Last week when that article from Slate came out bashing adults who read YA novels, I was as outraged as everyone else who enjoys reading and/or writing books classified as teen lit. Many people, myself included, declared Slate writer Ruth Graham to be a literary snob. The definition fits. After all, “snob” defines a person who believes that their tastes in a particular area are superior to those of other people (in this case, Graham argues that adult literary fiction is superior to YA). But “snob” is an unflattering word, so it occurred to me that Graham probably doesn’t consider herself a snob, but rather a “guardian of good taste” — because that’s how I see myself when I criticize books.
Holy hell, am I just like Graham? Are we snobs? Let’s find out…
Graham’s Top 3 Reasons a book is unworthy of an adult’s reading time:
- The teenage perspective is uncritical.
- Satisfying endings.
- Doesn’t encourage growing up.
My Top 3 Reasons a book is unworthy of reading time (full post here):
- Nothing really happens amidst long paragraphs of plot-less description and inner monologue.
- Passive protagonist.
- One-dimensional characters prone to insta-love.
Okay, on the surface, Graham and I are totally different. We do not judge books by the same criteria. But one thing is clear: we both judge. And isn’t judging inherently snobbish?
The problem with judgment is that it’s subjective. This is a hard thing for me to admit, since my opinions are based on my education as screenwriter. I want to believe that because my opinions are educated, they’re objective. I’ve studied story and have lots of so-called proof to back up my assessment of what makes a story good or bad. When people are flabbergasted that a dumb-sounding movie did so well at the box office, I can explain, based on story structure and character development, why it resonated with audiences despite the implausible premise. Or when people are surprised that a children’s book like Harry Potter broke out of its genre restrictions and pleased readers of all ages, I can point out all the layers within the story that make it engaging to both kids and adults. There are qualifiable reasons these stories are so popular.
But then along comes Twilight and my educated opinion is moot. That’s a story with a passive, one-dimensional protagonist and long descriptive paragraphs where nothing much happens except inner monologue waxing poetic about the love interest’s good looks… yet tons of readers LOVE it. This book shatters all that I hold true! So I raged against it, pointing out to everyone how much I thought it sucked and how I could not believe it was a bestseller. As a “guardian of good taste” I felt it was my responsibility to warn people not to waste their time reading this book when there were so many superior books out there to be read.
Sounds a lot like Graham’s third-last paragraph’s closing sentence: “Life is so short, and the list of truly great books for adults is so long.”
Gasp! I am like Graham: a snob who judges others for enjoying what I consider to be subpar literature.
So to all the Twihards out there, I am sorry. It’s not my place to judge your reading choices, any more than it is Graham’s place to judge mine. There is no such thing as being a guardian of good taste when taste is subjective.
Not that I’ll stop having opinions about books. But I will do my best to remind myself that these opinions are subjective and not shared by everyone. Just because I dislike a book doesn’t mean everyone should, and we can respectfully agree to disagree. I also promise not to publish any articles in Slate bashing Twilight.
Next Up from Heather… A new writing process is born: the pantsing plotter! But I’m not ready to write about that yet, so instead I ask the question Who Do You Write For?
Click here for more posts by Heather.
8 thoughts on “Readers & Judgment: Snobs or Guardians of Good Taste?”
Great post 🙂 I am such an eclectic reader and I loved Twilight, as much as I loved Heart of Darkness. I read different books for different reasons (some for mindless fun, some to be moved, some to learn something new etc). I’m an adult who reads both YA and adult books and I love it all 🙂
Agreed! Most adults who read YA also read other genres. It’s silly to limit readers!
Don’t feel too bad. There are differences. Graham’s bashing a whole genre but you’re talking about a specific work. And your criteria make more sense than hers. Just because a single work with a passive protagonist in which nothing much happens amid paragraphs of inner monologue is successful doesn’t mean those are good ways to write stories. Most of those stories don’t succeed, I’d guess. So there’s that. FWIW, I didn’t read Twilight – just couldn’t force myself to do it. But also haven’t said much about it. The success of that particular series is a curious phenomenon to me.
Now if we compare your criteria to hers:
The teenage perspective is uncritical. (Not proven to my satisfaction, and this is just the sort of claim that I refuse to swallow without evidence).
Satisfying endings. (Beside the point. A story can end satisfactorily and still be entertaining or even meaningful. Surely there are enough examples of this outside YA to make it so.)
Doesn’t encourage growing up. (Don’t even know what to say about this. in a short comment. I find it problematic because it implies that YA must be didactic to be worthwhile).
Which is a long-winded way of saying you’re on firmer ground because at least you’re applying some criteria to a single work. Graham’s just tossing out generalizations about an entire genre.
Thanks for the ego bandaid! I may be on firmer ground than Graham, but it’s still the ground of judgment so I’m going to try to stop jumping on it all the time. 🙂 Twilight is a curious phenomenon. And you’re right – most stories with those same “flaws” don’t become bestsellers. It’s a confounding case!
Lol, had to go re-read my comment and see if I used the word “flaws.” I do get what you’re saying, and the self-criticism is my favorite part of the post. I could say so much more about this stuff. I’ll probably end up writing about it myself.
Reading tastes are indeed subjective. My daughter will plow through large books of history to learn something new, while this weekend I devoured two Regency Romances as I chilled out and relaxed.
So true! Thanks for the comment!