Dear Ruth Graham, Don’t Shame Me For Reading YA Books

9 June 2014 by 34 Comments

I read Young Adult books. According to a recent article by Ruth Graham on Slate.com, I should be ashamed of my YA reading habit. It is certainly nothing I should be announcing in any sort of public forum. According to my age demographic I should be reading books by Janet Evanovich, and finding new uses for Mason jars. Any sense of enjoyment I receive from reading books geared for a thirteen year-old should have long gone away. I am a societal abomination.

12

cause shaming other people’s choices is super-mature

After being angry about this shaming, I realized Ruth Graham doesn’t know what she is talking about. I bet she thinks she is too old to eat Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries for breakfast (I know it’s unhealthy. It’s still delicious). I bet she worries about the age limit on her clothing. Did you know you can be too old to wear tye-dye? Yeah, I don’t care either.

Back to the book-bullying, it’s narrow-minded. Reading a book written for a different age demographic can help you see other aspects of the story. A teen reading Looking for Alaska wouldn’t see the foreshadowing, and would be taken by surprise at the climax of the story. As an adult, I can see it coming, and it is almost more heartbreaking. The characters are unaware of what is all around them. The story has new meaning for me at this point in my life.  Possibly in ten years it will have another meaning.

Waterfall Woman

There are two women in this picture. How you see them depends on how you see the silver area.

Graham specifically hates on Twilight and Divergent readers, calling the books “transparently trashy,” and books that “no one sees as serious literature.” Divergent is a study of people and what happens when a society tries to build a utopia. The heroine grows and learns from the choices made. Twilight is a modern fairy tale and love story. The love triangle is different (two monsters and a human) allowing us to see that love can allow us to overcome our monstrous desires.  Yet Graham is unable to see this sort of character development. She is blinded by her own prejudices.

Literature exists to allow us to see aspects of ourselves and our society; it entertains, and it educates. We should be encouraging others to read, and discuss what they read. Literature is a common denominator. Any Harry Potter fan will tear up at the words, “page 637“. Fans of the Hunger Games series have a similar reaction to seeing a single rose. Maybe soon people will start pinning small plastic toys to their clothing. Wouldn’t that set Ruth Graham on edge? I’ll be first in line with safety pins.

Want to read Young Adult Lit and don’t know where to start? Have a YA book you wish everyone would read? Let us know in the comments.

 

karalea

Karalea enjoys talking about books, comics, manga, anime and anything else she finds interesting. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @kl614born. She's studying to get her MLIS because libraries are pretty spiffy places to hang out.

34 thoughts on “Dear Ruth Graham, Don’t Shame Me For Reading YA Books

  1. When I was a ‘YA’ all we had was Judy Blume and Sweet Valley High and being in the UK, those were really hard to find, so it was a genre that totally passed me by until I started getting arcs from Netgalley.
    I read 3 YAs in a row and they blew me away. As a nearly 40 yr old mum of kids in the YA age bracket, the perspective you can give to these novels is endless. I read a lot of them with my daughter’s voice in my head and then often flip to the parent’s while nodding sagely to myself.
    To dismiss an entire genre is moronic and ill-informed and I hope that the backlash has the desired effect.

    • That actually gives me another thought… shouldn’t parents be participating in what their kids read, anyway? I know her point wasn’t aimed at parents who are doing that, but if you read some YA stuff because you have kids, and then you ENJOY it because YA is getting more sophisticated…. ? What, does that make you a bad reader now?

      Ugh, the whole thing was just fail.

  2. It would be nice if people would be less judgmental about what others are reading/writing/like and instead focus on what they enjoy. It’s not a competition or it shouldn’t be one. Books and people reading = good. Judging others = bad. Tell me about what you like or even why you personally didn’t care for something.

    Dismissing entire genres or calling what girls and women enjoy trashy is not only lazy it’s sexist (and yes women can be sexist). Women make up the largest group of book buyers and many vote with their wallets. We don’t appreciate being insulted. Stop thinking you can tell us what to read and shame us into hiding (yay ereaders) we will no longer be dictated to. /rant

    Sorry this stuff really gets to me. I read your blog regularly but this may be my first time commenting.

    • Welcome to the comments! :D

      Women sure as hell can be sexist, which is just the most sad, isn’t it? And you’re right, I didn’t see her denouncing Tom Clancy or any “trashy” men’s reading, nor do I regularly see it… but I see it a lot with women’s reading.

      I just don’t understand why people have to go out of their way to be jerks to other people. I do not personally enjoy YA, but I’ve never been like “omg” when someone tells me THEY read YA. I just don’t see how it’s anybody’s business.

    • Nice to see you in the comments.

