It's My Life, I'll Read What I Want To: A Response to Ruth Graham
As a twenty-two-year-old young adult man who's been reading and loving YA literature since I was twelve, I receive my fair share of unwanted and unnecessary judgement from others, especially since I read romance. I appreciate getting laughed at and told it’s not “manly” to read the books I love almost as much as I love being asked why I was adopted or if I can see out of my “squinty eyes”. So when Ruth Graham, a writer for the online magazine Slate, wrote this article, claiming "Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children", I was more than a little upset.
In the article, Graham writes, “These are the books that could plausibly be said to be replacing literary fiction in the lives of their adult readers. And that’s a shame.” So what if people aren’t reading “literary fiction”? Is that such a bad thing? I personally don’t find books about rebellious farm animals or “extraordinary men being above the law” all that thrilling or conducive to my emotional, mental and spiritual development. I am in control of what I do with my life and, as a reader, I am in control of what I read and nobody should tell me what I can and can’t read. We should encourage and support each other’s reading habits, not shame each other. Graham is just another figure in another societal standard that needs to stop, just as slut-shaming and body-shaming need to end.
Among her many generalized statements, one that made me want to throw my laptop across the room is this: “...the YA and 'new adult' boom may mean fewer teens aspire to grown-up reading, because the grown-ups they know are reading their books.” For me, it’s people like Graham that discourage me from reading “grown-up” and literary fiction because they come off as snobbish, judgemental and rude, which are all characteristics I would rather not possess or associate myself with. Furthermore, Graham is missing the fact that I, as a young adult, have formed wonderful connections and friendships with adults who read and love YA as much as I do. And these are relationships I probably would not have made given the differences that can come along with age gaps. Reading YA does not separate younger readers and adults — more than anything it connects them.
To be fair, Graham does present an interesting idea of changing tastes and writes, “It’s just that today, I am a different reader.” Her article could have been a rather intriguing and well-written piece about how our views on literature change as we grow and experience new challenges and victories in life. Or, she could have written about how she, personally, cannot connect to today’s popular YA novels, a topic she glosses over in the seventh paragraph. But sadly, she chose not to follow either route in writing her article.
Another sad thing is that Slate and Graham most likely knew this article would ignite a fire, resulting in endless pageviews and site traffic. But it’s still something we need to discuss and battle.
And, at the end of the day, it appears Graham is backtracking, if the following tweets have anything to say about it, which, in my opinion, further devalues Graham’s perspective as a journalist and reader.
In the end, people like Ruth Graham need to hop off their high horses and stop passing judgement on others based on what books they do or don’t read. It’s rude, discriminatory and elitist, resulting in yet another shaming perspective that causes more damage than not. I’m tired of being laughed at and feeling bad about my tastes in literature. So instead of tearing each other down, let’s work towards creating positive and safe environments for readers. After all, we’re the same in the end: people who just love a good book.