>Yet another G-word

>I received an email yesterday from a librarian who hated our reviews because she thought they had too much plot summary, but she was really pissed that we “almost always give away the ending.”

Her first point is debatable–how much is too much?–but her second is demonstrably false while containing a truth: sometimes, we do give away the ending. As I explained in my response to her, Horn Book reviews are not written for the same people for whom the books we review are intended. The reviews are for grownups; the books are for kids. Sometimes the grownup wants to know if the dog dies.

There’s a bigger, probably incendiary, question raised by this particular exchange. How do we feel about grownups who read children’s books as if they weren’t? That is, people who peruse the Horn Book like another person reads the Times Book Review, looking for a new book to read? As annoying as adults who dismiss children’s books as unworthy of attention can be, I also feel my jaw clench when a fellow adult tells me that he or she prefers children’s books to adult books because they have better writing or values or stories. This is just sentimental ignorance.

I’m reminded of the ruckus in SLJ some years back when a library school professor wrote that l.s. students like to take children’s literature classes because the reading is so easy, “like eating popcorn.” You can imagine the heated response, but I think she had a point. While noting the exceptions of James Patterson on the one hand and William Mayne on the other, children’s books tend to be easier and thus potentially “fun” for adults in a way they tend not to be for children, an incongruence librarians need to remember, not dissolve. Whatever whoever chooses to read is their business, of course, but adults whose taste in recreational reading ends with the YA novel need to grow up.

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Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    >I’m with you right up until where they need to grow up. Unless that’s not really what you mean. You don’t seem the sort to impugn the adulthood of everybody who doesn’t read Literature.

  2. Roger Sutton says:

    >No, I just mean books for grownups, whether Literature, genre fiction, Oprah books, faked memoirs, books about the secret life of a common household object, or ones about the year somebody spent doing something. Books read by other grownups, most frequently about other grownups.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    >I’m 27 and my fiction reading is almost all YA. I certainly don’t read it for the “better values” (my taste runs towards the edgier stuff), but there is something about the typical YA story arc that I find more satisfying than your average adult literary fiction. I wouldn’t touch most purely genre stuff on the YA or the adult side.

    If adults who read children’s literature are somehow worthy of criticism, what about those who spend significant amounts of on critical analysis or review of children’s literature? Is this somehow a more mature activity? If so, why?

  4. Anonymous says:

    >Thinking about my own recreational reading choices, I’m not sure Jane Austen (historical aspects aside) or Dorothy Sayers is any more “challenging,” structure and content-wise, than a well-written YA.

    And being unmarried and childless, thus having no more “elevated” concerns, I still identify with the “who am I” question that is at the heart of children’s literature. The answer may be a little different than it was at fifteen, but the question is the same.

    I guess I should grow up.

    ALB

  5. lsparkreader says:

    >The writing may not be better, but there is no question that with so-called ‘literary’ novels, the *editorial* process in books for young people is much more active than it is for adult books. I have ample evidence of this, from my own experience, from that of other authors who write for both audiences, from editors who have worked in both fields.

    End result: Better writing in the published book. I still read adult fiction, but it has been a long time since I read an adult novel that hasn’t made me wonder, ‘Where was the editor!?’ several times throughout. Flab and overwriting, with 400-500 pages being the goal line, rather than what the story needs and no more.

    The editorial process is one of the (many) reasons I feel fortunate to be working in books for young people. It seems all but impossible for writers of adult books to credit that some of us actually prefer writing for young people for artistic reasons.

    (I realize I have strayed somewhat off your original topic, which was about reading, rather than writing, and hope you will forgive.) –Linda Sue

  6. Rachael says:

    >Ouch! I feel indicted. I do prefer to read children’s literature, mainly due to narrative structure. I like fairly linear plots and neatly resolved endings, which puts me off a lot of adult literary fiction (with the exception of some South American authors). So I read a lot of Dickens and children’s lit.

    I think children’s literature is still invested in “meaning” in a way that it is no longer fashionable for contemporary adult literature to be. That’s how I understand Philip Pullman’s famous and much-maligned statement about there being some issues too big to deal with in adult books. I don’t think that adult books are intrinsically unable to deal with the big issues, I just think that post-theory literary world finds such issues embarrassingly unsophisticated. I do not, and so I read fairy tales.

  7. Anonymous says:

    >I sympathize with readers who have the endings of books spoiled by reviewers, and try never to reveal plot twists in my reviews. It’s my sense that most of the other HB reviewers avoid giving away the ending as well. There’s nothing wrong that assuming that adult readers might love reading novels for children and needn’t have that experience spoiled by being on the purchasing end of the transaction.

    I still very much look forward to reading books for grown-ups on my vacations, but must admit that lately they disappoint me a lot of the time. I agree with LSP that they sometimes seem less polished and they often could use a lot of tightening up. But I will admit that a lot of the time I am reading the more literary children’s or YA books and the more fluffy adult books, so it may not be a fair comparison. SDL

  8. Christina says:

    >I’m not sure, at 22, that I count as a “real” grownup yet. But in an assignment for Advanced Comp, I had to think about narrative, and I chose to focus on children’s lit.

    I find myself annoyed with adult literature sometimes (or at least contemporary adult lit– give me Jane Austen any day). It can be so self-important, so egocentric, and so pretentious in its superfluous description, its deep psyche-scouring penetration. It’s irritating, to put it bluntly.

    I don’t find the same to be true of children’s or YA books. Out of necessity towards the audience, there’s no room for all of that artery-clogging junk. In a way, I think that leaves a much wider scope of interpretation, in addition to being quite refreshing.

