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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Team Mockingjay

In all likelihood, on “the day” I will not be reading Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. I will be in car for double-digit hours, returning from vacation. Being as I get carsick when I read, and I am the copilot, I will have to avoid Twitter and anything else that may spoil my reading pleasure the next day.

As explained in The New York Times in The Kids’ Books Are All Right by Pamela Paul, I am not the only adult who is looking forward to Mockingjay. Amanda Foreman is quoted: “But good Y.A. is like good television. There’s a freshness there; it’s engaging. Y.A. authors aren’t writing about middle-aged anomie or ­disappointed people.” Foreman captures, in a nutshell, why I read YA. I know life sucks and is full of disappointments and compromises, I don’t need that in my books, and I don’t need to be lectured about it in books, thankyouverymuch. But I also known life can be wonderful, with opportunity, luck, chances, and happiness, and YA gives that to me. (It’s also why I read genres such as romance and chick lit. I read mystery because I like to solve problems. And that’s enough self-examination.)

What ages are YA books for? It’s always interesting to see people arguing about this when it turns out they have different definitions. For example, some people dismiss a book as not being YA because YA is for ages 11 to 14 and the book isn’t for eleven year olds. The flip also happens, with people thinking YA means only for the fifteen are older crowd. Personally, I’m a YALSA member so go with their age group, ages 12 to 18, which is why I’ll blog about middle school and  high school titles.

The Kids’ Books Are All Right confirms what many of us suspect: YA readership now includes the over-18s and not just in a “but you can’t count librarians and teachers” way.  Actual figures are provided. Please click through to read the entire article, but, for example, ”47 percent of 18- to 24-year-old women and 24 percent of same-aged men say most of the books they buy are classified as young adult.” In my age group? One out of five people buy YA for themselves. 

All in all, I really enjoyed the article because it treats young adult books, and the adults who read them, with respect.

In reading other people’s reactions to this essay, I found a bit of a mixed bag. Some people liked it, but others, not so much.  Over at Fomagrams in some of my best friends are YA authors, David Elzey wrote: “I have found myself upset with the… what is this feeling?  Is it condescension?  Arrogance? What is that feeling you get when you hear someone talking about something as if they’d discovered it before anyone else, and then relays that discovery in a way that makes you embarrassed for them?”

What did I miss? Because usually I am the first person to jump on a “let’s complain about this YA article bandwagon.” I understand where Elzey is coming from; I don’t like “oh my goodness, I discovered YA lit” articles or blog posts. Like him, I think “some of us have been doing this for years.” I am loud in my dislike of such attitudes.

But, here’s the thing. I didn’t percieve this in this article. Let me explain why I may have a different reaction from Elzey and others who didn’t like the article. I don’t come to YA reading as “someone who has been doing this for generations.” Oh, now I’m a youth services librarian; now I’m all involved with YALSA and NJLA and other organizations and read and blog. But, for ten years I was outside the book-world in the law world. Many of my friends and family are outside the book-world. The book-world, especially that in the YA area — publishers, authors, librarians, readers — we know that YA is read by grown ups. Those outside that world? Not so much. This article, in a mainstream publication, very much tells the YA adult reader that they are not alone. Now, some readers say “I’ve always been proud to read YA!” Good for you! I’m that way — now. While I lurked in young adult bookstores in my business suit? When I brought reading on business trips? “Reading YA” was not trendy, it was not something I shouted about doing from the tower tops, and I would have found this thrilling to read. It’s great some of you have either never felt that disapproval, it’s great that you don’t care about endless defending your reader choices. This article? It’s not for you, then. It’s for the person who before this article felt alone and now does not. They do exist. I was one.

Gayle Forman wrote about this in a blog post, let us into the sandbox, in a ”the New York Times is telling us ‘water is wet’” way. Forman goes on to take the New York Times to task for not having more coverage of YA. To which all I can say is WORD. One of the reasons I think that people blog about young adult and children’s books, and why this area of the book blogosphere is so strong, is because mainstream media like the Times failed to deliver. I hope they listen to Forman and stop the token coverage of YA. Click through to her article to see the detailed areas where the paper fails YA books and readers.

