I haven’t blogged for a while. Well, not blog blogged. I’ve tweeted – micro-blogged – but not gone deep. I’ve been busy writing a screenplay and a memoir about depression (get me).
But I’ve just read something and got annoyed. And annoyance, it turns out, is a lead trigger for blogging. According to leading researchers at the University of Make-believe, 88 per cent of the internet is made of annoyance.
The thing that annoyed me is an article in Slate called ‘Against YA: Adults should be embarrassed to read children’s books’. The writer’s main gripe is that an increasing amount of people – grown-up people – are reading John Green and Stephen Chbosky and Gayle Forman, and not feeling ashamed.
It made me angry. It made me think of all the ways it is unhealthy. It made me think of all the reasons it is wrong. Here are just the first ten that came to mind:
1. There should be no shame in reading anything. There is too much shame in the world. Shame is the enemy of truth and the friend of pretentiousness, especially when it comes to books. People should never be made to feel bad about what they are reading. People who feel bad about reading will stop reading.
2. Many of the greatest writers have been children’s writers. And not just YA. Yes, John Updike and Alice Munro are brilliant, but so are Lewis Carroll and JM Barrie and Philip Pullman and CS Lewis and SE Hinton and Maurice Sendak. Brilliance comes in many forms.
3. Teenagers shouldn’t be patronised. This whole article seems to imply that an adult sharing the same taste as a teenager is fundamentally embarrassing. Why? Teenagers are the most passionate consumers of culture there are. Think of music. Who made the Beatles popular? Or the Stones? Or Bowie? Or Nirvana? Old people? Or teenagers? Teenagers not only have as many brain cells as us (more actually, as our brains lose 100,000 neurons a day), but are more accepting of new things and phenomena. They are the literal cutting edge. They could not have written that Slate article.
4. Writing YA is as difficult as writing for adults. I have written one YA book, three children’s books, and five adult (OA?) books. The hardest of all these to write was the YA.
5. Accesible writing should not be frowned on. Graham Greene was an accessible writer. John Steinbeck was too. Also George Orwell, Harper Lee, Ray Bradbury, JD Salinger, Jane Austen etc etc. Yet book snobbery is leading us to believe that accessibility and intelligence are incompatible. I would wager that the popularity of YA is symptomatic less of a dumbing down of tastes but a reaction against dumbing down. Let me explain. The adult book market has long been polarised between ‘easy’ commercial books and ‘difficult’ literary books. YA doesn’t play this game. It manages to be easy and intelligent all at the same time.
6. Teenagers are philosophers. Think of the popular YA books. They often deal with subjects of life and death, gender issues, race, sexuality. The big stuff. Can you remember being a teenager? It wasn’t a period of under-thinking. Quite the opposite. You are living at fast-forward. Your body and mind is changing by the day. You are continually asking the questions about who you are, and where you fit in. You are at the centre of the cyclone that is life. There is nothing marginal about being a teen.
7. Dissing one of the few genre success stories in the book world, and trying to stigmatise it in the name of reading and literature, is a bit like shooting a dolphin in the name of marine biology.
8. The greatest stories appeal to our deepest selves, the parts of us snobbery can’t reach, the parts that connect the child to the adult and the brain to the heart and reality to dreams. Stories, at their essence, are enemies of snobbery. This is why YA succeeds.
9. Alexander Pope was twelve when he wrote ‘Ode to Solitude’. Mary Shelley was nineteen when she first came up with Frankenstein. More recently, Helen Oyeyemi wrote her widely acclaimed novel The Icarus Girl when she was studying her A-levels. Age really is just a number.
10. It’s not what you read, but how you read it. Never judge what someone else reads or why they read it. You don’t own the rights to culture. Often the things that may look simple, are rich and multi-layered. There are as many versions of a book as there are readers. No two reading experiences are the same. Books are great because they open minds and transcend borders. They should never have fences around them.