I interrupt this blog for a moment of outrage.
Okay, maybe “outrage” is too strong a word, but when I saw the title of this New York Times opinion piece—“Adults Should Read Adult Books”—my first reaction was something like this. It’s no secret that I love young adult fiction and I fully intend to read it until the day I die. After reading the full article, though, it’s clear that this guy Joel Stein is just an idiot, more deserving of my pity than my anger. Still, I feel like I need to chew this thing up and spit it back out before moving past it, so here goes:
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.
Oh it’s on, Joel Stein. I’m sure you didn’t realize this, but people who proudly declare that they have never read Harry Potter and never will, like it’s somehow beneath them to even crack the cover, are among my very least favorite people in the world. My boyfriend was one of those when we first started dating, and upon learning this I proceeded to read the entire series aloud to him until he changed his mind. For the record, it only took about four chapters for that to happen, but by that point I was a train that would not be stopped until I reached the last sentence of book seven. It was very much a turning point in our relationship.
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.
I’d like to believe this is a poorly executed reference to parents reading books to their kids, but I have a sneaking suspicion Stein is actually making fun of people who learn to read as adults. Gross.
I’m sure all those books are well written.
Even when he’s trying to throw the counterargument a bone, he’s still wrong. The Twilight books are probably the four most terribly written novels ever to be published.
So is “Horton Hatches the Egg.” But Horton doesn’t have the depth of language and character as literature written for people who have stopped physically growing.
And Horton and Harry Potter are the same because they’re both written for children, just like Ulysses and The Da Vinci Code are the same because they’re both written for adults. You’ve read one, you’ve read ‘em all, am I right?
I appreciate that adults occasionally watch Pixar movies or play video games. That’s fine. Those media don’t require much of your brains. Books are one of our few chances to learn.
Is he actually saying that there’s nothing to be learned from Pixar movies? I’m sad for his life. I can’t speak for video games, since I don’t really play them (aside from occasionally binging on The Sims, which so far has only taught me how to ignore my real life friends and go long periods of time without eating or seeing the outdoors), but I’m not going to use my limited experience as an excuse to declare the whole medium void of any edifying properties. Unlike Stein, I try not to be down on what I’m not up on.
There’s a reason my teachers didn’t assign me to go home and play three hours of Donkey Kong.
Because if there’s one thing my 17 years of education have taught me, it’s that it’s only possible to learn from something if my teachers tell me to learn from it. Also, is he saying that it’s okay for adults to consume children’s media as long as they’re not trying to engage their brains? That seems… backwards.
I have no idea what “The Hunger Games” is like.
Oh boy, here we go.
Maybe there are complicated shades of good and evil in each character.
Maybe there are Pynchonesque turns of phrase.
I can’t say for sure, since I’ve never read any Pynchon, but I’m going to say probably not. Turning phrases is not Suzanne Collins’ strong suit.
Maybe it delves into issues of identity, self-justification and anomie that would make David Foster Wallace proud.
I’m not going to pretend to know what would make David Foster Wallace proud, but all of those themes are definitely present.
I don’t know because it’s a book for kids.
Translation: “I just admitted that I might actually like this thing, but I’m not going to find out because it’s in the wrong section of the bookstore.” Free thinking at its finest!
I’ll read “The Hunger Games” when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.
Okay, this is fair enough. I sympathise with the dilemma that there are too many books in the world and not enough time to read them all, but everybody prioritizes differently. Personally, my problem is that I didn’t have enough young adult years to get my fill of young adult fiction.
Let’s have the decency to let tween girls have their own little world of vampires and child wizards and games you play when hungry. Let’s not pump Justin Bieber in our Saabs and get engaged at Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland. Because it’s embarrassing.
Yes, it’s so decent of us to tell tween girls that the things they’re passionate about are embarrassing.
And here’s where I have to get real (and slightly off topic) for a second, at Stein’s implication that childhood entertainment is meant to be enjoyed in the vacuum of youth, to simply pass the time until adulthood and then be immediately thrown over for more dignified pursuits. That’s not how it works. Sure, everyone has their phases that they grow out of, but there’s no point in pretending they never happened. I’m not particularly proud of the fact that I still know all of the words to “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” but it’s the cross I bear. I’ve already admitted on this blog that Dashboard Confessional’s music still speaks to me on some level. And I bet you my 50th anniversary, annotated copy of The Phantom Tollbooth that I’m never growing out of that phase of my life. Stein seems to be forgetting that the things we like as kids can play a very real role in the adults we become.
I know it’s tempting to see the tween years as some sort of temporary insanity that descends upon all human beings before they eventually become capable of rational thought, but by leaving kids completely to their own diversional devices, we’re letting that prophecy fulfill itself. When I was twelve and thirteen, I loved horses and the Backstreet Boys and my dad would sometimes use this as an opportunity to talk to me about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and Schiller’s Aesthetic Education of Man. If I ever have a daughter of my own, I hope to engage her in conversation about the things she reads, watches, and listens to during all stages of her life, not just when I deem her to be my intellectual equal. What I won’t do is be openly disdainful of the stuff she likes, simply because she likes it.
(If I wanted to get even more real and off topic, this is where I would mention the double standard of growing up that says that girls have to renounce their affinity for ponies and the color pink if they want to be taken seriously as women, whereas boys are free to continue liking baseball and Star Wars well into manhood. Oh look, I just did.)
If you ask me, we should have the decency to take the things tween girls are passionate about seriously, when we can. As shown by Stein’s references to the Biebs and Disney Princesses, the opportunities aren’t exactly abundant, which is why we should be embracing the Hunger Games phenomenon. We should be demanding more like it. The fact that a series so popular with young female readers has enough complexity to draw an adult audience is proof that teenage girls are smarter than what we’ve been giving them. Let’s not ignore this because we’re too embarrassed to admit we like some of the same stuff they do.
Uh… time to get back on track:
You can’t take an adult seriously when he’s debating you over why Twilight vampires are O.K. with sunlight.
Okay, it’s hard to argue with this one, but that’s a failing of Twilight, not the entire young adult genre. (Let me end this debate right now: Twilight vampires are okay with sunlight because Stephenie Meyer is an incredibly lazy and unimaginative writer. There.) I have no problem taking an adult seriously when he’s debating me over why there are televisions but no airplanes in Panem. (My theory: it has less to do with the apocalypse that wiped out North America being conveniently selective in its destruction, and more to do with the type of society the Capitol wanted to rebuild in its wake—dissemination of propaganda is important to that society, long distance travel is not.)
If my parents had read “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” at the same time as I did, I would have looked into boarding school.
Ignoring the return of the false equivalency (has he really never stopped to consider the reason Harry Potter has a strong adult following and Peter Hatcher doesn’t?), telling parents to refrain from actions that will drive their offspring to contemplate boarding school is basically telling parents to refrain from actions. I say, fourth grade haters gonna hate, might as well read a good book while they’re at it.
In conclusion, Joel Stein is allowed to read what he likes, and I’d appreciate it if he would recognize everyone else’s right to do the same. Since he already gave me his advice, though, I think it’s only fair if I give him mine: Joel, stop acting like you’re too cool for a good story. Or, if you can’t manage that, at least stop being so demonstrative about it. It’s embarrassing.