Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A long reflection on the relative merits of Book Shaming.

I'm sure most of you have heard by now about the ever-so-controversial article written by Ruth Graham at Slate.com on June 5.  It's called "Against YA", and to quote its sub-heading, the basic premise is: "Read whatever you want.  But you should be embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children."

Yes, Ms. Graham's message to adult readers is FOR SHAME if you enjoy YA novels.  They weren't written for you (in fact, they are way below your level), and it's cringe-worthy for you to advertise the fact that you read them.

I've read countless blog post responses to this article by now.  The general reaction seems to be outrage (unsurprisingly).  No one wants to be judged for their reading choices, and given the popularity of YA novels among all age groups these days, Ruth Graham sure hit a nerve by attacking this particular genre.

However, unlike many of my blog colleagues, I'll be honest and admit that my initial reaction was not a seething rage at the injustice of what basically amounts to Book Shaming.  I know, THE HORROR!

Let me explain.  Yes, deep down my gut reaction was to feel upset by one reader telling another reader that their chosen literature is not acceptable.  I read what I want, dammit!  No one tells me otherwise!

HOWEVER.

I was immediately stopped in my tracks by the thought that I, also, am a Book Shamer from time to time.  You see, I make NO secret of the fact that I lose a little respect for readers who tell me that the 50 Shades trilogy is among their favorite books of all time.  And honestly, if a fellow 30-year-old told me that Twilight was the best thing they've read in the last decade, I'd be giving them a bit of the side-eye.

So why is it not okay for Ruth Graham to get judgy, but it's OK for me to be judgy?  I spent much time on this conundrum.  The struggle was real, peeps.  And for me, it comes down to two things.

NUMBER ONE: Some books are not well-written.  I am kind of snarky when people say that they love those books.

Because let's be honest: 50 Shades of Grey, its subject matter completely aside, is not winning any awards for awesome writing, grammatically or stylistically.  I haven't read the whole thing, but I've read enough to make that determination with some authority.  It is the paper equivalent of online fanfic, and it shows.  Thus, it is hard for me to take it seriously when someone tells me this is their favorite book.  At least expose yourself to authors that make better use of a thesaurus before you put this in your hall of fame.

YA novels are generally not poorly written.  Ruth Graham may not think the subject matter is at an adult level, but you can't argue that the writing is downright awesome in many cases.

NUMBER TWO: Once adults reach a certain age, I begin to expect that they've become a somewhat well-rounded reader.

This is kind of related to number one, in that I expect other adults around my age to have read MORE than just YA (or sci fi, or chick lit, or historical fiction, pick a genre).  And perhaps this point makes me more judgy than the first point does.  But if I find myself talking books with someone my own age, I guess I'd be surprised if they told me they never branched out beyond one genre.  I'm not saying you should be reading Moby Dick or War and Peace to be considered "well-read".  But you never tried anything beyond Jodi Picoult or Emily Giffin?  As much as I love those authors, I'm a little surprised.

I suppose what it comes down to is this: if you've read novels in a bunch of different genres, and you still think Twilight is your favorite, be my guest.  That's your opinion, and even if I don't share it, it's yours and OWN IT, GURRRRL.  But if your reading repertoire is 99% Twilight, Divergent, Matched, etc. and you declare them to be the bastions of modern literature...yes, I find myself being a wee bit judgmental.  Because how can you know something is a true favorite, if you've never really tried to pair it against anything else?  (And no, the Bronte and Thoreau you were required to read in high school don't count.)

So, as for Ruth Graham: at its core, no, I don't agree with her article.  Shaming someone just for reading YA, because you find it too simplistic for adult minds, seems extreme, outrageous, and yes, overly judgmental.  Even if you think YA is below the reading level of an adult, isn't it ridiculous to make adults feel ashamed when they choose to delve into this genre?  You glean different details and meanings from YA as an adult than you do as a teenager, and that alone makes it worth trying once you've reached an older age.

