

Perhaps it's because I often read more non-fiction than fiction and therefore have a stunted or underdeveloped appreciation for this genre but am I the only one who doesn't read fiction for the purpose of stumbling onto epiphanies? Apart from mere enjoyment of a story, complex or not, what can a work of fiction provide intellectually that a work of non-fiction cannot?


They're different. For instance, take Egan-- his work routinely focuses around challenging our understanding of gender, sexuality, physics of our universe, etc by asking us to imagine things that are quite alien to our experiences. We could sit down and have a conversation about what the universe might look like if spacetime had a Riemannian instead of a Lorentzian geometry, but it's far more engaging to imagine a character in the world and how they interact. And what would even begin to grow in a universe like that in the first place.

Or take a book like The Joys of Motherhood. Again, you could read a lot about postcolonial Africa, but there's something to being asked to construct a character and travel with them along their journey. You leave the experience with that person. Even take the nonfictional The Year of Magical Thinking. Didion's writing gives you her perspective. You get to live with her through the year after the death of her husband. This perspective allows you to live in and with her depression, and it lets you engage with the material.
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Re: Should adults be embarrassed to read young-adult fiction?

Unread postby Iago » 13 June 2014, 06:43

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