What You Should Read

Joel Stein, who seems like a pretty big douche-bag, even though I think he’s just trying to be funny,* thinks you, and by ‘you’ he clearly means adult men, should not be reading Young Adult books. That’s the premise of his article, “Adults Should Read Adult Books” posted on the NYT’s Room for Debate opinion blog as part of the discussion of the power of young adult fiction.

He argues stories for kids don’t “have the depth of language and character” that whatever he’s reading does (he could be reading Snooki’s book, for all we know, since his only requirement is that a book be written for an adult audience). Of course, he doesn’t deign to read YA books before condemning them. He’s got 3000 years of books published for an adult audience to read before he touches The Hunger Games.

I don’t really care what Stein’s opinion of YA literature is. But the gendered way in which he talks about what people should read pisses me off because not only is it insulting, it’s dangerous. Joel Stein doesn’t seem to have a problem with women who read these titles. It’s the guy sitting next to him reading a YA novel that he finds so embarrassing. Furthermore, it’s because teenaged girls are reading them that he finds them so icky. Apparently Joel still thinks girls have cooties.

While I am disgusted by his blatant sexism, I’m even more concerned about his insinuation that reading is not cool for guys. It’s already hard enough to get teenaged boys interested in reading (which I can attest to as a YA librarian, and my partner, a HS English teacher, reports daily). We don’t need someone emasculating those who like to read when boys are already scoring low on standardized reading tests.

But apparently this is all part of Stein’s worldview, which he’ll tell us all about in his forthcoming book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity. Being a man is most definitely not about “the size of your heart”, but is somehow tied to the content of your bookshelves. And “men” don’t read The Hunger Games, a book about fighting to the death and challenging authority (stuff boys are definitely not into).  Of course, Joel Stein doesn’t know what the book is about, because it’s also about a teenage girl.

Though Stein thinks that men should “have the decency to let tween girls have their own little world of vampires and child wizards and games you play when hungry,” I think he should read a few YA novels before writing off the entire category. Just like any genre, there is the good and the bad. While some books written for a young adult audience are condescending and formulaic, some are compelling stories that have universal appeal and literary worth that surpasses much of adult fiction.

I think you should read what you like and not give a fuck about what embarrasses Joel Stein. Read stories that move you, that inspire you. Read books by Matt de la Peña, who writes books in which young people can see themselves, and older adults can see reflections of their former selves. Read books that take you to new worlds or prompt you to see your own in a new way. And don’t be embarrassed to come searching for them in the YA section. I’ll help you find them.

* (Judge for yourself by checking out his website here.)

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4 thoughts on “What You Should Read

  1. This is a great piece. It goes along with something I’ve been thinking about lately. Namely, that I don’t think men in general are taught to empathize women women. That is, I remember hearing an interview with Meryl Streep, in which she said that men in general couldn’t relate to her characters until she played Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. She said that men didn’t put themselves in the shoes of women, but women do all the time. We don’t see gender as a reason for not relating. So obviously, The Hunger Games is girly because there’s a female protagonist… right? Sigh. Thanks for writing this. I love the “girls have cooties” line.

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