By conventional standards, I might be what’s called a narrow reader. I know what I like and I stick to it. I read fantasy books (sometimes I read science fiction, but when I do I’m always left waiting for the dragon that will never come). I read mysteries (but currently only Cassandra Chan’s Gibbons and Bethancourt series). I read realistic fiction. I read Chick Lit (but my own expanded version of it as seen here each Wednesday). I read classics. But only by authors I like or my mom likes. (I doubt I will ever read Lady Chatterly’s Lover for instance. And my Hemingway quota was more than filled by The Sun Also Rises. Don’t even get me started on Kafka.)
Now, I know what you’re thinking. That isn’t narrow at all. I read a lot of genres. But most of the books I read–in fact, I’m comfortable saying that 80 percent of the books I’ve read to date–are Young Adult books. And, for a lot of (unenlightened) people (who do not read it) YA is its own genre.
More than that, it’s a genre that seems to require a lot of apologies or explanations from its readers and its authors. Many YA authors, I’ve seen it happen on Twitter to at least three, are asked when they’re planning on writing a “real” book. You know, one with real, adult people. Because anyone who’s a teenager can’t be experiencing anything “real” or sincere or, you know, literary.
Margo Rabb wrote a whole essay for The New York Times a while back working through her own mixed feelings about being a debut YA author with her novel Cures for Heartbreak. That essay, back in 2008, raised some discussion about the phenomenon of the YA Ghetto and how so many wonderful books are seen as “less than” just because they happen to be targeted to teens (even though they are rich, strong books that have appeal for people of a variety of ages).
Just last week the New York times featured another essay, this time by Pamela Paul, explaining that it’s okay to read young adult books because (guess what?!) some of them are really, really good. Shocker. My favorite quotes: “A lot of adult literature is all art and no heart.” “Y.A. may also pierce the jadedness and cynicism of our adult selves.” Snark aside, Paul made some good points though my main issue is simply that any of the points needed to be made.
Then, of course, we have the infamous chick lit stigma which afflicts many YA authors twice as hard since their “real” book would have to not only be about adults, but about men besides. I didn’t know it when I first started my Chick Lit Wednesday reviews, but I know now that this is exactly the reason I feature a book with strong women every week. Because we need to dispel the ridiculous idea that books centered on women are somehow less important than books about anything else.
Tamora Pierce just recently wrote a blog post about why she writes about a lot of girl heroes. Maureen Johnson has done her part to expand the working definition of chick lit simply by working through why so many people call her books chick lit. My friend “Sarah” also pointed me to Tiger Beatdown’s essay from The Rejectionist on manfiction and why The Rejectionist no longer reads it.
I could talk until I’m blue in the face about the many virtues or chick lit, ya lit and genre fiction (all of my favorite things to read which, paradoxically, always seem to be seen as inferior by the big literary critics and prizes who only seem to give awards, in my narrow knowledge, to “serious” books about “serious” things*). Sometimes I feel like I already have talked myself blue in the face.
And I’m tired of it.
I’m thrilled that so many of the genres I love (steampunk, YA/chick lit if you want to call two really broad categories genres, etc.) are getting so much great press. But I’m sad that so many adults still feel a need to apologize for reading it and so much of that great press starts with an apology as if a person needs permission to read whatever she or he wants.
So I’m done.
I am now reading without remorse. I will choose books and recommend books without apology. I will review without explaining that the book has crossover age appeal. I will summarize without mentioning that chick lit involves more than women in romantic comedy situations. And I will never, ever try to justify or excuse or otherwise explain what I read. Nor will I ever expect explanations from anyone else.
And I want you, dear readers, to join me.
While you’re at it, if you are ready to read without apology, maybe you should consider joining my new book club?
*This might be a good point to mention that aside from the links provided, no other research went into this post. Maybe a little known YA crossover chick lit steampunk title did win a huge, prestigious, serious book prize and I missed it, I don’t know. My main point is that there tends to be a very narrow definition of what makes a book valuable as literature versus as entertainment or plain old good reading and that definition does not yet encompass YA or chick lit.
4 thoughts on “On Reading Without Remorse (A manifesto of sorts)”
Right now I’m reading “Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels” and it’s very smart about genre fiction and about the ghetto that books written by women for a female audience are placed in.
Sounds like a winner, thanks for mentioning it!
I’m with you!!
I’ve been getting lots of good feedback about this post on Twitter and wanted to add a link to this commentary by the lovely Gayle Forman further discussing the oddity of this article treating YA being awesome as some kind of new trend: http://www.gayleforman.com/blog/2010/08/10/sandbox/