Adults should read only Adult Books?

I’m sure most of you have already seen Joel Stein’s controversial article over at the New York Times, where he argues, among other things, that adults shouldn’t read fiction written for children (which presumably, in his world, are books that are intellectually and artistically inferior to books written for adults).

I shared the article with my students today, since we were talking about argument, and specifically, about identifying assumptions (those unstated premises for arguments). Stein’s argument was great for this, since there were so many assumptions that I didn’t agree with.

1. Obviously, I don’t think that YA books are intellectually inferior to adult books. It’s impossible to wholesale compare groups that are so heterogeneous. Some adult books *are* better than many YA books (George Elliot’s Middlemarch was transformative for me). But some YA books are similarly better than many adult books on the market. It all depends on the books. Stein’s position smacks of intellectual snobbery to me. I prefer to read good books, no matter how they might be classified.

2. Stein also argues that people read books *only* to learn (or, that’s the only legitimate reason for reading). Another assumption I don’t buy. If people watch movies and play games for down-time, some people (me!) also read books for intellectual down time. This doesn’t mean I don’t also read serious books (I picked up De Certeau’s Practices of Everyday Life on the way home from campus today), but I also like to enjoy my reading. Many people have also pointed out that parents enjoy reading children’s books to a) know what their kids are reading and b) have something to talk about with their kids–another perfectly legitimate reason for reading.

I could go on, but I’d rather hear what you think. Have you noticed a difference in quality between those adult books you’ve read and “children’s books”? If you’ve read Stein’s article, what did you think of it?

4 thoughts on “Adults should read only Adult Books?

  1. Wow. I completely disagree with Stein. My favorite series of all time is the Harry Potter series. I read it as an adult. I also think a lot of YA books are as serious and on the same level as many adult books.

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  2. I absolutely agree, Rosalyn. Either he's just trying to rise to fame by being controversial, or he's way too close-minded and just plain wrong. Either way, I am officially NOT a Joel Stein fan.

    I liked many of the comments below the article (from reasonable, articulate commenters!), including this one from Lisa:
    “Saying you only read adult books because you are a big smart grown up is pretentious and the worst kind of arrogance. It is the same as saying you only talk to certain kinds of people who reflect how cool and educated you are. Oh well, Mr. Stein is probably trying to be controversial to save his job in a medium that is loosing credibility and readership daily.”

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  3. Since reading Harry Potter and Hunger Games I've rediscovered my appreciation for YA. And I read kids books with my kids. So its all godd. I like them all.

    Uh oh. I see your Word Verification (WV) is still on. I'm on a mission to rid the world of this unnecessary evil frustration! Please stop by my blog and select the How To Turn Off Your Word Verification tab and help make the world a better place one blog at a time.

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  4. Great post. I DID see this article and it annoyed me. I write YA, and so it makes sense for me to read YA, but even if I didn't write for youth, I have a teenager (and like to know what she's reading), and frankly, there is some amazing YA fiction out there. While the Twilight series may have been pure fluff, books like the Hunger Games have really made YA fiction shine. Today's teens are more sophisticated than many adults I know.

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