      Reading is still considered a women’s hobby. Ladies have book clubs, most protagonists are female. Men don’t seem to have book targeted at them unless they are sci-fi/fantasy or a war/crime/mystery. Wonder why?

      So yeah, she’s being sexist and stupid.

      • I know lots of men who read. Men’s Adventure (military adventure?) is the male equivalent of romance novels. Took reading a couple to figure that out. Boy was that an eye-opening experience.

        It’s probably been a myth that SFF is read mostly by men but it sure is marketed to them and even when it was “bad to be a nerd/geek” reading that stuff it was still a step above romance.

        War/crime/mystery one of the really misunderstood genres for who reads. Steps above SFF but it’s still genre so it’s not REAL literature.

        Real literature for the most part written by men for men, difficult, complicated, not easy to read, so this, this is the only thing real adults should read. Privilege at its best. If it’s fun to read it isn’t good. It’s only if you have to struggle with the text. Frankly I’ll never understand that kind of thinking. Many genre books deal with the same issues but they are fun to read also. What is wrong with that? And we wonder why kids learn to hate reading and less and less people read.

        • – War/crime/mystery one of the really misunderstood genres for who reads. Steps above SFF but it’s still genre so it’s not REAL literature. –

          And that is the whole problem. Most books written for a specific audience are considered genre. Genre books are frowned upon.

          I think this is the bigger issue with YA. It’s a genre. Some readers want to be so pretentious and judgmental about what they read it is stupid. It creates this unnecessary divide.

          I realized my earlier comment sounds sarcastic. I honestly mean that I am confused as to why books for males seem to be so specific. But Ruth is being unknowingly sexist.

  3. Yeah, but consider the source. It’s Slate. They’re out to shock and push buttons, anyway.

    A good book is a good book. I sometimes read YA. Also, I collected children’s books years before I had kids. I still add books to my collection that every, single one of my kids is too old for. Why? Because I enjoy the stories and illustrations, and they bring me great delight. I do not give one tiny little rat’s hindparts what people like Ruthie think of that.

    Ruth Graham may not have reached the point of maturity in her life when she decides she’s going to like what she likes and not care what anyone else thinks. Maybe she’ll grow up one day.

    • I really debated on responding to her. Is she trying to generate attention? Admitting you are an ageist isn’t really the best way to go about that. Is she throwing herself under the bus so YA lit can be celebrated? That’s just stupid.

      Whatever it is, someone else might think she is right. And that isn’t ok.

      • I totally agree that a response was an appropriate course of action. If for no other reason than to share it with your tribe so we can all roll our eyes at her collectively.

        She’s a lit-fic writer who sadly fits the cliche of lit-fic writers. Her loss. I love some good YA.

  4. The thing I think is key about the huge number of 20 and early 30 somethings reading YA is that our book choices are pretty much either YA or housewife having a midlife crisis or pretentious man pain existentialism. With exceptions obviously. But I am not interested in reading much about man pain because of reasons. And I’m not interested in housewife midlife crisis stories because I’m nowhere near that point in my life and so I can’t relate to them at all. And I don’t want to be a housewife or a mom (not that there is anything wrong with those things they are great it’s just not me) so I REALLY can’t relate to them. But I CAN relate to the struggle to find yourself that often permeates YA. The same struggle we are still having in our 20s and 30s. Honestly I think we’ll be having that through our entire lives, but I know I’m just barely starting to feel like anything resembling an adult and I turned 30 this year.

    I want to see more “new adult” books. I want to read books about the college years and the after college “omg wtf do I do with my life now?” books and the “all my friends are getting married and where does that leave me?” books and the “turns out adulting is way harder than I thought it would be” books. Write me those, and I will read them. Write me those and I’d probably read them more than YA — not that I won’t still read YA because YA is awesome and there is NOTHING WRONG WITH ADULTS READING YA– but I’m drawn to stories I can relate too so give me stories I can relate to and I’ll read those no matter what “genre” it fits into.

    • The thing I think is key about the huge number of 20 and early 30 somethings reading YA is that our book choices are pretty much either YA or housewife having a midlife crisis or pretentious man pain existentialism.

      THERE IS MORE OUT THERE! I promise. You should check out the review I have going up tomorrow (er, when it goes up tomorrow). I think you would love this book and be able to relate to at least some of it.

      I think small presses are starting to do a better job at highlighting stories that don’t fall into those narrow categories.

    • I want to read books about the college years and the after college “omg wtf do I do with my life now?” books and the “all my friends are getting married and where does that leave me?” books and the “turns out adulting is way harder than I thought it would be” books.

      Yes! I’d love to read those, too! I would so relate to those!