    I *just* read The Giver… anyone who thinks that THAT is a book for (just) kids needs to read it again.

  9. >I teach children’s literature to graduate students at UCLA. Many are planning to be children’s librarians and see knowledge of the books as an essential element in their professional toolkits. Others remember the children’s books they read in their childhoods with great pleasure and want to revisit them. And yes, there are always a few who are looking for a fun, easy alternative to yet another informatics class. Happily, they all finish the course with a new respect for children’s literature.

  10. Deborah says:

    >Sorry, Roger, but on this one you’re just wrong. Adults who read children’s books for pleasure are just like adults who read mysteries or Booker Prize winners or romances or cookbooks or Dan Brown or the western canon or Popular Science for pleasure. We all have aesthetic tastes, and we can be intelligent grown-ups who indulge those tastes. I’m an adult who works neither with children nor with children’s literature, but my preference for Scott Westerfeld over Tom Clancy does not mean I “need to grow up” — it means I think Scott Westerfeld is an extremely good author who writes the kinds of stories I enjoy.

    I’m shocked and dismayed that you’re a member of the genre police. Just because you don’t read children’s lit for pleasure doesn’t mean you should make ad hominem attacks on those of us who do.

  11. swarmofbeasts says:

    >As a YA librarian, I wish I had time for my low-brow adult reading. As it is, it seems like all my leisure reading time goes to the bare minimum I need to keep up with what’s being published for YAs!

  12. Roger Sutton says:

    >Hell, read what you want. My point is that adult people who find that their recreational reading needs are in the main met by children’s books are a) missing a lot and b) not doing their child patrons/students any favors.

    I was among those who maligned PP for his statement about some issues being too big for adult books. It is the kind of statement destined to resound only in the choir. This is not to deny the importance of Pullman or of Mother Goose, for that matter, but to say that children’s literature will give a grownup all he or she needs from books suggests there is no reason to grow up in the first place.

  13. Josephine Cameron says:

    >Interesting point, Roger, but I have to agree with some of the others here. I currently have Barbara Helen Berger’s picture book When the Sun Rose, the middle grade novel Elijah from Buxton, Richard Wright’s quite grown-up Black Boy, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle on my nightstand. A good book is a good book, and children’s lit is just another form. Just because a person can enjoy a complex sestina or a deeply-rendered aubade doesn’t mean he or she shouldn’t be able to appreciate a well-crafted sonnet, free verse poem, or yes, even a limerick from time to time.

  14. Deborah says:

    >Roger, there is a big difference between taking issue with children’s literature advocates who claim that children’s or young adult novels are the sublime epitome of all that is good in prose, and saying “adults whose taste in recreational reading ends with the YA novel need to grow up“. You say that those of us whose recreational reading needs are met in the main by children’s or young adult books are “missing a lot“. Well, sure. Everyone who makes a choice is missing a lot. Those who fulfill their recreational reading needs with Barbara Kingsolver might be missing out on what John McPhee can give them. Those who will gobble up restoration comedies might be missing out on the thrill of a high-quality mystery. People who only have time to watch Grey’s Anatomy miss out on Scrubs. The world is full of great ways to spend our recreational time, some marketed towards children and others marketed towards adults, some well-crafted and some less so.

    You say “to say that children’s literature will give a grownup all he or she needs from books suggests there is no reason to grow up in the first place“. Really? My pleasures of growing up have included owning my own home, of eating Cadbury’s Chocolate Spread the spoon without anybody yelling at me, having a profession and an avocation, volunteering, choosing friends, having sex, growing my own garden, making pie, and yes, reading Flora Segunda instead of cleaning my room. Was my reason for growing up really so that I would learn to appreciate Stephen R. Donaldson over Diana Wynne Jones, Jane Austen over Margaret Mahy? Because personally, I’ll take having the right to vote and the intellectual capacity to vote wisely over some kind of moral requirement that my recreational reading come from books marketed towards adults.

  15. >I’m deeply disappointed to see a statement like that here.
    I read mostly middle grade and YA books. I sometimes tell people it’s because I want to write them, but of course the truth is I want to write them because I love reading them.
    I read adult books too–looking over the list of the last 100 books I read, 35 of them are adult books–but in general I don’t enjoy them as much. I could try to analyze why, but does it matter?
    We should read what we love to read. And do our best to avoid judging what other adults are reading.

  16. Anonymous says:

    >Amazing what a hoohah this (I would have thought) obvious statement has provoked! Of course there is something to wonder about when a normal adult professes to find children’s books “better.” One can admire the craft that went into the writing or illustration but remember they weren’t written for YOU and you should question your own judgment if you think they are “better” then grownup books.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    >Roger,

    I actually agree with your original point (that it is sometimes useful to reveal the ending of a book), but your argument is going in strange directions. First you say that “adults who find that their recreational reading requirements are in the main met by children’s books” are “missing a lot.” As Deborah pointed out, a study of any one person’s reading habits is bound to reveal lots of holes.

    And if you specifically limit it to “recreational” reading (which you did), i.e., the reading done primarily for fun or enjoyment, I really don’t see any virtue in choosing Oprah’s Book Club books, adult romances, or adult sci-fi over Stephanie Meyer or Sarah Dessen. An argument that the former are better “recreational” reading than the latter must eventually be reduced to a conviction that adult literature is inherently better than children’s and YA literature, which most of the commenters here (and I would hope you) disagree with. I don’t think children’s literature is better than adult literature (and anyone who made such an argument based on the “purity” or “moral superiority” of children’s literature would annoy the heck out of me), but I don’t think it’s inferior, either.

