I think it’s complete and utter drivel from the pretentious mind of someone who clearly has lost the ability to discern any joy or wonder in the world. It’s bullshit. And keep in mind I consider myself to be as arrogant, pretentious, and joyless as they come. I’m an acquiring editor, after all.
His point is that an adult reading a book intended for an audience of children should be ashamed, or at least embarrassed. Not only is this argument wildly ableist (not every adult can read at a post-elementary school reading level), but it refuses to take into account the fact that there are (to use the technical term) “different strokes for different folks.”
The same argument is often used to shame readers of the romance genre. The stereotype is that those novels are thinly-veiled soft-core porn or the author’s own rape fantasy, and that anyone who reads it is clearly a middle-aged woman who hasn’t gotten her husband to sleep with her in years. The offensive (and false) nature of the stereotype aside, it exists to shame people and discourage them from reading a kind of book that they enjoy. And when people can’t or won’t access books that they enjoy, they won’t read at all. Period.
So if Stein wants to shame adults who enjoy reading YA fiction, he is literally discouraging those adults from reading in general. Maybe some will take his message to heart and go read “the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults,” but if they don’t enjoy it, then guess what: He’s just effectively taught someone to stop reading.
The article also fails to take into account that readers can have wildly varied tastes. After all, readers are much like human beings in that they have a variety of interests and moods and can’t be stuffed into a tidy little box and labeled. That adult on the airplane he caught reading The Hunger Games might have just finished reading The Sound and the Fury or East of Eden and he’s just decided off-hand that they are simple-minded and an embarrassment.
As I’ve mentioned here before, my reading habits go through cycles. I read everything from comic books to YA novels to genre fiction to literary fiction to the classics and everything in between. I’d love to have Mr. Stein approach me on a day I happen to be in a YA fiction mood and tell me I should be ashamed for reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Then I could beat him over the head with the hardcover edition of The Stand I just finished reading, as well as my multiple degrees in literature and career in publishing.
He’s also completely discrediting parents who are reading children’s books either to relate to their children and have something to discuss with them, or to check if a book is suitable for their children. He doesn’t know why someone is reading a children’s book, just that they should be severely judged for that decision.
All that aside though, Stein seems to be in the camp of adult readers who find no redeeming qualities in children’s literature despite never having read any of it. His description of The Hunger Games as a book about “games you play when hungry” is proof of that. He boils down a complex coming-of-age narrative that deals with very adult themes to something inane and laughable without even bothering to at least skim the Wikipedia article for the book. There is definite merit in children’s literature and YA literature. No amount of adult snobbery can make me think otherwise.
“But wait, QQ! Speaking of snobbery, aren’t you kind of a huge snob about books like Twilight and the collected works of James Patterson?” Right you are, Grasshopper. But there is a vast difference between hating on books for their genre and audience and hating on books for their quality. A terrible book is still a terrible book, regardless of its genre or intended audience. Likewise a great book often transcends genre and audience.
Read what you like. I, for one, will never make fun of your book choices based on the genre or reading level. I will, however, tease you mercilessly if you tout a terrible book as a great one. I offer honesty and ass-kicking, not baseless judgment.