One more thing — I say that even people in the book world such as librarians know that adults read YA. Actually, I’m not sure. One reason I started blogging (and continued to do so) is that no, at a library level, I didn’t have people to talk to about YA. Some YA readers in libraries stop reading YA when they no longer are YA librarians. Librarians at smaller libraries may think they are alone in what they read. From a patron perspective, many librarians may not realize the age of YA readership. Every now and then, I hear librarians (on listservs and the like) say they won’t buy such and such a YA book because the readers will be adults and the YA librarian doesn’t want to spend YA funds on an adult book. Meanwhile, adult fiction won’t buy it because it’s YA. So the book does not get bought. Most YA budgets are much, much less than adult fiction budgets so YA librarians do have to be very careful what they buy. The statistics in this article, from the respected New York Times, may mean that a YA budget gets increased or that adult fiction spends money on YA. Personally, I think that some books should be shelved in two sections: adult and YA. Not all libraries or librarians share that philosophy; maybe this article will prove to them that such purchasing and shelving is necessary.

So, did you like the article? Did you think it was condescending? Or did you say “finally, I’m not alone?” If you read YA because you like it (as opposed to reading it for work), why? When you recommend a YA book to another adult, do you tell them up front it’s YA?

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. I’m fortunate that my library has an open teen area, so I can go forage for titles willy nilly. But I’ve visited libraries where there are signs prohibiting adults from the teen area unless they are accompanied by a teen – in those cases the dual shelving would be necessary. But with library budgets being slashed, what is the likelihood of that happening? What’s a self-respecting, non-pedophile, grown-YA lover to do?

  2. Kaethe says:

    I frequently recommend books to my mother and mother-in-law, as well as to my peers, and to my eleven and eight-yer old daughters. I don’t mention the YA aspect. It’s just an exciting story, or a romantic one, or a mystery, or whatever. I also wouldn’t mention that the Collins series is about the overthrow of a totalitarian government, although that’s also true, it gives the wrong impression.

    Anyway, we’ve got two copies pre-ordered, which means at least two of us will have to wait.

  3. Sarah says:

    I didn’t find the article condescending but thought it was a great post to those not in the bookish circle to see that reading YA isn’t something to be ashamed of. Lots of adult readers read YA and it’s not just librarians and teachers. I read YA before I was a librarian because I loved it, my mom reads YA because she loves it, and I get my friends to read YA because I think they’ll love the book. I have lots of adults browsing my teen collection at the library and I love it-I’m glad more people are discovering YA fiction. I do agree with Gayle Forman that there needs to be more mainstream coverage of YA titles. The Hunger Games is huge among the book crowd, but not so much with the non-book crowd, but it could be if it got more mainstream coverage, which it’s starting to get now. I also love the quote you pulled out-that’s exactly why I read YA too-the bleakness and hopelessness that’s so often found in adult books is not there in YA. YA may have a bleak outlook, but I’ve found there’s always hope too.

  4. Doret says:

    Overall I thought it was okay. Though I was slightly offended by “immature taste in literature” and the fact that Sherman Alexie was named as an interloper.

    Yes, I know Paul was making a point about adult authors crossing over into YA or MG. But I’ve always placed adult authors in different catergories. Those who do it because they have a story to tell, and those who do it because YA and MG are hot.

    Alexie is in the first catergory and so far from being in interloper.

    Adults shouldn’t need an NYT article to feel okay about reading YA lit. Good is good. Just enjoy it.

    Thanks for the link to Forman’s post – Loved it.

  5. Katie says:

    After reading your post, it made me think of one of my favorite blogs, foreveryoungadult.com, and a recent interview they did for the Huffington Post, because they address some of the same ideas you discuss. If you haven’t seen the article, you can read it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rebecca-serle/forever-youngadult-editio_b_667192.html

  6. Liz, I do think that even librarians are not aware of the extent to which adults read YA. Even in my experience – and I am a HEEYOOGE proselytizer of YA for grownups – I do not know many male adults that read YA, my impression is that it’s mostly women.

    So, fine, NYT can run an article about YA for grownups. But I have to echo your point about NYT largely treating J and YA lit as outside their brief. Anything I read about non-adult books in the Book Review, I already knew… and not just b/c I review kid books, but because the books are 6 months old!