    A grownup who “get[s] all they need from books” from children’s literature would be a different story. “All they need from books” is very different from “a majority of their recreational reading.” I doubt anyone here would claim they get *all* they need from books from children’s literature–that’s easy to shoot down and I daresay anyone reading this blog has found a great deal of value in at least one classic (adult) novel or nonfiction work.

  18. >Provocative, Roger.

    I do think that it’s true to say that adults who read only children’s literature are losing something. After all, in order to make a claim for the existence of ‘children’s literature’ at all, we have to accept that there is some difference between literature for children and that for adults. And however one draws that boundary, it has to involve excluding something from children’s literature, whether that is a certain level of linguistic complexity, a particular range of subjects, a degree of emotional intensity, whatever. So anyone who exclusively reads children’s literature is excluding themselves from something. That said, children’s literature definitely has the potential to include linguistic complexity, etc, and it certainly has no more limits (and arguably has many fewer) than any given genre of adult literature. Plenty of adults read only crime novels, say, and in so doing they miss out on some of the things other genres have to offer. That’s fine – not everyone wants to experience everything literature has to offer – but it is limiting. Given that ‘children’s literature’ actually encompasses a very wide range of genres, anyone who reads a diverse range of children’s books but no adult novels arguably has a wider scope for their leisure reading than someone who confines themselves to a single adult genre. Still, there’s no denying that they are in some sense limiting themselves.

    As far as undergraduates are concerned, no doubt some of them do take children’s literature because it is easy to read, just as they take modern literature in preference to Anglo Saxon. I have researched medieval texts and modern children’s literature, and there’s no question about which was easier to curl up in bed with. That doesn’t mean that children’s literature doesn’t demand the same intellectual rigour once one gets to the serious business of analysing it – or even before that.

    In regard to reviews – as a former school librarian, I have been in the position of needing reviews to tell me the ending, or at least some salient details. Likewise, in my current incarnation as a researcher in children’s literature, it can be useful to have an overview of texts, since I can’t read every one. However, those two roles don’t preclude my reading children’s literature for pleasure. Since I do read for pleasure – even if I sometimes have half an eye on work-related things – I prefer reviewers to do their best to avoid really spoiling the plot, even in professional journals. Peter Hollindale’s review of Meg Rosoff’s ‘What I Was’ in the last issue of the ‘School Librarian’ (the UK Schoool Library Association journal) was a great example of how to do just that.

    I’m fairly sure that if you’d been writing about this in a more formal context than this blog, your take on this would have shared some of these nuances. But as it is, Roger – yes, but very much no.

  19. >Roger, this is like William Shatner on Saturday Night Live telling Star Trek fans to “Get a life.”

  20. >I’ve never met an adult who *only* reads children’s books. Is that even possible? And, also, I don’t really get your point about students taking a course for fun. Isn’t that always the case? Nabokov attracts more students than Tolstoy or Pushkin for many reasons, but “fun” is number one among them. Students are always looking to balance a course schedule with something “fun.” That doesn’t mean they don’t learn anything.

    (P.S. Linda Sue’s point about editing in children’s books is spot on. While the very best of the year–”Oscar Wao,” “Tree of Smoke,” “What the Dead Know”–are as good as they always were, some of the worst [that terrible Michael Gruber novel about a Shakespeare manuscript, for example] is unedited, bloated mess. Children’s and YA novels are better edited than popular adult literature.)

  21. >I need to add “as a general rule” to the end of my parenthetical.

    Thanks!

  22. Roger Sutton says:

    >A quick point to Kelly–that children’s fantasy by Michael Gruber was a bloated mess, too. (His two adult mysteries are wonderful, though.)

    This is a great discussion, so thanks. My shrink is having a field day with it, too. ;-)

    Re spoiling an ending: as SDL (a HB reviewer) noted above, we don’t generally spoil a plot, only when there is something about a big reveal or ending that needs to be discussed. Mostly we avoid it because it’s bad, plot summary reviewing, and because we know our readers also read the books we review for their own pleasure.

    Limiting your reading to, say, Tom Clancy, is more stultifying than limiting it to children’s books, to be sure. My problem is not with adults reading children’s books with/for pleasure; it is with the belief that children’s literature encompasses in itself the range of human experience, that it has and can give expression to pretty much anything worth expressing. Or worth reading about.

  23. Anonymous says:

    >Well, I admit to feeling great relief right now.

    I have been feeling very guilty because I don’t read enough MG or YA. Given the choice , I have always read books for adults, even though I write and illustrate for young people.

    I started making myself read more, though, but I can tell you it’s a miniscule number of books, compared to all the serious kids’ lit bloggers I admire.

    And I do confess that when I read a certain MG “classic” recently, simply because I never had, I thought, “Well, that was pretty light reading. Much lighter than I hoped for. Perfect for a 9 yr old but too low in calories for me.”

    Maybe YA is better, and I need to delve into that with abandon, but, honestly, the thought of reliving my adolescence through literature is horrifying. I don’t mind writing in the voice of my inner 13 yr old, but, really, I am just not hot on the idea nor entertained by dwelling on someone else’s teen angst.

    Of course, maybe if I weren’t raising them, I might find it more appealing….

  24. >Today I taught a poetry class for fifth graders. Their regular teacher had walked off with all the Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein and so on in the library, and so I decided, based on the example of Kenneth Koch, to use “grown up” poetry for the class.

