Monday, 26 September 2011

A QUESTION OF READING

Hello, and happy Monday my lovelies. Yes, it is happy, really - I mean, you didn't die in your sleep, did you? And nor did anyone that you love/like/are moderately fond of? Then it's a win.

So today I'm tackling a reader question which came in from an Anonymous commenter:
"I've just started college; I'm 17 years old next month. I'm taking English Literature because it's my favourite subject, but I feel like a baby because I discovered yesterday that most people in my class read 'adult' books and I'm still in the YA section. Is it stupid that I feel like crawling into a hole and dying, to never pick up a YA book again? I feel like such a baby, should I stop reading YA and move on to 'older' fiction?"
Oh, sweetie! This question makes me want to scream and run around in circles and bang my head against the wall until the sweet oblivion of a fractured skull takes away the pain. Not because of you! Because of this cray-cray world we're living in, where being judgemental and prejudiced is so damn trendy.

I'm guessing someone sneered, didn't they? It might have been the other students, maybe a teaching assistant or even a lecturer. They asked you what your favourite book or author was, and when you told them an author or book they didn't know, and you explained that s/he/it was YA, they sneered. Maybe it was a flicker of an expression before they said: 'Oh! How nice!' or maybe it was a full out, pitying laugh followed by some nasty little remark.

Or maybe it wasn't even that. Maybe everyone was having what seemed to be this enormously erudite discussion about Faulkner or Chaucer or Franzen and you immediately realised that mentioning Pullman or Rowling or Pratchett would make you stick out like a Goth Rocker at a Justin Beiber concert.

But whatever happened, suddenly all your joy in reading and books and the English language - all the things that you went to college to nurture and develop - withered away and you felt like dying.

Here's my verdict on these people and this environment that have already started to make you feel insecure and unhappy and lesser.

Screw 'em.

Seriously. It's not you. It's them. You are an articulate, open-hearted, wonderful person. It shines out even in those few lines you wrote there in my comments trail. It shines out even though you were writing from a cold place of anxiety and doubt. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU.

You are a young adult. You enjoy reading young adult literature. In what sort of strange universe could that possibly make you a 'baby'? You're the person young adult literature is aimed at! You're the person I'm holding in my heart the whole time I'm stringing words together and blubbing over my keyboard and revising until my brain burns. You're the one I'm desperately hoping to reach. You're the one that makes it all worthwhile.

Now, look - maybe I'm biased. I'm a young adult writer myself, after all. It makes sense that I'd want young people to read young adult fiction with excitement and happiness rather than shame, or worse, give up reading YA altogether. But I'm an adult myself, and guess what 75% of my reading material is? That's right. YA fiction.

And my writing friends, some of whom are enormously successful bestsellers? They're all adults. Between 50-90% of their reading material seems to be young adult.

What about my other friends? The doctor, the IT specialist, the civil servant, the librarian? The teacher, the accountant? OH LOOK! They all read YA too!

Why is that? Why do so many adults read heaps of YA fiction? Why does YA fiction seem to be outselling adult fiction disturbingly often? Why are so many films being made from YA books right now? Because YA is good literature, that's why. It's just as well written, just as experimental, just as beautifully characterised, just as complex, just as worthy as literature aimed at adults. The only difference in most cases is that the protagonist is younger. And, as you may or may not know, many YA books come out these days in twin editions, with one lot of cover artwork aimed at adults and a second aimed at younger people. Often when YA books are sold in different countries, there's a debate over whether they should be marketed at adult or YA markets because these books are so strong that, basically, anyone can love them.

It's great that some of your fellow students enjoy books from the 'adult' section of the library or bookshop. There's some fantastic stories there! In truth, I spent much of my own teens reading adult books, mainly because I'd already gone through all the children's and YA books in all my local libraries and the adult sections were much bigger. For a while I even forgot how much I'd loved YA books. But when I got older I was drawn back to all those old favourites. I was drawn to discover new ones. I was drawn back to YA.

As an adult, with adult responsibilities and a full-time job, I realised that I loved reading books aimed at YA, and writing stories intended for YA, more than I had ever loved ANYTHING. I decided to devote my life to YA books. That is some strong shizz, yo. YA is strong shizz.

But this isn't just about YA. It's about the fact that, in this life, there are always people who seek to make themselves feel better by making other people feel worse. The people/person that sneered at you, or the people/person who held forth on their favourite books in a way that was no doubt intended to impress everyone with how terribly grown up and clever they were while making you all feel childish and stupid? That's what they were doing. They have chosen to do that in this case by setting themselves up as arbiters of literary taste. And I'm sorry to say that even if you stopped reading YA books RIGHT NOW, that wouldn't be enough.

