The opinions stated in this column are solely those of the author and not of The Davis County Clipper.
Several weeks ago my wife and I attended an event featuring a novelist (Boise resident Anthony Doerr) reading excerpts from and answering questions about his current novel (“All the Light We Cannot See”).
The book, highly-praised and a bestseller at literary-oriented independent bookstores, tells the interconnected story of a blind French girl during the World War II Nazi occupation, a German orphan who joins the Hitler Youth organization, and a terminally ill German soldier confiscating jewelry, art, and other artifacts from Jews and other “conquered” Europeans. The book is not a complex read, but its 500-plus beautifully written pages do not contain references to wizards, sorcerers, or futuristic dystopian warriors.
As we were leaving the bookstore, I overheard a woman say, “It is so nice to see a real novel. All I see any more are adults reading Young Adult trash.”
She is not the only one feeling this way. A recent essay currently being blasted in blogs across the country contends that “Yes, adults should be embarrassed to read Young Adult books,” a genre which includes “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” and “The Fault in Our Stars.” The essayist, Ruth Graham, argues that Young Adult novels center on “escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia;”0 in her mind, adults should leave childish things behind and begin reading “big issue” novels dealing with “big people” issues.
I can see her point. We outgrow The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and The Boxcar Children books - and at some point, we have to move on from Harry Potter too. I personally enjoy the adult literary works of Anne Tyler and Ivan Doig as much as I do thrillers from Denise Mina, John Sanford, and John Katzenbach.
But at a time when reading for pleasure is confined to a relatively small number of adults (and an even smaller number of teenagers), it is foolish to brand an entire type of book as unworthy of appreciation by anyone too old to attend a Junior Prom. As my wife points out, “Too Kill a Mockingbird” - one of America’s greatest classics - could be considered a Young Adult novel if it were released today. Similarly, Entertainment Weekly magazine said the same about two other literary heavyweights, “Lord of the Flies” and “The Catcher in the Rye”.
Rather than shame adults who read books their sons and daughters are touting, we should celebrate the imagination that goes into any book. Hopefully, librarians and booksellers can use the enthusiasm for Young Adult novels as a stepping stone to headier reading. (“If you enjoyed reading this book, you should check out this other author who brings a more adult perspective.”)
My suggestion is simple. Don’t buy the current blockbuster novel at Walmart. Visit an independent bookstore and ask a staff member who really loved novels for a recommendation. However, don’t turn up your nose at an adult reading their daughter’s copy of a book on vampires. It could be worse; they could be reading the “Shades of Gray” novels - or not reading anything at all!