On Twitter and Facebook, I saw people saying they were “blind with rage” or “seeing red.” My friends and acquaintances were calling the essay’s author stupid, and asserting that their love of YA was the least embarrassing thing about them. I feel that.
However…we’re living and reading in capitalist structures, so how can we divorce our interest in anything from the means of its production? We can’t. For starters, consider that adolescence is a social construct invented for capital gain.
Consider also: To make a lot of money in YA or children’s lit, you have a couple of options. A super viable one, as we can see from looking around us, is to play off larger cultural fears and create fantasies that pander to our collective anxieties. This is actually one of the things I love about YA and children’s literature, and this is why I studied it in college so much. But if we think about this above the level of the author—taking a zoom-out to look at the publishing house and the marketing team and the entities that own both—doesn’t it get a little sinister?
Maybe I would have more trust in the YA lit industry if it didn’t fail, year after year, to represent huge swaths of the population. We keep getting skinny, white protagonists who have beautiful, white, male love interests. How many young adults are actually like that?
It’s scary to me that all these mild-mannered “new adults” I know who work at non-profits and vote in elections and contemplate adopting corgis and read Slate flew off the handle over an article that asks them to question something they like.
I never want to be the person on the internet who’s like, “Don’t get mad” or, “I don’t care about this thing, therefore you shouldn’t,” because that’s my least favorite Internet type. Also, I care a lot.
I’m just of the belief that all storms of Internet anger betray certain discomforts and embarrassments, especially when they loudly proclaim “I’m not uncomfortable/embarrassed!”
We don’t have to be embarrassed by our summer reading lists but we should be embarrassed that we’re so ready to donate all of our love, money and trust to an industry just because we feel an emotional pull toward what it creates.
'I made a playlist just for this moment,' said Putin.
Anybody who denies the sheer convenience of being able to put hundreds of books on an e-reader versus lugging around physical books is deliberately deluding themselves. Oh what’s that? Books don’t require batteries, you say? Oh ok, I didn’t realize I was talking to Henry David Thoreau.
Shred TheGirl with the Dragon Tattoo, read Smilla’s Sense of Snow (Peter Høeg)
Forget computer hacking, Smilla Jasperson is part Eskimo and can read snow. Unlike Lisbeth, she doesn’t need some journo hack to solve crimes for her: she’s got this one in hand, even if she has to break a few bones and expose a few truly messed up politico-/scientific conspiracies. Høeg’s prose is exquisite and the story—well, it gets weird. Something about those long and sunless winters in Scandinavia breeds some very dark and twisted detective fiction. (Above: Julia Ormond in the 1997 film adaptation.)
Shred Twilight, read Sunshine (Robin McKinley)
The only explanation for Twilight being more popular than the talented McKinley’s easily digested, smart, pacy writing is some kind of cosmic brain fart. The alternative, that people actually prefer writing that tastes like cardboard soaked in cheap strawberry syrup, is not acceptable. Rae “Sunshine” Seddon has a lot in common with Bella Swan: pale vamp love interests, rebels, loners—but with the key difference that you would love to go drinking with Rae, and you would like to put Bella Swan in the drink.
Shred Harry Potter, read the Abhorsen trilogy (Garth Nix)
Like the Harry Potter series, Abhorsen Trilogy is also YA fiction, but it’s dark stuff. Nix’s fictional world is plagued by the dead, from zombie crows and parasites that feed off your life to the chilling Greater Dead. They can be controlled by a necromancer called the Abhorsen. Does the necromancer use a wand? A pointy phallic stick to poke at things to make the magic happen? Nope. The Abhorsen wields seven bells. So cool. I promise you will want a bandolier of bells by the end of the books more than you ever wanted a letter from Hogwarts. Like Harry, Lirael has a birthright that she doesn’t fully understand, Unlike Harry, she doesn’t take seven books to go out and grab it with both hands. Try Chapter Two.
Shred Game of Thrones, read The Assassin’s Apprentice (Robin Hobb)
If you are thinking of reading the books because you liked the Game of Thrones TV series, let me stop you right there. I hear George R.R. Martin can write, but he does not demonstrate this ability in the Game of Thrones books. Back away slowly now. Pick up the Assassin’s Apprentice series. Now read the series in one go because that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do epic fantasy with impeccable plot and character development. Hobb is irritatingly talented and very original, except to the delicate head nods to the genre. Here be dragons.
Shred 50 Shades of Grey, read (better) Internet fanfic
There’s a great swath of fanfic out there that is better written than anything that’s come within shooting difference of the New York Times bestseller list, because it’s written by lawyers who sold out their creative writing dreams to earn a buck and are now repressed six ways from Sunday.
The Book Clubber. This person can’t stop talking about The Kite Runner, The Devil in the White City, The Help, and Gone Girl. Airport bookstores meet all her needs. You suspect that books not containing discussion guides terrify her.
The Fast Reader. He likes books that you can read quickly, and he reads them quickly. He goes through a dozen different mystery series a year, and dips into science fiction when he has to. He has lots of positive things to say about books, but only in the most general terms.
The Hyper-Relevant Reader. If it’s on the cover of the New York Times Book Review, it’s on her nightstand. Whenever you mention an author, she asks what you think about the author’s newest book. She never thinks it’s as good as the author’s previous book.
The Used Bookstore Guy. This guy is notable for his questionable personal hygiene and his outrageously esoteric, strangely random tastes. He’ll be in line in front of you at Half-Price Used Books, carrying a Bruce Chatwin first edition, a Joyce Carol Oates paperback you’ve never heard of, a field guide to South American insects, and an analysis of the 1988 Presidential election. You wonder whether he’s read every other book in existence and these are all he has left.
The Book Hoarder. She only reads books in hard copy, and she keeps every one of them in her one-bedroom apartment. She can speak intelligently and passionately about her books, but it’s impossible to concentrate on the conversation because you’re constantly afraid that you’ll step on a long-forgotten cat, a bookshelf will fall and crush you, or a spark from the oven will hit the cookbook shelf and send the whole place up in flames.
The PBS Person. Every episode of Scientific American Frontiers, Ken Burns American Stories, Masterpiece, or Mystery! sends him running to Barnes & Noble for a stack of books he’ll never read. If you ask him about any book he owns, he can talk with vast enthusiasm for exactly 30 seconds.
The YA Freak. She thinks books for young adults are the best, and she raves about all the books your 12-year-old cousin complains about having to read for school. She loves to talk about how complex teenagers are and how fascinating their lives really are, according to 43-year-olds who write books about them.
The Incongruous Philosopher. You only discover this bro is a book person when, in the middle of a conversation about college football, he mentions his alma mater and then starts going on about the history teacher who introduced him to Spinoza. Have you read A Short Treatise on God, Man and His Well-Being? No? Well, you should. It’s fucking awesome.
The Lit Scenester. She’s typically found smoking American Spirits outside all the hottest readings by local authors and by national authors whose pants she thinks she can get into. Ask her about any of their books and she’ll blow smoke out of the side of her mouth, then say, “It’s all right.”
The Writer. When you compliment his newest book he nods and politely thanks you, then takes a cigarette from the lit scenester and asks her what she’s doing later.