Time columnist Joel Stein wrote that “The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading “The Hunger Games.” Or a Twilight book. Or Harry Potter. The only time I’m O.K. with an adult holding a children’s book is if he’s moving his mouth as he reads.”
Ah, another holier-than-thou writer who turns up his nose at a genre for the sake of publicity. I debated with myself on whether I should feed the troll or let it slide.
I’m not going to let it slide. I’ve decided to feed the troll today. Maybe I’m making a mistake, but maybe not. Time will tell.
By Stein’s purported standards, I, and millions of other adult readers of young adult fiction, clearly must be quasi-illiterate persons clearly not able to either (A) move past adolescence and/or (B) unable to parse the sophisticated language used in “adult” books, and therefore are incapable of understanding all of those oh-so-hard to read books for grown-ups.
I am covered in shame. SHAME, I tell you!
Actually, I am not.
I am laughing my bibliophilic head off. This article is a sad cry for attention. Not a call for intelligent debate, or else the writing and the apparently non-existent research would be more stringently performed. He admits he’s never read “The Hunger Games,” and as he mentioned the Harry Potter books, I wonder if he has read them either. (Unfortunately I agree with him about “Twilight.” But I read the trilogy to come up with my own damned informed opinion.)
Mr. Stein, I’ll let you in on a little secret: to criticize a book or, indeed, an entire genre of books, one must ACTUALLY read them. Otherwise, you operate from a place of ignorance, and, dare I say it, it makes you look…well, not so smart.
Mr. Stein writes:
“I have no idea what “The Hunger Games” is like. Maybe there are complicated shades of good and evil in each character. Maybe there are Pynchonesque turns of phrase. Maybe it delves into issues of identity, self-justification and anomie that would make David Foster Wallace proud. I don’t know because it’s a book for kids. I’ll read “The Hunger Games” when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.”
Oh, you read PYNCHON! And David Foster Wallace! You must be ever so much smarter than YA readers. Wait….I read those books as well! That’s….insane! They are way too smart for a YA reader to understand! (Also? There are over five thousand years of “adult” writing out there, not three thousand. And, until the last one hundred years or so, there was little delineation between adult literature and children’s literature.)
Personally, I prefer to judge a book on its merits after I have performed the revolutionary and logical act of reading the book for myself and formulating my own opinion. YA, just like any genre, contains books that are truly awful – and like “adult” books, some books that are amazingly well-written, sophisticated in their themes, tropes, plotting, characterizations and prose, and are altogether excellent examples of literature, regardless of the demographic to which they are marketed.
It makes me sad, as an inveterate reader, that you have cut yourself off from many great novels because of prejudice and fear. And, it might be said, sexism. Let me analyze your previously quoted statement [bolding is mine]: “The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading “The Hunger Games.” Or a Twilight book. Or Harry Potter. The only time I’m O.K. with an adult holding a children’s book is if he’s moving his mouth as he reads.”
Your choice of male-specific nouns and pronouns implies that adult YA readers are mostly women, and that these readers of YA fiction forego the brawny, gritty, excellent-prose strewn world of “adult” books for easy-to-read, dumbed-down YA fiction. Your deliberately inflammatory (or else willfullly ignorant — I am giving you the benefit of the doubt) statement draws a parallel between an adult reading YA to a person watching porn – it’s just that embarrassing to read “The Hunger Games” or the Harry Potter books or any other YA books in…*gasp* PUBLIC. Especially if you are a “guy.”
I am a proud reader of YA literature. And adult literature. And any other damned type of literature I want to read because it looks like a good story. You stated
“I’ll read “The Hunger Games” when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.”
I’m not “too busy” reading these “3,000 years of fiction written for adults.” I’ve read most of them, loved many and thought other were complete tripe. And I’m not an outlier.
A little background, since there’s plenty of oh-so-amusing background on you, sir. I read up to fifteen books a week — of all genres. I’ve read everything from “The Hunger Games” (excellent world building and a genuinely mature and brutal imagining of a dystopian world not too far removed from our own present world) to Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” (excellent world building and a genuinely mature and brutal imagining of a dystopian world not too far removed from our own present world – and yes, Atwood’s prose is better than Colllins’, but Collins’ writing is far from terrible.)
I’ve read most books from the last, oh, 5,ooo years and I read critically, prolifically and, most importantly, I read based on the content of the story. “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro moved me to tears and to perform more research on the ethics of cloning. “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson also moved me to tears and – when I taught it in my freshman English class – lead to many critical, intellectual discussions of violence against women and the messages that the media promulgates to both men and women, young and old.
Oh, and by the by, the blurb on the splash page of Mr. Stein’s web site reads “In case you stumbled here by accident, I’m the guy who loves porn and hates America.” This statement does not instill confidence in your reading habits. I’m not an idiot (despite what you may think of my YA reading habits): I assume you are writing tongue-in-cheek. Perhaps the porn you are referring to is “The Satyricon?” But if you haven’t read it in the original Latin, you’re missing many wonderful, hilarious political and cultural in-jokes. So sorry.
But since your (I assume self-penned) bio for the L.A. Times declares you are “desperate for attention,” I must take you at your word and assume your assertions are merely the literary version of “Look at me! Look at ME!” — much as a child shouts this at a parent as they perform some supposedly comedic act.
I looked at you. And sighed.
Excuse me — I must get back to any one of a number of the books I am reading now: my fifth reading of Judith Thurman’s excellent biography of Colette, “Secrets of the Flesh,” the fourth Skulduggery Pleasant book by Derek Landy, my third re-read of “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro and yes, my re-reading of “The Hunger Games.”
Perhaps Neil Gaiman (who writes YA and adult novels), Laurie Halse Anderson, Jay Asher, Ellen Hopkins or C.S. Lewis (oops, he’s dead, but I imagine his soul is enjoying a hearty belly laugh at your expense from beyond the grave) can pen a more detailed rebuttal to your “Come out and play, idiot YA readers” call to action —ahem, attention — than I can.
Probably not. With the exception of Mr. Lewis, they are probably too busy writing best-selling, smart, savvy, well-written books you will never read to do so.
Maybe you can put the porn down for five minutes (and I have nothing against porn, just self-aggrandizing, self-important attention-seekers who don’t bother with actual research) and read some YA.
There’s a plethora of excellent YA books out there to read. Maybe you’ve got the cojones to do it in public.
I do. But then, I’m just a weak-minded, immature, not-too-intelligent person who reads YA because real books are just too darned hard for my little brain to wrap itself around.
According to you. Mr. Stein.
Thoughts, dear readers?