– Or Storytelling 4; Let the People Read What They Want (Emily Gets Ranty)

‘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.”’

-Joel Stein, New York Times “Room for Debate”

In his op-ed, “Adults Should Read Adult Books,” Joel Stein expresses his opinion that adults, unless reading them to a child, should not read books like Harry Potter, or The Hunger Games. These books were written ‘for children,’ and therefore have none of the complexity, depth of vocabulary, or thought provoking points that adult books have. And Stein knows this without having read The Hunger Games, and he vows “I’ll read “The Hunger Games” when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.”

This is the sort of argument that I hate, and it always seems to arise from authors, or English majors, or journalists – it’s the argument of Literary Superiority. It’s the argument that, because some 30 year old is reading Candide, he/she is superior (mentally?) to the 30 year old reading Harry Potter on the plane.

I’ve heard several variations on this argument, and every single time I am left with the position of “What?” I genuinely don’t understand where this argument comes from – I am usually just ecstatic to see people reading in general. I don’t understand why these “levels of acceptable books” exist.

I understand that, if an author is determined to write a book for 13-year-olds, its going to be vastly different from a book for 16-year-olds. It will have a different vocabulary, it will have different plots, but that does not mean that it is any less valid, any less thought provoking, any less relevant. Some are better than others (I’m not saying every piece of Young Adult fiction/Children’s fiction is a work of art) but you can’t lump them all together and say that they are less than adult books simply because of their genre.

There are several “kid’s” books part of literary cannon – The Hobbit, Treasure Island, Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland – these are all considered literature, and they are all stories written for children. Children’s stories and books, Young Adult books – the best ones often tackle deep, frankly adult issues. Childhood has the association of innocence, that we can’t teach them about death, illness, or the evils of the world. Therefore, books written for teenagers or children are lesser because they aren’t ‘adult.’

But the fact of the matter is, people like Joel Stein don’t read children’s/young adult books because of this ideal, and then think that the have a basis for an argument because “they’re written for innocents. Don’t read them because you’re not innocent.”

Joel Stein says: “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.”

You’re not being decent; you sir, are being ignorant of the impact fantasy and reading can have on children, teens, and adults. If an adult wants to read The Hunger Games, let them read it. They are open minded enough to give it a chance – if you have a problem with it, please go bury your nose in your ‘real literature’ and leave us ‘children’ alone.