    We read Blake and e.e. cummings and Emily Dickinson and William Carlos Williams, and it went beautifully. I love Where the Sidewalk Ends as much as the next person, but if that was all there was to poetry, I would feel sadly lacking. The same, I think, goes for prose.

  25. Beth Fehlbaum, Author says:

    >My novel, Courage in Patience, is the story of a teenage girl’s first steps into recovery from sexual abuse. Its appeal, based on early reviews, is across a wide spectrum. While obviously the age of the protagonist would lead one to think, “Oh, that’s YA fiction”, the lines are not always so clearly drawn. I doubt that you intended to insult anyone with your off-the-cuff comment about adult fans of YA lit needing to “grow up”. As a die-hard fan of Chris Crutcher, I can tell you that what he writes is not uniquely intended for a teen audience. It’s for a human audience. I suspect that’s the appeal of YA fiction to its fans.
    Beth Fehlbaum, author
    Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
    courageinpatience(dot)blogspot(dot)com

  26. >recreational reading is for recreation. all free to delve into what they want. no value judgment. no status tags.

  27. >Elissa: That was William Shatner’s finest moment. Make of that what you will, regarding this discussion.

  28. Julie Carter says:

    >I haven’t answered to anyone for my reading habits since I got my big girl library card.

    I think some “adult” genres are indistinguishable from YA except they have older characters.

  29. >I think often books for adults are meant to affirm the readers sense of themselves, especially when it comes to the recurring popular stuff.

    It’s more often not about growth or change, but about making the reader feel good that they have the perspective they do, the judgement they cling to.

    There isn’t the expansive exploration that can be found in children’s lit. As someone said Pullman said, the big stuff.

  30. Roger Sutton says:

    >Julie, I think the “except have older characters” is rather a big distinction. YA lit is so often about “firsts”–relationships, jobs, etc.–where being an adult is about negotiating the middle. While there is no shortage of children’s and YA books about divorce, for example, they are rarely about getting one.

    Heidi and some of the other posters above–I think we have to be careful to compare like to like. Children’s literature is filled with formulaic books that give kids exactly what they want. And when it isn’t, it frequently involves the imposition of an adult’s (the author’s) thoughts on how a child should feel: cliques are bad, for example; or that divorce isn’t your fault; or that respecting others who are different is a good thing. Even while they are about growth and change, such “improving” books definitely lead the reader into seeing things the way the adult does. While books for adults similarly try to bring readers around to their point of view, the position is much more mano a mano, not directed from above.

  31. Julie Carter says:

    >I don’t see the age of the characters as being much of a distinction at all. All narratives are going to require that I empathize with someone who isn’t me. The act of living, that’s something universal; the specifics of each and every “first” may not be. As a reader, I can gain something from a book about a blue Martian who just hatched.

    I reject any sort of idea that we can’t learn from or benefit from or be satisfied with a book unless that book is about people quite like us. That seems like something readers have to learn to overcome very early on. Yes, the very kids some of these books might be aimed for might not have gotten to the point where they can read a book from a point of view that has little to do with them, but I’ve been reading for thirty years. That’s a trick I had to learn a long time ago.

    And trust me, I don’t want to read books about people quite like me. I’m so boring the story of my life would take approximately three minutes, even if it were narrated by that trailer guy. “In a world…”

  32. >Hallelujah! I have always felt a twinge of, well, something, when an adult says, “Oh, I never read adult books? Who has the time?!” Statements like that make that adult just as reluctant a reader as a teen who “only wants to play on the computer.”

    Even when I’ve been on selection committees, I have always been careful to read books not because I need to review them, or know about them or recommend them, but solely for the pleasure of READING them! When I pick up a YA book, I’m probably reading it thinking can I booktalk it? Is it for high schoolers or middle schoolers? Might I get a challenge?

    When I pick up, say this book of Richard Matheson short stories I’ve been dying to read, or some godawful dirty urban fiction (guilty pleasure) or a history of post punk, or the book by the editor of Deadspin, I am reading purely for the visceral pleasure of reading. If you don’t EVER do this, you ARE a reluctant reader, no different that a kid who only reads manga, and don’t ever forget that.

  33. Roger Sutton says:

    >But Julie, don’t you think there are all kinds of things that go on in the lives and hearts of adults that children find boring or irrelevant? And aren’t those things worth reading about? It seems to me that only reading books for children cuts one off from an awful lot.

    This has nothing to do with a desire to read about people like ourselves–kids do that as much as adults. Would we castigate children for not reading about adults? And to say that we are reading about people “like us” when all we may have in common with the characters is being human (if that! ;-) and adult is to impossibly homogenize the variety of existence.

  34. >Most of the books I read are YA and children’s books, with few exceptions. To me, they *are* better written than many adult fiction books; so many adult books I pick up have great long passages of description or backstory that completely stop the forward movement of the story and are unnecessary to the plot–something you don’t *usually* find in YA and children’s books. Many adult books also don’t seem to have the same aliveness that sparkles through so much children’s literature.

    I love the values in children’s and YA books, and the way that often, though the protagonist goes through great struggle, they succeed in the end. I love how much depth there is in many YA and children’s books, the painful and strong issues that are discussed with such honesty and realism, and the wonder and magic of middle-grade fantasy. All those are things I love. I don’t think there is anything wrong with reading mostly or all YA and children’s books. I believe it’s important to read what feeds your soul–and that’s what feeds mine. And as a writer, I *hope* that adults will read my YA books.

