I was mid-way through Insurgent, the second in a debut trilogy by Veronica Roth. When people broke me from my trance to ask what I’m reading, I feel a moment of pause. Do I confess that I’m not engrossed in Brothers Karamazov-type literature? I know they’re about to judge me on my material. (Not in a mean way, but because people judge, it’s what they do. Let’s all get used to it.) It’s a moment of truth.
I confess, I semi-lied to at least one person (although I still can’t explain to myself why I care what the Sprint rep thought). I watered down my answer by tentatively adding in some other books I’d recently read, as if I was casually reading three books at once.
But it was silly of me to do so, and here’s why: no one is above young adult literature. I’m not sure anyone is above ANY literature, for that matter, but if there’s one thing I learned from my school’s old book-fairs, it’s that the novels for young adults are often thoughtful, intriguing, written as if to encourage pushing limits and redefining oneself. Here’s why YA literature is the best thing ever:
1) It’s pretty much always exciting. Michael Bay can eat his heart out, it’s hard to outdo the action of Hunger Games, Divergent, Ender’s Game, Song of the Lioness. Even less traditionally action-packed young adult novels still have their BIG moments heck in Tangerine, a kid gets struck by lightening.
2) It’s easy to get engrossed in and THAT counts for a lot. People are reading books less and less (or so everyone says). A big part of that may be related to the sheer amount of instant-gratification media at our fingertips. Sure, YA may be the instant-gratification version of books…but it starts the ball rolling. It grabs your attention and helps people create associations between reading and entertainment – hopefully breaking down the wall that overly-dry English courses are known for helping people set up.
3) Reading is not about impressing other people. You know what’s a sure-fire way to turn a fun past-time into a chore? Making it about other people’s feelings instead of your own. Reading is an intimate and solitary hobby. It gives you the opportunity to become engrossed in someone else’s story. If we cull our idea of worthwhile literature not from what draws us in and excites us, but instead from what impresses people at parties – well, soon we’ll be berating ourselves for any time our taste is “bad” or we’re not “smart” enough to get the book that everyone else swears is genius. It’s amazing how many of our opinions we borrow unknowingly from other people. I had a date once mock me relentlessly for giving the Twilight series a try. But of course, he hadn’t read it. He just knew it was bad. Because other people told him so. (I only read one of the books and decided it wasn’t for me. But at least I gave it a shot, right?)
4) Practice makes perfect. By the way…you know how often my book-snob date finished a book? Not all too often – the David Foster Wallace tome he purchased looked good, but it mostly gathered dust. That’s because the way to develop enough patience with words and reading clout to enjoy those theme-heavy “genius” novels? It’s by hours of practice getting engrossed. It’s by building a relationship not only with a book or a genre, but with words themselves. It’s by choosing books for your joy, instead of other peoples.