    But if they covered our beat well, would we even have one? :)

    :paula

  7. david e says:

    YA is always a touchy subject for me, because I am torn between wanting to write it and feeling like the category is nothing more than a marketing distinction. Since it is generally recognized that readers “read up” to characters older than them, many YA books don’t hold a teen audience; high school students often read, and are assigned, books we would generally consider “adult.” The fact that YA is one of the areas of publishing showing growth, and that a large number of those reading YA are in fact adults, is something I would like to see and hear more discussion about.

    So what if a high school student went around saying “I just discovered these books about a pigeon who wants to drive a bus and stuff! They’re hilarious!” It’s nice they can appreciate these books intended for younger audiences, particularly if they came out after they were of the age they would have been exposed to them, but we wouldn’t suggest that be the basis of their article for the school newspaper. Yes, tell us they’re great, tell us what about those books engages or entertains, but don’t say, as Paul does, that because you are of a certain age, and by extension should “know better” or are somehow “above” such behavior, that it means you (and by extension others who indulge in such things) have “immature taste in literature.”

  8. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Sarah, I can understand tables & chairs being kids/teens only, esp after school hours. I don’t understand not being able to browse the kids/teens section as an adult. It bothers me, a lot. But again, perhaps a positive outcome from this article is lessening that restriction.

    Kaethe, right now my mother’s crowd of friends (baby boomers who grew up in the 60s) are all reading COUNTDOWN. Like you say, it’s just a good story — mystery, etc. Match the book to the reader, regardless of labels.

    Sarah, I’m pretty much nodding “yes” as I read your comment. I would love, love, love more YA coverage — especially more coverage that isn’t Twilight or Twilight themed.

    Doret, it’s interesting the different takes people have on the article. I read that part as pointing out that some familiar names (to adults) will be found on the YA shelves.

    Katie, thanks for the link!

    Paula, good point! Yes, I want more mainstream coverage. But having that big huge hole in coverage means many of us stepped up to fill it — Betsy Bird, etc.

  9. Michelle says:

    Fantastic Liz really fantastic. I agree with all who state that YA literature and reading needs to garner more mainstream coverage. The question in my mind is how do we better advocate for that. Is it by continuing to refer the adults we know to great titles (again as mentioned here — matching the right people with the right books), do we contact press and media outlets, pressure publishers to do more (if they aren’t already doing enough), ask librarians to purchase more with less? Maybe it’s all of the above.

    I know I continue to be an advocate with friends, family, my blog but I always find myself wondering how to best further my reach.

  10. I’m like Paula– it seems like my calling in life is to make grownups read “kids’” books. As a “blogger” (I use that term loosely), I am usually yelling at my audience to read more of what I read, since most of my audience is old college friends of mine who for the most part STILL DON’T TRUST ME when I tell them “You MUST read this!”

    And I realize that I’ve been messing up at work. When I work the desk upstairs in the library (J and YA are downstairs), I’m kind of a lousy Readers Advisor, a) because I have only a vague idea of what’s going on in Adult Fiction; but also b) when someone asks for a rec, I have a tendency to, right up front and APOLOGETICALLY, say, “Most of what I know about is downstairs….” I should really just up and start recommending the stuff downstairs WITHOUT apologizing, shouldn’t I!

    I agree that the article was not condescending. It was mainstream, which makes it seem like old news to those of us in the Know, but it sounds like it’s written by an insider instead of someone who just read Twilight last week and OMG I Had No Idea.

  11. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Michelle, right now I advocate book by book in my recommendations. Beyond that… I have a few plans for world domination bwah ha ha

    rockinlibrarian, most patrons don’t pay attention to our codes. J, what the hell is that? YA, isn’t that twentysomethings? Displays & booklists that include both YA & adult are also great.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] a blog response to the NY Times article, Liz B. at the Tea Cozy blog (hosted by School Library Journal) summed up, why YA appeals to her: “I know life sucks and [...]

  2. [...] through someone else. Liz B, from the Tea Cozy blog, had a great quote about why she reads YA: http://blogs.slj.com/teacozy/2010/08/12/team-mockingjay/ (the part I liked is towards the end of the second [...]

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