So I was perusing the internet, as one usually does on a boring night, when I came across this little opinion piece by Joel Stein where he says:
The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading “The Hunger Games.” Or a Twilight book. Or Harry Potter. The only time I’m O.K. with an adult holding a children’s book is if he’s moving his mouth as he reads.
He goes on to make more sarcastic quips in the remaining few paragraphs but I think his opening truly illustrates exactly what upsets me.
Firstly, what makes Joel Stein an authority on what people should read? In my opinion, there is nothing that sets him apart from me or the thousands of other book bloggers out there. We have opinions, we express them and inform readers about particular books. The ultimate decision to pick up a book is and will always be the reader.
I choose to read what I like and being 23 does not mean I should stop doing that. My age does not define me or my reading tastes.
I also do not like the fact that he tries to make people feel ashamed for reading what they enjoy or for discovering something they might enjoy. They are reading something; I would be thankful for that in and of itself.
Secondly, his complete disregard for children's literature and young adult fiction is sad, but it is not shocking. It is based on the view that classics and adult fiction novels are the only things that have any worth. Worth is a matter of opinion though since every reader defines it differently. We all have novels from our childhood that matter to us and why should we forget them just because we grow older? Just because something is labelled as being "adult" does not automatically make it fantastic and it does not establish its worth. It is the reader who does that. There is so much depth and character to be found in the novels of the young and to write them off so easily is just plain ridiculous.
Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. - C.S. Lewis.
Thirdly, Joel Stein also thinks we should learn from reading but then does not explain what he means by this. Is he talking about algebra? Possibly the unique features of writing in iambic pentameter? I guess we will never know for sure.
I agree that we should learn things from what we read but he implies that there may be only one kind of learning, which is narrow minded. Stein ignores the bigger picture. Everyone learns in different ways and the things they pick up on from what they read is unique to them. Nothing is as black and white as Mr. Stein likes to believe.
Final words: I have read classics. I have a whole bookshelf dedicated to them. I have been reading them since I was 15. I have also read adult fiction (romance novels are terrible) and I have only liked some of what I have read (mostly Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, James Patterson and Harlan Coben).
I keep going back to children's literature and young adult fiction because it speaks to me more than anything else does and because I enjoy it.
I'm kind of still holding onto the hope that Joel Stein's article is a joke. Whether it is tomfoolery or not, it sparks an interesting debate. What are your thoughts? Do you think teens should read YA and then move onto adult fiction once they turn 19? Should adults not read YA or children's fiction?
(Bibliography: Stein, J. (2012). Adults should read adult books. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/03/28/the-power-of-young-adult-fiction/adults-should-read-adult-books