    Although it’s not true for every person who mostly reads or writes YA/children’s books, I’ve found that many of us are often kind people, who can have a sense of fun or play or hope and strong values–things that I really care about. I’m happy to have some parts of me that aren’t ‘grown up’–in that I can love children’s and YA books, find joy in small things, feel strongly how it felt to be a teen and child. It makes me wonder…is the comment about ‘growing up’ some kind of internalized put-down of children’s and YA literature? The way that sometimes adult-fiction writers or readers can put down children’s literature?

  35. >I read a bit of both and find some adult books appealing, some appalling (as the Sondheim song goes), same as children’s books. That said, the vast majority of adults among my acquaintance who are not book professionals don’t read at all . . . in which case I assume that reading children’s books is preferable.

  36. Andy Laties says:

    >Children’s literature is heavily censored by gatekeepers. A huge variety of subjects and standpoints are not represented. Personally I find the absence of absolute absurdity in American children’s literature quite disheartening, since European children’s lit includes quite a bit of chaotic nonsense. But the point is that American children’s literature is a censored genre. To test this, simply think of some particularly bawdily outrageous title for adults and try imagine it being put on a highschool reading list. Or — what about political books that blatantly and aggressively criticize the government and urge readers to rebel against authority? Is there an “Anarchist Cookbook” for children?

    In other words, adult reading is certainly part of being an adult.

    I do of course think anyone should read whatever he or she wants to read.

  37. Anonymous says:

    >I’m not a “book professional” and read mainly non-fiction, but I found this topic interesting because just the other day I’d thought how great it would be to spend an entire day reading children’s books.

    I enjoy children’s books (in general) for their simplicity and as others have said (usually) messages of hope and “family values.”

    Would I stop reading “adult” books completely in favor of children’s books. Of course not. But at times, a quick (or longish) escape from reality that a children’s book can provide is exactly what is needed.

    I agree with what other comments said about the more lively writing (generally) found in children’s literature, and also with what Elizabeth says regarding the critical analysis or review of children’s literature. By way of example, I was rather shocked recently to read some of the expert critical analysis of Robert McCloskey’s Caldecott winning “Make Way for Ducklings” (regarding problems with the plot and illustrations). It just seems rather ridiculous, frankly.

    You may be interested in knowing that there was some discussion of this same topic (adults only reading children’s lit) in the Washington Post last summer on release of the last Harry Potter novel (not sure who authored the same opinion, or when the piece was published, sorry).

  38. Julie Carter says:

    >”But Julie, don’t you think there are all kinds of things that go on in the lives and hearts of adults that children find boring or irrelevant? And aren’t those things worth reading about? It seems to me that only reading books for children cuts one off from an awful lot.”

    Sure, but there are all sorts of things that go on in the lives and hearts of adults that I find boring or irrelevant. Or, rather, there are all sorts of ways of writing about people that I find boring. There are lots of boring writers out there. It’s the skill of the writer, not the subject matter, that makes a book worth reading.

    And yes, kids might avoid adult books because they have a narrow idea of what is relevant to them. They’re kids. Kids have lots of narrow ideas. My reading tastes when I was 12 were so narrow that few books could fit! Now, though, I don’t have such a narrow idea of what’s relevant to me. I still have strong inclinations, things I simply don’t like and things I simply do, but I don’t need characters between ages x and y, or from locations a or b, or dealing with this thing or that. Make them believable or interesting and I don’t care what they’re actually doing within the pages.

    I should also say that I turn to books when I’m looking for narrative. My non-narrative needs are fulfilled through poetry, not novels.

  39. Durable Goods says:

    >Jamie (and Roger before her) has nailed it. We librarians can go on ad infinitum about how much more valuable and well-written children’s and YA books are than books for adults, but it would be a total sham for ADULTS to claim that they don’t read adult-level material. Adults who work with children and teens! This sort of infantilism should not go unnoticed.

  40. Deborah says:

    >“My problem is not with adults reading children’s books with/for pleasure; it is with the belief that children’s literature encompasses in itself the range of human experience, that it has and can give expression to pretty much anything worth expressing. Or worth reading about.”

    This I can completely agree with, although I would expand it to say that anyone who says any one genre (or any one medium, for that matter, because let’s not get too prejudiced in favor of text) encompasses in itself the range of human experience is missing out on a lot. There are absolutely things that can’t be set in children’s literature. There are also absolutely things that can be set in adult literature, or in the printed word, or in fiction, or in nonfiction.

    I don’t, however, think that obliges anyone to try to fill their recreation time with the full range of human experience, and to take in pretty much everything worth expressing.

    Roger, I want to thank you for hosting this discussion. There are a lot of opinions in here on all sides of the argument which I disagree with (I’m surprised by how many people on both the pro- and con- sides of recreational reading of children’s books argument are making sweeping descriptive statements about the nature of fiction for children and teens), but everyone is saying things that are thought-provoking and interesting. And respectful and listening, which is always nice in the blogosphere.

  41. Roger Sutton says:

    >wow, i can post from the bus! Awesome.

  42. Anonymous says:

    >Blogging via bus! The future is now! Also now maybe you can let us know, does the LimoLiner stop at Roy Rogers on the way to New York? Or is that just Fung Wah?

  43. >Andy, perhaps there can one day be a Chicken Soup for the Anarchist’s Soul. Or, to meet our desires for more of the absurd in children’s lit, Chicken Soup for the Young Vegetarian’s Soul.

    bah dum ching. uh, yeah, i’m just gonna go away now.

    jules

  44. Andy Laties says:

    >Dear Jules,

    If I pick up your gauntlet Roger will surely end up having to ban me from his blog…

    Andy

  45. Bonny Becker says:

    >I’ve been reading adult novels lately with great pleasure not having read much adult literature in a long time. I just reread Jane Eyre, gobbled up about four Ian Mcewans, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and am currently reading Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.

