Thursday, February 5, 2015

Us versus Them: The problem with adults reading YA?

My school has a book club, which many teachers use as a way to glean precious PDP's (professional development points) for re-licensure. It's not just for English teachers. The school librarians come, administration, and a few avid readers. It's been going on since September, but as far as I'm aware, this was the first time they'd chosen fiction, and it was YA to boot.

We all know how social situations make me nervous, so I spent the majority of the time listening to what people had to say, offering little myself. What I had discovered was an "Us versus Them" attitude.

I was amazed. We're all educators, and granted, some of us were older than others, but I've never once stopped trying to think like "Them." The attendants repeatedly said how they had to remind themselves the "the novel was written for teens," that this novel was okay because students connected with something so "low."

The whole time I wanted to be like, "Wait a second. Wait a minute." The book was a brilliant commentary on consumerism. Over a decade ago, it predicted technology much like we have today. Yet, some of the people in the book club said they thought it was uninteresting (okay, personal preference), but to go as far as say that it was unoriginal? written with slang and too much curses because the "author liked to swear, and not for any purpose"? I was just floored. One person even said, "Wouldn't the students be better off reading Hemingway? Wouldn't they get more out of it?"

Some commented on how they're so sick of the Fault in Our Stars, and Hunger Games, and Divergent, and...oh wait, every book that seems to have captured the attention of young adults. This is a problem. What is wrong with these books? Maybe my personal preference doesn't really sway towards the Hunger Games, but why is it a problem that teens are reading books "we" don't like? When did reading become just about the literary quality and less about the joy, the adventure? Putting yourself in somebody else's shoes and experiencing humanity from their perspective? It doesn't matter if the humanity is from a dystopian world or a contemporary one. If it helps us understand ourselves or the people around us, what's wrong with that?

Let's not spend more than this sentence talking about the benefits of reading for vocabulary. But really...why do we read? Why do we encourage reading?

I'm a parent. My daughter is three, and she loves books. I won't say I don't ever ask her to use critical thinking skills to predict what's going to happen on the next page of some Henry and Mudge book. But I do use the books to ask her questions about herself and how the characters are feeling. Reading for humanity. Reading for understanding people. Reading for reading.

That's not to say reading critically doesn't have its place. I majored in English. I wrote a 30-page paper on a sonnet. My mind is better having had these critical exercises. But. Reading. Come on. Let's read. Let's encourage reading. And let's get rid of the "Them versus Us" attitude, because I'm pretty sure we're all people. And I'm pretty sure I was once an adolescent. And I'm pretty sure I once wanted to change the world. And I'm pretty sure I experienced love and hate and hopelessness and anger and frustration and love, love, love. And I'm pretty sure that, if someone want to read because they want to read, they should read.

Rant over.