In Defense of YA, of Fantasy, of Classic Literature, and of Plain Old Books
I’ve always been an insatiable reader, and my family has generally been very supportive of that. My parents are readers, but I’ve always been the true book lover in the family, and generally if there was a book lying around the house, it was mine. While my mom’s taste runs to rustic memoirs and underdog success stories, my dad’s taste has always been very much more literary, reading classics and New Yorker recommendations with the occasional mystery novel thrown in. There are two things he absolutely can’t abide: fantasy and romance. And those two things are rendered even worse if they happen to be YA.
So while my dad was happy that I was reading, I quickly learned that he wasn’t about to hold his judgments back, especially as I got older and got more and more into fantasy and started discovering YA. The colorful, fantastical covers of my Tamora Pierce and Mercedes Lackey novels started garnering unwanted attention. My dad would pick up the book I’d left on the kitchen table, grumble something incomprehensible, and demand, “Why are you reading this garbage?”
It got to the point where I wouldn’t leave my books around if I wasn’t reading them just because I didn’t want to deal with any snide comments. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dad, but he was very clear about his opinions of my reading taste. If my reading selection didn’t have something to do with what he viewed as the real world, it was useless.
I was much too voracious of a reader to let that stop me from reading, but it did make me more embarrassed about my reading selections and gave me the sense that my reading choices were not something to be proud of. There was this sense (reinforced by summer reading lists and school assignments) that the only books worth reading were classics, award winners, those judged to be worthwhile by some anonymous panel. I read my fantasies in shame.
Fast forward to college. There, I was assigned the classics. My courses read Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, and Woolf, and among my English major friends, these were the authors we talked about. Students would name drop authors in class who I’d never heard of, authors I felt like I needed to have heard of to keep up with my peers. I started devoting more of my free time to reading the books I felt like I should be reading, even if they weren’t always the books I really wanted to read. YA and fantasy novels still felt like something I should be keeping a secret. It wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy most of the more “literary” works I was reading. I really did. But occasionally I was reading books just because one was supposed to, rather than because I was actually interested.
But then I encountered an outlook I’d never run into before. One of my friends observed me slogging through a minor Daniel Defoe work for my 18th Century Literature class and made a face. “Ugh,” he said. “I like to read, I really do, but couldn’t you pick something a little lighter?”
When I listed George Eliot and Dostoevsky among my favorite authors, another friend snorted. “Jeez, so literary! What about Harry Potter?”
I’d come full circle, it seemed, and found the people who looked at things rather differently than my dad. Rather than sniffing at my unrefined taste in books, my friends seemed put off by what they saw as my literary snobbery.
When I look at the situation now, it seems ridiculous. On one side, I had my dad telling me that one genre I liked to read was invalid, and on the other, my friends came down on me for reading what my dad had praised. Whichever way I turned, somebody thought they had the right to tell me what or what not to read.
And when I think about it, that’s what angers me most. Why should anybody have the right to dictate my reading choices? According to my dad, I’m not supposed to enjoy YA or fantasy novels, and according to my friends, the classics are boring. Well, joke’s on you guys: maybe you don’t think it’s possible, but I happen to enjoy YA, fantasy, AND classic novels. With a good smattering of mystery, sci-fi, contemporary fiction, and chick lit, too. And I won’t say no to the occasional non-fiction, either. I will genuinely read anything and everything, whether or not you tell me I should.
So this post isn’t a defense of YA or fantasy. It isn’t a defense of the classics, either. It is, overall, a defense of books themselves, of a reader’s right to choose his or her own reading material, and to enjoy reading what he or she wishes. Because there’s some grain of worth in even the most mindless of texts, simply in the act of reading itself.
Anybody else ever felt unnecessarily judged for their book choices? Let me know in the comments or by contacting me at email@example.com!