    I don’t think it’s a matter of what’s better written. As a children’s book writer I bristle at the idea that it takes less work, less artistry, less talent, less courage to write for children than for adults. And I reject the idea that there aren’t profound truths and complicated emotions in children’s books. But they are about the issues of childhood and much is left out.

    Oh, how I’m enjoying those long descriptive passages, the sex, the unhappy relationships, the thwarted dreams, the passages of sheer literary bravura, the intellectual challenges and frustrating ambiguities of adult life.

  46. Kristie says:

    >I think that as a youth services librarian, recreational reading takes a different meaning than it does in other professions. There are so many books in the juvenille/YA section that I need to read them to be better at my grown up job. Reading adult books all the time is great for those of you that have to do adult readers’ advisory. I don’t have time to read, and when I do, I’d rather read a story than fluff on what some dude in a suit has to say about the same book. I get to formulate my own opinion about it to better answer the inevitable question, “What do you think about that book?” My honest opinion of the work is much better than “Well, that guy, you know that guy, said that it was pretty good.”

  47. >Considering the statistics on how much (or little) grown-ups in the US read, I am impressed when someone is reading anything without pictures.

  48. Anonymous says:

    >Weren’t you just on the Caldcott Committee? Maybe you’ve gone overboard on a portion of the literature that makes you feel that going overboard in any direction is a mistake. With which I would agree– but.

    If someone chooses that, I think passing judgment is an error. I live with someone whose son died from a brain tumor, and let me tell you that their reading taste has disintegrated to thrillers and mysteries. No more great books allowed. I want to read aloud Richard Kennedy’s “Come Again in Spring” short story over and over–because that’s my comfort place. If we only read books for the same reasons, we could say with certainty what others should do. But, alas, reading serves different masters, and if escape to the land of YA is necessary for someone– let them be.

    They will grow out of it. I think. Much as you seem to have grown out of the picture book requirement of the last few months and are revelling in the wonders of a completely different kind of book.

  49. >…Adult people who find that their recreational reading needs are in the main met by children’s books are missing a lot.

    Yes, but surely the inverse is true – that adult people who find their recreational reading needs are met only by adult books are missing a lot. I don’t think there is an adult in the world whose life wouldn’t be enriched by reading Love That Dog, or before i die, or Looking for Alaska.

    I’m all for variety in reading – of course we should read widely. But Roger, I think the thing that has everyone tying knots in underwear is your implication that children’s and YA lit is somehow intellectually inferior.

  50. >While books for adults similarly try to bring readers around to their point of view, the position is much more mano a mano, not directed from above.

    With books for younger children, it may be different, but as a YA writer, I have to say that I’m not–consciously, at least–directing from above, but looking at the reader at eye level, so to speak.

    Even middle grade is more complicated, if I think about it honestly. But my experience (and of course, I filter for things I enjoy reading) has been that YA really isn’t about looking at or presenting viewpoints from all that different a place than adult fiction is.

  51. >(I put that badly. I didn’t mean that YA doesn’t have a different perspective than adult fiction, just that it’s not a from-above perspective, in my experience.)

  52. Anonymous says:

    >I’m 22. Most of the novels I read are young adult (and I’m writing a young adult novel of my own) but I do read adult novels from time to time. (The Life of Pi is one of my favorite books.) Most of the non-YA books I read are nonfiction, though: history, psychology and true crime. Do you have an objections, Roger, to someone who reads YA novels and adult nonfiction?

  53. Roger Sutton says:

    >Let me say again that I am making no judgments about what people choose to read–children’s books, romances, Faulkner, whatever floats your boat.

    In my line of work I regularly–not frequently, but regularly–meet people who upon learning who I am or what I do, say “oh, I only read children’s books.” They say it as a point of pride, continuing with “because those are the best written.” This is where I have a problem–not with what they are reading but that they are proud to read only children’s books, that it indicates a keen delineation of taste that only the cogniscenti share. I don’t get this from people who only read mysteries, say, or sci-fi or romance. They just like what they like. I understand that the general ignorance and sentimentality about children’s books in the larger culture might make one defensive about having a taste for them, but let’s not go overboard.

  54. PenguinKye says:

    >I have great respect for children’s & YA literature. I derive great enjoyment from it. I read it pretty much exclusively until I came to college, but here is the thing: though they are good, they aren’t everything. Good YA novels, like any other good literature, derive from their historical and literary tradition. If, for example, you read Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk without knowing anything about Taoism, some of the points are lost. (Same with the Earthsea books, actually.) If you read Octavian Nothing having studied British imperialism, the American Revolution, 18th century science & society, you will get a lot out of it and make a lot of connections that you will not have otherwise. If you read His Dark Materials, the whole thing is a lot more interesting with Genesis and Milton under your belt.

    The point is, YA books are good–but a sophisticated reader is not satisfied with the last incarnation, with the end product, with what is, if we are being frank, generally easier to read and less substantial than its source material. (Yes, it is good, yes, it is substantial, but there is more.)A sophisticated reader–of any age–wants to know what things mean, where they came from, and how they fit together. If reading just YA is enough for someone–without any interest in why and how it exists–I think that’s both lazy and rather dull.

    I agree with Roger. My liberal arts education: let me show you it.

