Should YA authors be YA readers?

Time magazine columnist, Joel Stein, argued that adult readers should act like, well, ADULTS and not be reading YA novels.

Stein states that, “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. 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.” His full op-ed can be found HERE.

Really? THE HUNGER GAMES trumps vulgar nudes on the disgust-o-meter? I think that may be a bit extreme (especially if you HAVE seen some of the trash that floats on the Internet). His opinion however, is an intriguing observation, especially for someone like me – someone who writes not only for periodicals like Stein, but who also writes YA urban fantasy (see 408 ON MAIN). While I do not agree with his stance (I think adults should read whatever the heck they choose, whether FALLEN or THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO), he is on to something. Something that I will admit: I am not a huge reader of YA fiction, even though I write YA fantasy.

I know, I know: GASP!

Calm yourself. I do enjoy excellent YA: BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, THE ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS, anything Jack London & Scott O’Dell, TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD and yes, HARRY POTTER and MAXIMUM RIDE, plus many others. However, to only enjoy YA novels (heck, to even read more YA than any other genre) would be, for me, creative suicide.

Why? Because great fiction begets great fiction and some of the finest examples are in adult novels. When we, as writers especially of YA, neglect the wide range of adult fiction available our characters can lose their sharpness. They can fade, no longer providing the reader with that vivid contrast within their fictional realms that vaults them off the page and into the theater of the mind.

I read EVERYTHING and I am a voracious bibliophile at that (I burned through the TWILIGHT series in four days WITH an infant). JURASSIC PARK? Decimated that sucker in two days while in high school (okay – it was propped up inside many a text book during class). Trust me, the rabid-dino book was brilliant and sealed my fate as a huge Crichton fan. I also loved the fact that the attractions would eat the tourists (secretly all Cape Codders love that idea).

Yet, my characters would not be who they are without the darkness of Patterson, King, Hoag, Grisham and Larsson. They would not have the vividness of realm without Tolkien, Benchley, du Maurier and Crichton. They would lack the laugh-out-loud dialogue without Brockmann and Hiassen.

So, do I think YA authors should be only YA readers? Absolutely no.

Do I think it is still important for YA writers to read YA fiction? Absolutely yes.

What do you think?

Can any writer be a great storyteller without reading outside their genre?

4 Comments on “Should YA authors be YA readers?

  1. From Sabine on Facebook: Personally I think it is obnoxious to judge anybodies choice of reading material. Everyone is entitled to their own tastes, and just because someone is seen reading a YA book doesn’t mean that’s all they read. A good story is a good story, no matter who the target demographic is. What makes a YA book a YA book anyway? The Harry Potter series was classified YA but brilliantly written with a lot more meat, depth of story and character development to it than some “adult” books I have read.

    Additionaly, books can be a great way to find common ground with someone, spark interesting discussions etc. I could easily see parents reading YA books to gain some common ground with their teenagers. Parents might also read a series like The Hunger Games to pre screen it and make sure it’s not “too scary” for a young child who happens to be reading above grade level. A teacher would have to read the YA book if it was to be used as part of a curriculum. So for the author of the article referenced to liken an adult reading a YA book to someone watching porn is shortsighted and ignorant.

    And to your question about reading multiple genres, I agree that the more genres you read the more it will spark creativity. My husband is a writer and the five novels he has written are all quite different. There are certainly some elements that are common across all his books, but I don’t think he would have been able to write such different stories without exposure to different genres.

    Excellent article by the way, and thanks for makin me think about this topic. I will get off my soapbox now :-)

  2. From Amity on FACEBOOK: I can’t speak for authors, although I get your point. I have to say that as a middle school teacher who LOVES books, I have to read YA books regularly. It gives me a lot to talk about with my students. But I make a very big point of showing kids that I read and love adult books, too. I keep lists of my recently read books on my wall in my classroom. I ask kids for recommendations. I even lend books out. Heck, kids have “borrowed” books from my classroom shelves (I lost at least 3 good ones this year!). I know I have turned more kids onto reading science fiction than would have discovered otherwise if I hadn’t a long list of multiple books appropriate for multiple levels of readers. Generally, I try to read 15-25 YA books a year. Recent things mostly. Usually off of a list made by the school librarian. Some that kids have recommended (or even lent to me). I find many of them insipid and inane. But they remind me about being a kid – how they think, their fears and ideals. Sometimes they remind me how hard it is to understand being a kid – so many authors seem to try too hard to get at that “kid” voice. As a teacher, I always walk that line between kid think and adult think. I have to to some extent because otherwise I can’t really bridge that academic gulf that exists between us. But if I venture to far, I will fail as a role model. So I read more adult stuff. Watch more adult stuff. Try to find adults to talk to regularly (hard to do!). But I will probably always read some YA fiction and non-fiction as long as I am a teacher because it keeps me in the loop.

  3. I remember transitioning from the YA shelves at my local library to the regular shelves, and being unimpressed because so many writers relied on crutches that YA writers couldn’t or tended not to resort to — the most obvious being graphic sex (and these weren’t romance novels) and sometimes drug use, as well as overly convoluted political/motivational machinations. Don’t get me wrong — these can be done really well and contribute to the plot, but when done poorly — ugh. I appreciated, and still appreciate, that YA authors have to tread more carefully in these waters, and tend to be a lot more thoughtful and editorial. I think other authors could learn quite a bit from reading YA.

  4. The only YA book I have ever touched as an adult was Harry Potter. I think I read it because I was looking for a break from reality. I see nothing wrong with adults reading YA books. Reading books means taking a break from life, diving into a great story, relaxing- I don’t think it should matter what type or form of literature is being read.

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