They'd be on your case because you read books that were science fiction or fantasy. Or because you read books with romance in them. Or because you read books by female authors. Or because you read historical fiction.You can't win, and trying to do so will just make you miserable.

I've been exactly where you are. I went to college with amazing GCSE results, a bright and eager reader and writer, exactly the sort of person that everyone there should have been keen to support and develop. And instead, I found college incredibly isolating. In my case it was because I didn't have as much money as the other students, because I was pretty sure there was no way I could afford to go to university. Everyone around me, from my contemporaries to the lecturers, made assumptions about me - where I'd been, where I was going - and I tried to fit in with that. I wanted to avoid being sneered at and bullied like I had been all my life so far, so I suppressed my real personality.

When everyone was talking about the amazing holidays they'd had abroad, or the West End shows they'd seen, or what they were doing over the weekend, I smiled and laughed and hoped no one would notice that I had nothing to add. The lecturers told me off because I never went along on field trips, never thinking that it might be because I couldn't afford to.

In the end, of course, everyone began to sense that something wasn't quite right. Rumours started. My fake personality caved in. I ended up dropping out, and that's something I've regretted ever since. But even more than that, I regret that after so many years of being true to myself at school, I allowed my desire to fit in at college push me into pretending to be something I wasn't. It was doomed to fail from the start. The only way to deal with feelings of insecurity and uncertainty - the only way to deal with the people who seek to make you feel insecure and uncertain - is to laugh at them.

Listen to me now. It might take a while for this to sink in, but I'd like you to remember these words and think about them from time to time, because I think they'll help.

Your goal in life is to be an interesting, fully rounded person who cares about other people, but doesn't let them influence her. Your goal in life is to be funny, and strong, and kind. Your goal in life is to be happy. Your goal in life is to be the best version of you, with all your unique strengths and desires and dreams. Your goal is never, never, never to change yourself, or try to be like any other person.

Go forth and be proud, Anonymous YA reader. You're following in the footsteps of giants like Phillip Pullman, Terry Pratchett, Robin McKinley, Tamora Pierce, Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula Le Guin. You're following in my footsteps. But the path you take is your own, and no one can turn you from it, unless you let them.

Go forth and kick some ass.

19 comments:

Hannah said...

Arg! I hate judgmental people. Why forcibly limit yourself like that, anyway? I bet those sneering haven't picked up a YA book in the past few years purely because they think they're above it. They might be nice enough people, but deep down, if they're sneering, that's the heart of it. And that's really, really stupid because there is some AMAZING YA literature out there, just as equally there is some amazing adult literature. I can't get my head around why people won't read one or the other purely because of its' label. Surely if you like the sound of something, you give it a read? Fair enough if you've tried adult/YA and decided you'd rather not but people that don't even TRY bother me. I hate book snobs :<

Personally, I read for enjoyment, not to say I'm a this or that reader. Though I usually say I'm a fantasy reader because COME ON dragons and magic and shiz!!

I think there's a reason the YA blogging community is so strong and so massive.

Eafiu said...

I'm still at the place where I say: "What the HELL is an adult book?"

No, seriously. What. Is. It. Everything except children and YA literature and apparently F-S fiction? That's just a stupid way of categorising many books that are so diverse comparing to each other.* They all have their own genre -and some doesn't fit just one genre but lots of them! And it's awesome.

*Although, "genre" does that too but on a smaler scale.

Jenni (Juniper's Jungle) said...

Brilliant post! My heart sank when I read today's reader question, I really hope that its anonymous poster feels heartened by your excellent response.

You're quite right about the idea that if it wasn't YA it'd be something else. I've lost count of the times someone judged me for whatever book I was reading that day. I brush it off these days with the knowledge that they're the ones who are missing out on some amazingly good books by being narrow minded!

Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you Hannah, Eafiu and Jenni! I got a bit over-emotional writing this one, so I'm really glad that it hit home :)

Anonymous said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head by saying this isn't just about YA. I think that when you study Literature at college or uni or wherever, there are all these preconceptions already rooted so deep in people that for some, anything that isn't seen as part of the literary canon the majority subscribes to is somehow automatically viewed as 'lesser'. Well... yawn.

Frankly, people who can't even make their own individual judgements about a novel's merits, but rather have to defer to some narrow notion of literary worth sanctioned by, let's face it, a couple of centuries' worth of men in tweed jackets with elbow patches*, can absolutely kiss my a**. And I say this as someone who stuck out Uni and graduate study and who now reads YA 99% of the time, because it's my favourite and I like it. And because the only person who decides what's important in my worldview is me.

*Disclaimer: I dig the bearded men in elbow patches, I really do. As part of a balanced intellectual diet, that is.

