Originally posted almost two years ago on July 4, 2012, but bumped today in response to the nitwit YA Shaming at Slate.com. (I won’t link directly to the piece in question because I don’t want to contribute to the link-baitery, but you can find it easy enough if you want to read it.)
Yesterday (July 3, 2012) I served up one of my Twitter bon mots, an admittedly toss-off comment at less than 140 characters which nonetheless spoke to a larger point I believe has some merit.
It’s kinda silly to say you don’t read YA cuz you’re not a kid. You’re not a hobbit, but at least a few of you read The Lord of the Rings. Permalink
Two quick points before I descend into a long, turgid elaboration.
First, I was reacting to a specific comment I’d seen elsewhere in which someone asserted they didn’t read books about kids because they were an adult. I picked hobbits and The Lord of the Rings for my retort, but of course I could have picked vampire, space marine, Jedi, or what have you. Now, while this person was being specific about the not reading books “about X because I am Y,” I’ve seen a lot of people say they don’t read YA because they’re not kids themselves. So my tweet was both specific and broadly general at the same time.
Second, I believe everyone should read what they want to read. I’m not for a second implying people should read books they don’t want to read. I know you don’t need either my permission or blessing to read the books you choose.
As is the case with anything I tweet, I’m pleased if anyone even notices, let alone agrees or approves. Most of the time I say things and they are justifiably ignored. This tweet got some attention, most of it positive. It generated some discussion, most of it interesting and thoughtful. It got retweeted and favorited by people I didn’t know. I was pleased.
I also took some shit for it, which is fair, though the way some of the shit was flung was not fair. Still, this is the internets. I got off easy. Which is why I’m coming back for more. Hit me, baby.
Here’s my broader point: I think it’s kinda silly to cut ourselves off from books for an arbitrarily narrow reason.
This is not a strong, forceful argument, as you might gather from the words “kinda silly.” After all, see my second point above. Really, it’s none of my business what anyone reads.
BJ Muntain argued it was an matter of not being in the target audience. That’s a good point. I countered that “target audience” was a marketing device which said nothing about the merits of a book. To which she replied, “One problem, though, is there is so MUCH to read these days, and it’s all easy to get. Audience/genre helps to narrow down choice.”
True. Valid. No argument.
And yet … okay, an argument.
If I let a publisher’s idea of target audience or genre drive my reading choices, I’d miss a lot of great stuff.
End of last year I posted a list of my favorite reads of 2011. I tend to read with some variety, so my favorites included adult and youth fiction, mysteries, thrillers, romance, etc. Mind you, I assign no particular virtue to this variety. I read what I want to read. I’m not somehow a “better” reader than someone whose interests are more specific. It’s not a contest.
But I am like most everyone else in that when I like something, I want other people to like it too. (Okay, hipsters aren’t like that.) I posted my list of favorite reads because I loved them, and I want you to love them too. You may not. In fact, you may think I’m insane. That’s cool.
But what I would hope is you’d at least consider them on their merits, and not dismiss one or more of them out of hand simply because you’re not a hobbit. I mean, because you don’t fall into the target audience. There are all kinds of reasons to filter what we consume, and all I would suggest is we examine those filters and make sure they’re not throwing up arbitrary restrictions. Just because a book is for kids or about kids doesn’t mean it can’t speak to adults. Just because a book is about cowboys doesn’t mean it can’t speak to an urban graphic designer. Just because a book is about space aliens doesn’t mean it can’t speak to an Earth-bound pragmatist. And so on.
If you don’t want to read a particular genre, that’s cool. But, every now and then, perhaps consider letting yourself be a hobbit.
Because I think you might be pleasantly surprised.