    • i’d never even thought about that point!!! but it’s true, and it describes me, too.
      maybe i didn’t think of it that way because i read a ton of scifi/fantasy, and a lot of those books have coming of age themes. but yeah, i don’t want to read housewife lit or “the menz catch feelings” books (which – is it me, or do they seem more emotionally immature than YA, those manlyman books?) – i’ll stick with the stuff i enjoy.

  5. Yeeeahhh… Like becomingcliché, I sort of suspect that Graham may be trolling us, at least partly. I mean, she can’t seriously expect people to look at her argument and say, “Wow. You know, she’s right! I’m so glad she called me out on this shameful habit! Next time I have the urge to pick up a book that sounds interesting, I’ll first check the publisher’s age label. I mean, what was I thinking, blurring the lines between childhood and adulthood!? Adults canNOT relate to stories and characters from The Other Side (of the age divide), or those silly youngsters won’t respect us anymore and time will stop being rigidly and unforgivingly linear and society will crumble!!!”

    …can she?

    • very realistically trolling, but also very truthfully ageist. But since she put her name on it, and has an online profile, I’m not sure what she expects to gain.

    • I don’t actually think she is trolling, is the sad part. Because like.. I really think that in her role as A Critic, she thought she could put it out there and people would feel bad and realize they are “supposed” to be reading Important Adult Books. Like she was gonna shame everyone in the era of admitting your entire life on the internet without shame.

      Which is what irked me mainly about the whole thing. If you don’t want to do YA, don’t, and whatever. Don’t go to YA blogs, don’t go to the YA section of the library or bookstore, don’t follow people who tweet YA, etc. But why you gotta be all up in other people’s business, Ruth Graham? It’s not like people who primarily read YA don’t already know that literary fiction exists…. and that this whole experience has been eye-opening that there are !other books! out there… if for some reason they weren’t able to read YA anymore, there’s no guarantee they would start reading Capital-L Literature. So I have no idea what she was trying to accomplish.

      Maybe she was having “literary fiction is going to go away” panic. I need to direct her to Barbara Kingsolver, who said that readers of literary fiction are a small but stable demographic.

      • Yeah, it’s not like it’s an either/or thing. There are people who read both… just like there are people who, if you took their YA away, would just not read anything. (Of course, maybe that’s her endgame… get those people to stop reading altogether so they don’t give “readers” a bad name.)

        If she truly wanted to broaden people’s horizons, how about a list of recommendations: “Non-YA for YA Lovers!” Take a look at what people love about YA, and find other books that might appeal to them. Which could still be kind of judgy, and some people still would have gotten up in arms about it, but it’s more constructive than saying, “Everything you like is bad and you shouldn’t read it anymore.”

        • Yes! A recommendations list would be so much more constructive than a Stop Reading [insert whatever] rant. Even better, as you note, if that list doesn’t come across as a “Read ____ INSTEAD OF _____” list, or a “Books to Wean You Off of What You’re Reading Now” list.

      • Maybe she was having “literary fiction is going to go away” panic.

        Yeah, that’s also something I wondered. Maybe she’s feeling like she has no one to talk with about the books she likes, and she decided to blame YA for that (i.e. all my friends are hanging out with this other kid suddenly, and no one wants to play with me anymore. I hate that other kid for stealing all my friends!) Or maybe she’s another one of those writers who’s bitter about her books not getting as much attention as the Current Popular Thing, ergo that Thing must be discredited.

  6. When someone says something like this I always wonder what they would have to say about my middle grade (8-12 set) reading.

    More power to the YA readers, anyway, lots of those books are more emotional than I can handle on a regular basis.

  7. I don’t necessarily agree with the shaming, because I myself have been known to read (and love) certain YA series, but my biggest issue with YA as a whole is that I just can’t identify with the protagonists anymore. I would surmise that most well-adjusted, grown-ass adults wouldn’t relate to angsty teenagers either, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I loved the Divergent series, but it was in spite of the stupidly sappy love story, not because of it, you know? I kind of just wanted to shake Tris and be like, listen, you have bigger things to think about than being jealous about Tobias just TALKING to another girl, chill the fuck out already.

    I just can’t relate to that mindset anymore. And of course I can’t know if anyone over the age of 17 reading YA relates to that mindset or not, but I’d prefer to think that my compatriots are more mature than their reading material would suggest. Basically, I don’t really understand why people who aren’t teenagers want to read about teenagers (unless maybe it’s a favorite book from when they were younger that they’re nostalgic about, or they want to read what their child is reading, etc). =

  8. There is way too much book shaming out there. I write Gay Romance and see this a great deal in my area. Never be ashamed of who you are or what you read. I read everything and anything, especially character-driven books with lots of emotion. The genre does not matter to me at all.

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