Rant About Reading Shaming

keep-calm-and-keep-ranting-on-facebookI write Young Adult (YA) fiction and take it personally when the category gets slammed. It especially irks me when the person doing the slamming is from within the industry (publishing—whether writer, agent, editor, publisher) because I think anyone within the industry should be happy for people to read. Period. We should not confine our reading habits strictly to one category or one genre of writing. How boring would that be? Yes, we all will have our favorites and not everyone will share the same taste in books. But we don’t share the same taste in food, either … or interests … or fashion … or cars … or the list can go on. And that’s okay. It’s the way it is supposed to be. If we all liked all the same things, it’d be boring, and I’d be looking for a way out of the Stepford community.

Anyway, yesterday I happened across an already much-maligned article published by Slate by Ruth Graham. The title of the article really says it all: Against YA: Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children. Really?? Should I then take a seat in the second-class citizen section because I write for this category? Books which ought not to be read by adults??? Here’s a tip… don’t tell me what I should be embarrassed to read.

At the time I was incensed by the entire article, the fallacious “points” made by the article writer, the tone, and the snobbery and arrogance which bled through every line. But at that moment, I was itching to dive into edits and didn’t have time to express my feelings in a constructive manner, so I flipped the link over to Italia Gandolfo with a few choice words about wanting to bang my head against wall in the face of such stupidity, and dove into edits. Italia then posted the link on Facebook and started a conversation about it. This morning, my agency-mate and fellow cub, Hope Collier, posted the following thought provoking response.

I think a lot of this was written simply as an article to stir up controversy and drive traffic to the site. Not reading YA because you’re an adult makes no more sense than not reading crime fiction because you’re not a detective. Adult, YA, children’s, they all have something unique to offer. IMO, if you can’t enjoy each for its diversity and age-compelled storyline, you lack imagination. Not all YA is fluff and happiness just like not all adult isn’t. Literacy is a gift, and no one should diminish it for you no matter which packaging you prefer.

I don’t know what it was exactly about Hope’s post, but I couldn’t hold the flood back any longer and went off on a rant (okay, so I can rant about most things at the drop of a hat.) Here it is:

I think one of the things the article author was trying to assert was that all YA novels wrap up too cleanly and lack the ragged edges of life. And this is going to get lengthy because I’m going to quote from the article and then go on a mini-rant (with any luck it’ll be mini)

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. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future. But wanting endings like this is no more ambitious than only wanting to read books with “likable” protagonists.

If the article writer thinks all literary fiction needs to end with emotional and moral ambiguity, I’d like to be the first to say HOGWASH!!!! As a reader, I happen to hate reaching the end with a feeling of “but what happened after that?” When it feels like there is no conclusion to the novel — not that it has to be a happy ending, or tied up with a cute little bow — it angers me as a reader. I feel short-changed by the author because they DIDN’T FINISH THE STORY.

Yes, life has ragged edges when we look at it from the perspective from the present, but WE’RE NOT DONE WITH OUR STORY YET. We’re only looking from the perspective of where we are now. And I have news for the article author… we ALL end in death, so if that is one of the ways in which YA “neatly ties up the ending” then that is a DIRECT reflection of life. Should every little thing be tied up in every book? No. And I don’t believe YA books do that anymore than I think adult books do.

I LIKE a satisfying ending (okay, I know we can all debate whether I truly fit into the adult category, but let’s set that aside for a moment). Whether the ending is sad or whether it is happy, I like to have the feeling of conclusion of the story — otherwise it feels like I’ve been ripped unceremoniously out of the world I’ve been immersed in. I don’t think that life is going to continue on for the characters as it has ended. So if it’s a ringing declaration of “I’ll love you forever.”, so what???? We, as adults, should know that life doesn’t freeze in that moment, and we should also not expect for the author to chronicle the life of the character until such time as the character dies. In essence, a book is simply a chapter in the lives of the characters within. And we get to share that world for the time we’re reading the book.

I’m anti-snobbery in reading ALL THE WAY. I don’t care whether you’re reading children’s, comics, YA, mysteries, romance, sci-fi, the back of the cereal box, or what is classed as literary. Reading one category/genre does not make you better than someone else reading another category/genre. What is important to me is that people read. That they are able to immerse themselves in the world of their choice.

I’m eclectic in my reading tastes. I read and enjoy things all over the map and have my entire life. I have also read things in each category/genre that I really don’t care for. It’s why ALL the books are written. To give us a choice, and NO we’re not all going to choose the same books to read. Again, I ask, so what??? If you find someone else doesn’t love the same book you did, somebody else will. And for me, reading is an intensely personal experience. I don’t really care whether someone else enjoyed the book, as long as I did. And perhaps enjoy is not quite the correct word. It’s not that I only read “pleasurable” books, which the article author appears to disdain. I like when a book disturbs me and turns my personal perspective on its ear. Those are important things to read as well, but I want to intersperse my reading with things that have pleasurable elements as well. And even if I didn’t on either side, Who Cares????

Okay, I’m putting the breaks on because I can obviously keep going on forever here. I agree that the title of the article is one that was designed to stir things up and drive traffic to the site. But the snobbery and sheer arrogance that ANYONE has a say in what I should or should not be reading gets me going. (End rant)

As a writer, I’m even pickier about my reading selections while writing than otherwise. I was once ridiculed by another writer because I opted not to review his book because it was more depressing than I wanted to read at that time. I was embroiled in writing part of my young adult series, and didn’t want to read about a suicidal character in a mental hospital. It wasn’t the right thing for me to read because it would have blocked me from getting my own work done. The writer of the book ranted back at me because I had stated it was too dark and depressing, and mocked me for only wanting light happy reads. Other than ensuring I would never read a word he has ever written or ever hoped to write, his rant against my reading habits did nothing. The bottom line is when I’m working with my characters, I have to protect and preserve my environment and OH BY THE WAY—reading and reviewing someone else’s book is a gift, not something that should be expected and we ALL have the right to personal preference.

The bottom line to this is stop the snobbery. Stop the arrogance. Stop the shaming. There is no point in it and it’s a form of bullying. You won’t sway anyone with your arguments (because they are not valid) and it is none of your business who enjoys what for reading material. Now I have to get back to edits.

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