Given the box office smash The Hunger Games movie is proving to be, The New York Times posted a number of essays by writers, librarians, and bloggers in the Debate Room today about the power of young adult fiction. I found all to be thoughtful and well-written until I came to Time magazine columnist Joel Stein’s piece, “Adults Should Read Adult Books.”
The title alone ruffled my young adult and kid-book lovin’ feathers, but I was open to his opinion. I mean, that’s what this country is supposed to be all about, right? Letting people speak their informed mind?
Except his opinion is based on nothing. Stein has never read a young adult or children’s book for pleasure.
“The only time I’m O.K. with an adult holding a children’s book is if he’s moving his mouth as he reads… I’m sure all those books are well written. So is Horton Catches the Egg. But Horton doesn’t have the depth of language and character as literature written for people who have stopped physically growing,” he explains.
Yes Mr. Stein, to my 5 foot 2 inch dismay, I’ve stopped physically growing—but I’m still looking to expand emotionally and hey, if it’s kid lit that gets me to think about the world differently then so be it. In fact, I’d venture to guess we could all learn a few things from children, who have a curious eye for everything without adult cynicism or rationality in the way.
About the only thing I agree with in Stein’s piece is that books are an opportunity to learn. I’ll stop at agreeing with his notion that they’re one of the “few” ways to do so. In my opinion one can learn from any medium if he or she is open to it. But I have a feeling Stein’s definition of learning means hard facts like the names of all of our presidents or perhaps the first paragraph of the Gettysburg address. Important, yes, but so is enjoying my time. While I may not know the exact date of Kristallnacht after finishing The Book Thief, I have a better sense of the life of an average Austrian citizen who didn’t agree with Hitler’s programs and could do little to stop it. More importantly, I had the experience of tuning out everything else and building a relationship with characters (who, yes, have a lot of depth) and a story I love.
But that’s the beauty of being an adult, right? I don’t have to prepare for a history test on Monday, nor do I need to listen to Joel Stein’s opinion on what I should and shouldn’t spend my time reading. He may have 3,000 years of adult fiction to get through but I have all the time in the world to choose whether I want to read Wonder, a touching story about a young boy with a facial deformity, or The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a stirring coming-of-age novel in which a girl grapples with her own sexual identity. Neither seem very Cinderella and Disney, both examples given in Stein’s piece, to me.
Maybe, Mr. Stein, it’s about time you stop wondering whether there are “Pynchonesque turns of phrase” and “issues of identity” in The Hunger Games and actually read the series before you add your opinion to the debate. I believe the adult readers of Time magazine would expect that type of high caliber research from you.