Last week all sorts of things got librarians riled up and other people defensive. My favorite might have been the guy at a library conference who called a female librarian an “ignorant slut” onstage.
He then said, “Just kidding! I don’t think you’re ignorant!”
Okay, I made that second part up, but it would have been the perfect followup.
But it sort of wasn’t his fault. If only his audience had been composed of people who watched SNL in the 1970s. And if those tweeting librarians would put things in context instead of saying, “this guy just called someone an ignorant slut,” which of course he did. Darn those tweeting under-50s.
And now people are being real meanies and saying bad things about him. Don’t they get it that calling women sluts is funny? Maybe these days men calling women sluts brings to mind less Dan Ackroyd and more Elliot Rodger.
That one I found out about on a blog, but the other lively librarian debate I discovered only because of a Kind Reader leaving a comment about it.
Apparently, YA librarian listservs were all aflutter about this article from Slate arguing that adults who read YA novels should be ashamed of their reading tastes.
I read through the article and didn’t find anything to get upset about, but then I’m a grown up so I read grown up books, at least when I can get to them once I’m finished with email, news, professional reading, and few magazines. On second thought, I don’t read a lot of grown up books, either.
I didn’t track down the librarian discussion, but if it was anything like the 2,000 plus comments on Slate it was probably pretty hostile.
Reading through the comments, we can easily tell a few things about some of the adults who love to read YA novels: they’re very defensive. Also, a lot of them are really bad at defending their reading habits and yet feel compelled to.
For example, in response to a comment that people kept citing certain classic works of fiction as YA reading that weren’t intended to be, we get this:
The point is not that classics were intended as YA fiction, but that they are guilty of all the “sins” Graham complains of: Pat satisfying endings, instant gratification, escapism, and so forth. If you took “Romeo and Juliet,” updated the language, and cast it in novel form, it would be indistinguishable from a modern YA book. I’m not impressed by an article that tells me I should feel guilty for enjoying Shakespeare.
There’s a lot wrong with that response. First of all, it misses the point of the article. The article itself wasn’t defending all adult fiction. It was criticizing YA fiction. Just because a lot or even most adult fiction is also formulaic, escapist, and so on isn’t a defense of YA fiction.
Instead, that’s more an admission that a lot of adult fiction is just as trite as YA fiction, if indeed YA fiction is trite. I don’t know because I don’t read it.
That fits in with one common but stupid line of attack. “Oh yeah, well there are bad grown up books, too!” Okay. If people didn’t like stale, formulaic, repetitive plots, the sitcom would never have become so popular. However, we’re talking YA books here. Stay on topic.
But it’s the reference to Shakespeare that floored me. It’s like the commenter is unfamiliar with “Romeo and Juliet” except as a common way to refer to a teenage romance story.
Romeo and Juliet definitely doesn’t fit this description of YA lit, at least as far as I can tell. What poorly read folks who want someone to be their Romeo or their Juliet forget is that Romeo killed two men and that they both commit suicide in the end. Is that a “pat, satisfying ending”?
If anything, Romeo and Juliet is the perfect Shakespeare play to support Graham’s point in the Slate article. Read the play as an adult and it’s hard not to think of Romeo and Juliet as a couple of hapless, impulsive fools. That’s because as adults we know that all that stuff we thought was soooooo important when we were thirteen really isn’t that important.
Thus, when I read, “I’m not impressed by an article that tells me I should feel guilty for enjoying Shakespeare,” I know I’m hearing from someone who hasn’t really enjoyed Shakespeare. Using that reference was just a way to make it sound like the person reads something other than YA novels.
But mostly what I noticed was the defensiveness. People who are proud of their reading taste typically don’t get defensive. People who read a lot of Shakespeare probably wouldn’t care if someone said, “Shakespeare sucks!” That could be dismissed with a shrug and a “whatever” and everyone moves on.
Even the people who read comic books and pretend they’re “graphic novels” don’t get defensive anymore. They just read what they enjoy.
The only kind of defensiveness on this topic that makes any sense would be uninformed criticism from someone who has never read a YA novel. “YA novels are trite.” “Have you read any?” “I don’t have to because I know it without reading any.” “Are you as stupid as you sound?” “Maybe.”
But the writer has read some, and even some of the defenders of YA fiction admit that some of the criticisms are true. So why not just admit YA fiction doesn’t deal with adult themes and move on? Why would hundreds of people feel compelled to comment so foolishly on this?
The most likely reason is that they do feel a little ashamed of themselves for enjoying books that were meant for teenagers, who inexplicably got renamed “young adults.” If they weren’t a little ashamed, they’d just shrug and move on.
Pride doesn’t lead to defensiveness. Shame leads to defensiveness.
If that’s true, then all the hostile commenters are, ironically, agreeing with Graham, who apparently hit a little too close to home for some people.