  55. >Heh. I actually do hear this sort of thing from romance and SF/fantasy readers as well. (And don’t disagree, when put like that, that reading in any one genre is potentially limiting, though having a home/preferred genre is not.)

  56. >Roger, you say: “In my line of work I regularly–not frequently, but regularly–meet people who upon learning who I am or what I do, say “oh, I only read children’s books.” They say it as a point of pride, continuing with “because those are the best written.” This is where I have a problem–not with what they are reading but that they are proud to read only children’s books, that it indicates a keen delineation of taste that only the cogniscenti share.”

    My take on that would rather be that because children’s literature is so patronized in the wider critical circles, we feel the need to make outrageous statements like this to wake people up to the fact that there is fabulous writing in children’s literature. Not necessarily pride reading nothing else…just a shock statement. I’ve said it many times in just that way…and it’s not even true in my case. (Yep, I’m a liar.)

    To take this is another direction…I’m someone who reads both adult and chidlren’s literature recreationally, but I do find often that my recreational response to chidlren’s literature gets in the way of my professional response. On a daily basis I have to actively separate my appreciation of a children’s book from my critical brain. At the same time I find that my public library colleagues who don’t read children’s literature recreationally also tend not to choose to review it professionally…just because they don’t really like to read it. This then puts a whole new layer on how I read reviews of children’s literature; if I suspect that most reviewers are actually “fans,” I have to suspect their evaluation of the audience for the book, and look actively for evidence in the review that they considered a REAL child audience. The evidence isn’t always there. I’m probably guilty of neglecting it myself.

  57. Anonymous says:

    >People can read whatever they want, but the reflexive smugness of the person who says, “Oh, children’s and YA books are so much better than adult books! That is all I read!” makes me somewhat ill. For one thing, it is a gross generalization. For another, why on earth would anyone be proud of limiting his or her reading?

    It also makes me wonder if these people read *Weekly Reader* for their news coverage.

  58. Cassandra Mortmain says:

    >While I agree with some of your points, and am certainly anti-smugness in generally, I think you’re overlooking something major with your condemnation here:

    WHAT one choses to read and HOW one reads it are two VERY SEPARATE THINGS. I went on an ill-fated date lately with one of those “I believe everything the NY Times says about ART” people and although his recently read books were no doubt more “literary” than mine, I can guarantee you that he read No Country for Old Men with but a tiny fraction of the care, intelligence, analysis, acuity, and, yes, MATURITY with which I approach even fluffy books like Princess Mia.

    I would not deem someone reads Flannery O’Connor blindly because “that’s what’s done” any more inherently “mature” than I would deem someone who exclusively reads YA lit and is proud of it. What matters is HOW a person engages with their reading, not what they chose to read. As long as their brain is on, any reader is mature in my book.

  59. Patrick, The Space Lord says:

    >I don’t get this from people who only read mysteries, say, or sci-fi or romance.

    Clearly, you have not been around enough SciFi people…

  60. Elizabeth says:

    >Oh God, Cassandra Mortmain, must everything be so heavy? I like to read Flannery O’Connor because she’s so creepy. And I’m sure if I were taking a class or reading an article on her, I would get additional insights that I would enjoy. But while your date might have been an obnoxious name dropper, I don’t think it’s any less pompous to brag about the WAY you read! For Pete’s sake, life is busy and hard enough, aren’t we talking about reading for fun? This reminds me of the time Deborah Brodie told me I could only go the Met if I studied the opera beforehand.

    And I’m not the Elizabeth who posted at the beginning of this thread, I’m the one who posts fairly often here and is 47. Roger is staying at my apartment right now, and Come Back, Little Sheba was a sad play, but Epatha Merkerson was GREAT. Of course, although I was very moved by the loneliness of both the central characters, I’m sure I would have been more moved if I had watched the play with acuity and MATURITY.

  61. Cassandra Mortmain says:

    >I didn’t mean to imply that my way is the only way to read- and, to be frank, I don’t do it to be SERIOUS, I do it because that’s how I enjoy reading. I engage closely because it’s fun for me. I just meant to point out that there’s more to the issue of reading than what you choose to read and plenty of immature things can be engaged with in a mature way.

    And I can also guarantee you that most of my dates aren’t treated to an exhaustive description of how I read- I only bring it up here for argument’s sake :).

  62. Bev. Cooke says:

    >C’mon Roger: YA adult readers “need to grow up”? I read anything I can get my hands on – adult fiction, definitely adult fiction (i.e erotica) and YA and midgrade fiction. Not only because I’m a kids writer (Feral, Orca Book Publishers April 08, Keeper of the Light, Conciliar Press 06, Royal Monastic Conciliar Press, August 08). I like kids books just as much as adults books. The writing isn’t overall better or worse – there are brilliant books in all those categories. I read what catches my interest and what moves me. But to suggest that I need to grow up because I read kids’ books? No. You’re off track there.

  63. Anonymous says:

    >bev, i think that you, like many readers, missed roger’s point and keep missing it. he has never said there was anything wrong with reading kids books, or with enjoying kids books. what he keeps saying is that it is kind of lame to read ONLY kids books. just like it would be lame to only go to operas and not see musicals, to dismiss rock because you think only classical is worth listening to. to refuse to visit the museum if it didn’t have just the one kind of art that you think is worth looking at.

    it’s really starting to bother me that people can’t follow this argument. read anything you want. but if all you read is kids books, i think you are pretty intellectually limited. just as i would if the only thing you read was military sf with oooh lasers and stuff.

