The NY Times ran a series of mini-debates about YA literature two days ago; one of those mini-debates has pissed some folks off — me included.
Why? Perhaps because Joel Stein opens his piece with this filthy gem:
The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading “The Hunger Games.” Or a Twilight book. Or Harry Potter. 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.
Stein, of course, isn’t referring to intelligent people who happen to move their lips while they read. He’s talking about people with less-than-stellar mental faculties. At least, that’s how I take it,
because I know plenty of perfectly intelligent people who move their lips while reading everything from Austen to Dostoyevsky (fulfilling my pretentious quota here).
The rest of Stein’s article reads with as much contempt as the introductory paragraph. He compares YA/children’s literature to video games, because playing games and reading books meant for young ones is exactly the same thing. Never mind that playing video games can have a positive effect on the brain, though the picture is much more complicated than I have time to explore here.
By the end, you get a pretty clear sense about Stein as a critic — his opinions about literature, his knowledge of literature, etc. In other words: this little rant reads more like a series of intentional bullshits than it does an attempt to relegate a genre to the place it deserves (the latter being an impossible task). Stein doesn’t actually know anything about YA or Children’s literature; he openly admits to avoiding it: “I don’t know because it’s a book for kids. I’ll read The Hunger Games when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.” And yet he feels he is qualified to piss on the genre, without any concept of what that genre entails.
If Stein is really as pretentious as he sounds, perhaps he would like The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M. T. Anderson. Or perhaps he might consider reading canonical works of children’s literature with history in mind. But since the only YA/children’s literature Stein seems familiar with are uber popular works which, even among many readers of the genre, are certainly more popcorn-and-movie than steak-and-fine-wine, it’s difficult to take anything he says with any seriousness. Name-checking The Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter, Horton Hatches the Egg, or Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing doesn’t make you an expert. This isn’t a man who wants to be taken seriously by anyone outside of a select circle of narrow-minded readers. And for that, he deserves a wall of ridicule.
Now to turn this into a positive-ish thing:
If you were to suggest a book for Mr. Stein to read in an attempt to prove him wrong, which would you suggest and why?