Lauren

AmieSalmonYAWriter said...

This is such a wonderful post, really hit the nail on the head when concerning people and their silly judgements.
And Zoe I understand what it's like to be the girl with less money, who can't go out with work or uni friends for a social drink because you don't enough. Even now it's still a struggle, but I'm thankful to have such good friends in my life who don't care about that.

If this post doesn't stop you from feeling alone, then I don't know what will.

Zoë Marriott said...

Thanks Lauren and Amie! Great minds (like ours) clearly think alike.

The_Book_Queen said...

Wonderful post, Zoe, and well worded as well. I can't believe that such a response would happen, even in college, but then again, I know better, I know that these things happen everywhere, no matter the subject or item that they are making fun of. It is truly sad that many people, even those that claim to be fellow book readers, can scorn other genres simply because they are not as "well written" (in their mind of course!) as the genre they are defending.

And as to age--screw that! Besides the YA books (which I love dearly), I've been reading adult fiction, especially romance, since I was only 12. Now, almost a decade later, I'm still reading and loving both genres, and more. My grandmother, whom I share and trade books with on a regular basis, reads and enjoys just as many of the YA series I bring to her as the adult ones. And she's not the only one I know of like that--saying that YA is just for young children and teens is like saying that animated movies can't be enjoyed by anyone above the age of 10. Ha. Or that toys are only for age group written on the box. In all of these situations, the supposed age group says "__ and UP" as in, and beyond, people!

I know what this commenter is going through. In a few of my English courses during university most of my fellow classmates, along with the professor (of course) were so knowledgable, so in love, with the classics and the "true literature" novels. Mention a current bestseller in the YA or romance genre (most of what I read now) and they would give you mostly blank looks. Unless you mention Twilight--then, of course, everyone including my professor has an opinion, whether or not they've actually read the book. Really people, it's not like the only authors in the course of history, present day included, that could write a well written novel with some great hidden meanings and messages, were Shakespeare and other classic (and ancient, to be honest) authors. There's nothing wrong with the classics either; perhaps they may not always appeal to me, but they have their place--just like every other novel out there.

It's ridiculous that we judge everyone like this, but really, I don't see it ending any time soon. All I can say is be true to yourself, keep your head high, and while you pity those that are judging you, knowing that they are, in some form, less educated than you by doing so, remember not to do the same to others. Perhaps then, eventually, we can cease these thoughts and actions, or at least slow them down.

Enjoy!
TBQ

Luisa Plaja said...

I love reading YA, and I love this post. Thank you very much for writing it.

Zoë Marriott said...

TBQ: Wow, I envy you so much! I have to beg and plead to get my relatives to read YA books. Then they love them. But the next time I want them to read something, it's the same battle all over again! *Headdesk*

Luisa: Thank you! I just hope the Anonymous who asked the question is still hanging around somewhere...

Sophie said...

Wonderful advice and beautifully said -- don't change because others expect you to be something...just be yourself. In the end, being true to who you are will reset their expectations.

Isabel said...

Wow, beautifully said! That last bit got me kind of emotional. As always, your advice is incredibly sound and inspirational. You are such a role model!

Zoë Marriott said...

Thanks Sophie and Isabel :)

Taymalin said...

I'm almost 30, have a degree and I'm working on another, and still read YA fiction. It's not the only thing I read, but I love it. The Hunger Games Trilogy was my favorite new read last year, Divergent was my favorite this year. My university had a literature class in Harry Potter, where the series was required reading. The genre offers great entertainment, and for the snobs among us, proven literary merit.

Read what you love. In university you'll have to read a lot of stuff you don't, and keep in mind that those people sneering at you probably have a secret Stephanie Meyer addiction.

Isabel said...

I'm less than 500 words away from 30000! Eeeeek!

Also, The Girl of Fire and Thorns arrived in the mail today! :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Taymalin: You're probably right about the Stephenie Meyer addiction!

Isabel: Wow, well done! And I hope you enjoy GoFaT!

Isabel said...

GoFat. LOL... ;-)

Raimy-rawr said...

Zoe, can I just say.. I love you! this post made me laugh so much and you are so right.

I actually stopped reading YA at 18 because of this. I started uni and everyone starting talking about the classics and stuff like that so I started reading that crap... I went back to YA in December last year and since the beginning of the year I've read 125 books, 99% of which were YA... I think that's more books than I read between the ages of 18 and 22 and you know why? Cos I'm reading the shit I like and telling everyone who has a bad opinion on it to go screw themselves!

Zoë Marriott said...

Raimy: Good for you! If only more people were a bit more honest about what they're really passionate about, the world would be a far better place.

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