I have tried for three days now to plow through this essay from the NYT, and for three days I have found myself upset with the… what is this feeling? Is it condescension? Arrogance? What is that feeling you get when you hear someone talking about something as if they’d discovered it before anyone else, and then relays that discovery in a way that makes you embarrassed for them?
Oh, I had the most wonderful dining experience the other day. I discovered ethnic food from a cart on the street. Can you imagine? And it was every bit as delicious as food you would find uptown at Hoyton’s La Bistro at a fraction of the cost. You know, I even practiced a little of my Spanish with the help there as well. Utterly charming…
Replace dining with reading, ethnic food with a book, cart on the street with YA section of the book store, the fancy bistro with a known literary name, and as for practicing Spanish with the help, well, that would be author Pamela Paul sharing her marvelous experience discussing YA with the dear readers of the NYT. Charmed, I’m sure.
As a fellow blogger noted when I mentioned this essay, it seemed to be more about name dropping. Toss in a smattering of statistics (which were hardly enough to merit their own story) and with some padding…. voila! Superficially erudite NYT essay about something seemingly hot and trendy!
I’m of two minds about this flocking of adult readers to YA. One, people have been trained to be lazy. Blame the media or the internet, the fact remains that people see reading as a larger time commitment and they’d rather not have to work so hard at it. Literature feels like more work, whether it is or not, and YA offers a perceived respite from that.
Second, people view the literary novel as a piece of affectation. For the last twenty-plus years we’ve seen writing programs bloom like radioactive dandelions near Three Mile Island and the market no longer wants that. They want what YA delivers, which is essentially a compelling story, with interesting characters, told as cleanly as possible.
Yes, I will allow there are literary books in YA (and middle grade as well) and that I know many people who craft their stories with the same care as a fine litterateur, but when the audience to be captured is less forgiving, stories need to be taut, issues and themes recognizable, if not simpler. They don’t want long meditations from a narrator about the essence and the meaning of things, they want the primal, the emotional, the visceral truth that they find in YA books.
And yes, sometimes they just want empty word candy, and with a sizable portion of YA reading like romance lite (i.e. Twilight), they can find that as well.
Please, Ms. Paul, drop the faux embarrassment, shut up, and enjoy what you’re reading without trying to impress the rest of us. We get it: you like to read good books, some of which were intended for a younger audience.
Some of us have been doing this for decades.