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Ruth Graham, Not Quite Wrong: Why Liking YA Literature Doesn’t Make It Great

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Do you read? Do you also read the internet? If so, you might be aware of an article posted on Slate by Ruth Graham, pegged to Fault in Our Stars mania as a film based on that ultra-popular, mega-beloved John Green young-adult novel was poised to make a killing at the box office (it did, albeit in a more Twilight-y way that some might have expected, given its mostly positive reviews). Graham’s piece discussed the phenomenon of adults reading YA literature, and her argument against it. It was dismissive, maybe even a little haughty, and outfitted with a sensationalist headline (backed up by some actual sensationalist prose) about how adults should be embarrassed to read these kinds of books.

And a part of me agreed with her.

Let me be clear: I do not agree with the idea that anyone should be embarrassed by what they read. Though I don’t use my degree in Library Science (I prefer the Dark Arts of Libraries, but that’s not what the diploma says) often, one thing I did take away from my professors, many of them with experience as school or public librarians, was that reading is reading is reading. It is a net positive, no matter what it is that’s being read. We all have things we read that we could, in different contexts or historical periods, be embarrassed about: comic books, Choose Your Own Adventure, romance novels, Garfield books, Animorphs, Twilight, Slate. There is no reason to be embarrassed by what you read because whatever it is, you have it over on someone who does not read at all.

Strangely, although reading is generally seen as a more worthwhile pursuit than watching things, the stigma attached to watching the “wrong” things seems far smaller, far easier to laugh off. People talk about how they watch those Real Housewives shows all the time. As a movie guy who prides himself on having pretty good taste, I’m not embarrassed to have seen Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever and I’m not even embarrassed to have seen and enjoyed a number of Resident Evil movies. I’m sure some people would be, but I wonder if the general academic/education notion that sitting in front of the TV (or, now, screenamajig) was generally bad for you (save the occasional ingestion of PBS) was in vogue for so long that some are still working through the distinction between bad TV and just TV, in terms of potential embarrassment. I understand that the alleged extremely high quality of television gets a lot of press these days, but I’m speaking in terms of culture-at-large perceptions here, not necessarily of the pop-culture-studies AV Club audience.

In any event: on the matter of embarrassment, regardless of how tongue-in-cheek and/or attention-baiting its use was intended, Graham is incorrect. Friend of and hopefully future contributor to SportsAlcohol.com Jen Vega wrote a very smart piece further dismantling much of Graham’s argument in a thoughtful, measured way. Graham is wrong about a lot.

That said, again:

A part of me agreed with her.
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