  64. Roger Sutton says:

    >Yes, Bev, I would be off track–not to mention self-delusional!–if I were suggesting that adults should not read kids’ books. But I never suggested that, so I guess we’re on the same page.

  65. Anonymous says:

    >Anonymous 10;40 PM has it EXACTLY RIGHT! What a shame we’ve had to read through pages of gush about “how much YA fantasy etc means in my life”. It would appear that no one actually read the initial post but seized the opportunity to declare their allegiance to a medium that was never challenged. If only she had made this intelligent statement FIRST!

  66. >I find time to keep up with both only because my library finally carries audiobooks. I can keep up with adult reading through listening on my commute.

  67. Kathleen Krull says:

    >Tee-hee. I spent Tuesday reading an adult recommendation of Roger’s from last December– The Exception by Christian Jungersen. 500 pages of bloat, if you ask me, which is why it took up only a day–I skimmed. But I can’t stop myself from looking for tips, and maybe one of these days I’ll get around to the books he mentions he’s reading this weekend….

  68. Roger Sutton says:

    >I forgot that damned Japanese mystery (Grotesque) at Elizabeth’s. But the first fifty pages (about the cruelty of adolescence, ironically) were GREAT.

    Like Zee, I get a lot of my adult books via audio. Just started Middlemarch . . .

  69. MotherReader says:

    >”Let me say again that I am making no judgments about what people choose to read”

    Um, except that you are making judgments. The “grow up” line? That was a judgment.

    I do love you defending being smug about people’s reading choices by pointing the finger at people being smug about their reading choices. Masterful.

    I actually agreed with the first part of the post, about revealing the ending when it would be relevant to the adult purchasing or recommending the book. And you have a point with the wealth available to readers in books written for adults. But that last statement? Not good.

  70. Roger Sutton says:

    >”Grow up”? Yeah, you’re right, that’s a judgment. But it’s true (for me): I can’t take seriously a grownup who doesn’t read grownup books on the grounds that they aren’t as good as children’s books. Can you? People who “learned everything they needed to know in kindergarten” or who find “ineffable wisdom” in The Giving Tree–nope, wouldn’t trust ‘em with my kids.

  71. >I’ll admit it always seem strange to me when people ONLY read books meant for children. The same way I’d think it odd if they ONLY ate “kid food” (fluffernutters?) or ONLY listened to “kid music” (Though I do love Dan Zanes!).

    This is not to say that children’s books aren’t great, complex, well written, etc. Or that adult work is *better*. Only that the bulk of children’s booksa are meant for… well, kids! The dramas of the YA world are different than the issues facing adults.

    That these same readers might get something *else* from checking out some adult book.

    (They might not, I guess. But from my own experience, though I LOVE to read middle grade, I learn more about myself as a person from, say, Chabon or Irving or whomever)

    I wonder what some of the people commenting here would think of someone who only watched kiddie tv. Barney and Sesame Street. If they met a grown man who sat around at night, alone, drinking beer and watching the Teletubbies…

    I mean, the writing on Sesame Street *is* far better than the inanity of reality tv.

    As a writer too, I find that when I’m reading an adult book I’m looking for ways to bring the craft over into my writing for kids. To push my writing. When I read adult poetry, I’m thinking about sentence structure, internal rhyme, and how I might use them in picture books.

    I guess it just seems a kind of arrested state, a weird barrier to me. It seems extremely limiting. A closed circle.

    Just my 2 cents.

    xoLaurel
    http://laurelsnyder.com

  72. fairrosa says:

    >Roger, but you know that I never actually want to grow up! I read a lot of “adult” books when I was really young, both classics and contemporary at the time (70s and 80s.) And then, I did decide that I really enjoyed reading Children’s and YA lit more, more often, than reading “grown-up” books since, um, I don’t find “grown-up issues” categorically or entirely appealing in novel or nonfiction forms. (Same way that I don’t find shows like 30 Something or Sex and the City appealing… they are just whiny, and I’ll tell you, whiny middle-aged men and women are much less savory than bratty children! Of course, I’m not saying good adult novels/nonfiction are all like those soap-operas! I do find popular adult fiction like The Kite Runner both well written and yet very heavy-handed in their attempts to encapsulate human experiences.)

    Anyway… I don’t know that we (those of us prefer reading good children’s books for fun) “need to grow up,” only that we need to admit: sure, we can be a bit arrested in our mental/emotional development. And at the same time, I can be proud of it. It’s my life, after all, not someone else’s. As I see it, as long as I am happy and not out destroying the world (which I am somewhat capable of doing, haha,) it’s safe to keep me around, even as friends!

  73. Roger Sutton says:

    >So it was YOU, Roxie, who took down Go-Krida!

  74. >And now, wreaking havoc in Second Life, mwahaha… But, seriously, I do enjoy certain non-children/YA authors and have little patience with MANY books published, supposedly for children and teens! (I still need to read Spook City, I know!)

  75. Little Bird says:

    >Well, I’m a 37 year old woman (married, no kids) who enjoys reading children’s books. They tend to focus on the more important and profound things of life. Simple on the outside but delving deep on the inside. It’s a bit of a hidden treasure, once you become an adult and can read further into what you once thought was just a simple tale.

    The older I get, the more I cherish my childhood. The more I realize that the things of childhood are not so “childish” after all.

    To each his/her own… but for me, I will continue to keep that innocent, hopeful, thoughtful, happy child within, alive and well. I only wish more people would allow theirselves the pleasure of recalling more innocent, magical times. Maybe we would all be a little gentler, a little more forgiving, a little more hopeful… (but maybe that’s just the kid in me.)

    peace.

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