High vs. low, adult vs. teen? Just read, folks.

[I’ve had two draft posts sitting around for a week or so without finishing them. Here’s one. The next one is about adult library programming!]

I think Lichtenstein is a good illustration for a high/low culture debate. What about pop art, huh, critics?!
I think Lichtenstein is a good illustration for a high/low culture debate. What about pop art, huh, critics?!

Apparently, there’s another article about how books for kids/books for teens/trashy books/comics/not “literary fiction/not the classics/not the books the writer likes to read are bad for you and you shouldn’t read them. This one is about Percy Jackson and how they will steer kids who love them into more Percy Jackson-esque books and not to the Odyssey and what not. This is not true in my experience as a reader and as a librarian: if a kid or adult even is really interested in something, she will seek out whatever information she can find. Some will be a stretch for her as a reader, but her background knowledge – as fictionalized and geared to a specific audience as it may be – will help her decipher, and feel more excited about, more complex texts and themes.

Additionally, I am getting tired of reading these articles and reading about them and thinking about responses and defending YA for teens AND adults or whoever.

It’s just tiring. I’m tired.

So once and for all, let me just say: read whatever you want! Read mysteries, read comics, read Melville, read Jacqueline Carey, or Saga, or Twilight, or Christopher Hitchens, read Elizabeth Bishop, or The Hunger Games, or Derrida, or Henry James, or Nancy Drew, or A.S. King or whatever. Or read them all. Read high and read low. I’ve read some or all of all of those things listed above. Some are “high culture” with supposed, so-called, and sometimes confirmed in my opinion, “literary merit,” and challenge me to think in different ways and are legitimately difficult to read. Some are “low culture” that may be “easier” to read but can still be challenging because of concept, issues, or themes, or can just be escapist. Escapist can be okay and challenging is okay, too. We can be allowed to do a mix of both.

Also, books and stories can important and useful at varying times of life. For example, I did not get Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy as a kid and it’s a children’s book. As an adult, when Aslan says, “‘Child,’ said the Lion, ‘I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own,’” it had a profound effect on me. I was reminded me to be more compassionate for people and to try to listen to their stories. But maybe I shouldn’t have read that kids book.

You can do both. I love YA books AND Henry James even though the New Yorker doesn’t seem to think that’s possible. I am a possible person; I contain literary multitudes. Let’s not be so policing of our reading and remember to every thing there is a season.

Speaking of seasons, here’s another reminder from Ecclesiastes: there’s nothing new under the sun. We’ve been having this high/low culture debate and fear-mongering for pretty much all of time. It’s a fallacy that “now” is any worse than any other time for our level of intelligence, crime, culture, or whatever the “kids these days” do. It’s all old. The world has always been kind of crap and we’ve always had to grapple with that. Humanity has a range of the despicable to the divine, the thoughtful and intelligent, and the exceedingly stupid. Everything has happened before and will happen again. Get over it, and move on.

For another view especially addressing adults reading YA or Children’s books, here’s Sarah Burnes in the Paris Review blog: The binary between children’s and adult fiction is a false one, based on a limited conception of the self. I have not ceased to be the person I was when I was an adolescent; in fact, to think so seems to me like a kind of dissociation from a crucial aspect of one’s self. And the critic should be concerned with what is good and what is bad, what is art and what is not—not with what’s “appropriate.”

One thought on “High vs. low, adult vs. teen? Just read, folks.

  1. I assume you and I have read the same article(s). I think the idea that adults shouldn’t read J lit or YA lit is grounded in snobbery. I’ve been known to read Pete the Cat & Moe Willems if there’s a copy hanging around the desk.

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