My formative years were in the late 70’s. I got to hang out with HR Puff n Stuff and I even caught reruns of Thunderbirds. I had the privilege of being teen in the 1980’s which meant I was witness to Madonna Wannabe mania and Hulk Mania. I had feathered hair. I saw The Goonies, every Star Wars, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, in the theater – first run. It was a great time to be a kid! PG 13 didn’t exist (thank god) so I was allowed to see boobies on screen. Revenge of the Nerds was a very formative film for me. No one worried that something might be over my head, or offensive. I was a kid. Who cares?
But that was right before, riiiiiight before, the whole “marketing to kids” thing. He-Man and Care Bears, The Smurfs, and a handful more of my Saturday Morning favorites were invented for the sole purpose of selling product. Genious! I mean it’s horrible, and it still happens today, but I can’t say it isn’t smart. Anyway, the point is that I was lucky enough to be “too old” when it happened. My childhood was unaffected by the Toy Manufacturers. There wasn’t a slew of licenced product aimed at little me. I had Star Wars figures and a few Barbies, but that was that.
There certainly wasn’t anything like the YA Industry. There were Children’s Books and books for Adults. The Children’s section of the library was: books for little kids and beginning readers, Choose Your Own Adventure, and the classics. I was forced into mature books because there was not an entire industry aimed at stunting my literary growth. I naturally grew out of Little House on the Prairie , The Box Card Children, and Roald Dahl, and moved on to the Bronte sisters and Judy Bloom. I remember being pretty excited (and then disappointed) about the Sweet Valley High books, and the only Vampires I read were in Dracula. Ok… and Bunnicula, but that book is awesome. The point is, there were a good chunk of books written for teens. But teens were expected to move on.
While there is nothing wrong with indulging in the occasional Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen, to read only YA fiction is like living off baby food, cola, and movie snacks. While these things seem awesome and inviting, they will eventually make you tired, sick and you’ll just stop growing. And if you stop growing as a reader – you stop growing. The themes and vocabulary of most YA fiction is (or should be) unchallenging to adult readers, and therefore a waste of time to read. When I find myself wanting to read of giants, wizards, of fantastic realms- I tend to reach for the classics.
Everyday I speak to people in their twenties asking for the latest in YA fiction. Or the latest Gillian Flynn or Nicholas Sparks. Great writers go unnoticed because younger adult readers find the vocabulary too difficult, or the sheer amount of pages is a turn off. A father and daughter came in looking for a dark romance, fit for teen readers. No vampires, said dad. I happily led them to Jane Eyre. I plucked it from the shelf and handed it to the young girl. She looked about seventeen. Dad smiled and said, “Ah! A classic! It doesn’t get much more dark and romantic than this!”
I grabbed a copy of Wuthering Heights and said, “Except for this. This has ghosts. And revenge! Oh it’s so good!”
Dad and I were having a grand time, but the girl just held out Jane Eyre and said, “It’s heavy. And it looks long.” She handed the book back to me, grabbed her phone, and wandered over to YA Graphica. Perhaps just to spite me. Dad took the books from me while both thanking me, and apologizing.
Later I rung them up and I was surprised to see copies of both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights nestled in the stack of Maze Runner books and various graphic novels with hand drawn hipsters. I grabbed Jane Eyre, and dad looked at me. “Those are for me. You’re a pretty good sales lady.” He smiled.
“Nah,” I said. “Good books sell themselves.”
He smiled and said he’d be back for more recommendations. As I watched them leave the store I fantasized about dad finding cigarettes in her desk drawer and punishing her by making her read real books.
One can dream…