Should Adults Be Embarrassed To Read Young-Adult Books?

Journalist Ruth Graham thinks adults shouldn't be reading young adult books. She speaks with NPR's Rachel Martin about the criticism she's received for writing that for Slate.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The books that you read can say a lot about who you are, or so goes the adage. So when a recent article in Slate criticized grown-ups for reading young adult fiction, both young and old took to social media to denounce its author. Ruth Graham, who wrote the article, joins us from her home in New Hampshire. Welcome to the program, Ruth.

RUTH GRAHAM: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: So let's get into some of the back-and-forth here. You wrote, in your piece, that adult readers, who now account for about half of all young adult fiction purchases, should be, in your words, embarrassed about reading literature for children. Now I myself am not a huge fan of YA, but that sounds a bit harsh. Embarrassed, really?

GRAHAM: There have been a few strains to the criticism. One says, you know, actually the best YA is much richer and more sophisticated than I give them credit for. And I think that's a totally valid argument to have, and that's a discussion that we can have.

But then there's this whole other strain of criticism that boils down to how dare you tell me what to read. And I guess I find that a little bit troubling. You know, the job of criticism is to make distinctions between good things and bad things and between complicated things and simplistic things. And, you know, in my - I'm making an argument that YA is more of a guilty pleasure.

MARTIN: There are a lot of books for adults, though, that are equally simplistic, not exactly intellectually complicated.

GRAHAM: Absolutely. And I would never say that, you know, all YA is on one side of that spectrum and all adult literature is on the other side. You know, "Huck Finn" - you could say...

MARTIN: Sure.

GRAHAM: ...Is YA.

MARTIN: "Catcher In The Rye."

GRAHAM: Exactly. But in general - the two that I focused on the piece because they're the two that have gotten the most attention in the last year or so - one is "The Fault In Our Stars," which - obviously, the movie opened this weekend. And then "Eleanor and Park," which is realistic fiction - a teen love story. And they were perfectly pleasurable to read, I guess. But I - it was obvious to me they were written for it teenagers. I'll put it that way.

MARTIN: You must have held this idea for a while, as someone who is in this world. What provoked you, though, to write the piece at this moment?

GRAHAM: I don't know. It's just sort of been brewing - this idea that all reading is equal. And I know, you know, that's maybe not a popular idea to dispute, at this point. But a lot of people have sort of said, well, it's rude to suggest that certain books are more sophisticated than the other ones. And I should just be happy that anyone is reading anything. To me, that feels a little bit sad. And I just, you know - I guess I do kind of want to push back against the idea that a book is a book, is a book, is a book.

MARTIN: Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist who lives in New Hampshire. Her piece on young adult books appeared in slate.com this past week. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

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