However--if she was aghast at adults who read YA and only YA (or only any one genre)...I might be a little more sympathetic.  Because why pigeonhole yourself?  Isn't there something to be said for being a well-rounded reader?

I guess my subheading should be "read whatever you want. But you should be embarrassed if you never try anything different."

What do you think, readers?  Am I being a total judgy mcjudgerson here?  Have you ever been a "book shamer"?  What are your thoughts on the article?

15 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I haven't read the Slate article, but I think Ms. Graham and Slate are just trolling us. It's click bait and link bait. They really shouldn't care what people are reading. It's nice if people are well-rounded readers, but that isn't going to work for everyone (especially when most adults have such little free time for reading in the first place).

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    1. Agreed re: click bait, and I totally did fall for it. :) Sensationalism at its finest but it is interesting to talk about, especially with those who don't totally disagree with her.

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    2. Oh and re: well roundedness, I suppose it is showing my personal bias by expecting that of everyone! I guess I wish everyone made as much time for reading as I do. haha.

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  2. I think that there is definitely something to be said for trying different things. I mean, I'd rather people read 50 Shades than nothing, but refusing to read anything that isn't YA seems shortsighted too. Of course, Ruth Graham and her ranty pants suck pretty hard and as such she's negated any kernel of potential argument she may have had in the first place... Soooo. Yeah. Rambly comment for a rambly post. :)

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    1. Agreed re: the ranty-ness, she could have made a well-received argument but she went too hard for the sensational buzz.

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  3. I agree with a lot of your points. It has more to do with variety, I think. You are certainly not an inferior reader if YA is your favorite thing to read as an adult, but it seems sad to read just one thing - be it YA, sci fi, romance, or even literary fiction - when there are so so many genres and books to be picking from.

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    1. Agreed!! There is so much variety in the world of books, I find it hard to relate to someone who can stick with just one thing.

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  4. I completely agree with you. I actually had this coversation with my dad, who called me a book snob (interesting because he judged me for reading Twilight, so I guess I know where the roots of my agreeing with you come from). For me, it comes down to this: If you have to defend your reading choices then you’re probably judging yourself, too. If Twilight is your favorite book, then fine, but if you have to defend or qualify it then I get judgy. I have read my fair share of Nora Roberts, Jane Green, and Jackie Collins, but none are ranked in my favorites list because I no longer think some man is going to rescue me from the deep throes of depression that their love stories typically stem from. At some point, they may have qualified, but I grew up as a person and as a reader, which is kind of the point of reading…. to grow.

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    1. I LOVE THIS COMMENT! Yes yes yes. I agree about defending your reading favorites. I feel like most of the adults I know who tell me Twilight is their favorite, are telling me so with an edge of "and don't you dare argue me on it"...this defensiveness is part of what makes me skeptical about it. Deep down I think they know that it MIGHT not be their favorite, if they bothered to give something else a try.

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  5. Everything you said in #2 is a biggie for me. I agree with everything you said there!

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  6. I think "read whatever you want..." is the key. Read.
    But on another note, young adult, new adult, is in many ways just a marketing tag. Voltaire's Candide, a classic by any measure, would have most likely been marketed as "young adult" (teen sent out into the world, fantastical settings, searching for meaning of life). Provocative piece, now I have to find that Slate piece... how the internet sucks you in and that's all you read...that is the dilemma... and there must be an article somewhere on the web about that!
    Read on!

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    1. Agreed about the marketing tag. I actually just put my NetGalley feedback in for an ARC that I read a few weeks ago, and noticed it was labeled "new adult". I was completely surprised, because it fit "historical fiction" much better! But "new adult" is more racy and sensational, so it was probably better for them to put that label on it.

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  7. I've seen far better discussion come out of the responses to the article than the article itself. Because, as someone who isn't into the YA craze, I could connect with a lot of what she said... she just could have chosen a better way to say it. (Except not, because she said the exact right thing to get the reaction that she/Slate wanted. Outrage = lots of page views.)

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    1. All very true. She was definitely going for the buzzy headline to get readers on the site!!

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