A few weeks ago, I took a trip to a local Barnes and Noble. I hadn’t been to this particular one in a really long time, or even to any other actual physical bookstore. The only other local bookseller around here is a place called Volume One, which I’ve been to a few times. It’s nice (and there are shelves and shelves of books there, with that great old book smell that you want to shove your face in), but their books are all used and they don’t really have any new stuff by contemporary writers. And then we come to my other dilemma: Barnes and Noble no longer seems to carry what I want either.
On this most recent trip, I noticed how things had changed considerably. Nooks are in the very front instead of a showcase of new bestsellers that just recently came out, and they completely rearranged the store’s shelving. Poetry is non-existent except for Homer. I also noticed a distinct change in genre: there were a lot of new sections dedicated to “young adult” books. Not only that, but these sections were further divided according to sub-genre: fantasy, dystopian, romance, etc.
“Young adult” is very popular now. I’ve read quite a few articles popping up here and there claiming how more young adults must be reading avidly now, considering how popular this new genre has quickly become. But really, I can’t help but wonder: Is it really more young adults reading young adult fiction, or more adults reading (and writing) more young adult fiction? I’m not sure.
I always thought of coming of age stories as stories that anyone could write. Hypothetically, I mean. If people were forced to actually write books, even if they weren’t “writers” themselves, I would hypothesize that this would be the genre they would naturally gravitate towards more than any other, just because we all grow up and we all remember what that’s like. But therein lies the problem: not all of them will be particularly good reads (or particularly well-written).
I hope this isn’t coming off as too cynical. I just really want to give my money to a bookseller other than Amazon, but it’s fairly difficult if Barnes and Noble doesn’t even carry what I want and ultimately forces me to return home, bookless, and order what I want online anyway (and probably, for less money elsewhere). I wish there were more local independent bookstores. I would open one up myself, in my dreams, but somehow, I don’t think it would be a particularly wise investment here (even in my dreams).
AFebruary 24, 2012 at 7:18 pm
What is ridiculous about the title "young adult fiction" is that is sounds like such a dumbed down genre or really not even "fiction" at all. I mean, I never read any young adult fiction when I was a kid. At that time you should be reading the classics, as cliche as that sounds, because the good old stuff that really has lessons is worth the time and is something you might actually think about when your older. I doubt anyone is going to be pondering about Twilight when they are thirty (and if they do they are a sad, pathetic emotionally crippled person).
Honestly, though, I'm twenty-three and still working my way through the classics. It is no cake walk, sure it takes a long time, but it is always worth it to finish a book written hundreds (or thousands in my pursuit of Medieval Literature) of years ago and feel as if humanity has always had the same problems. The same issues with greed, violence, and authority.
I cannot help but feel so depressed over this post, Joseph, not only for the fact that people have gotten stupider and stupider, but rather that even the literary world caters to the outright stupidity in the society. I have not been to B&N in a long time, but now I have no desire to go out of my way to be confronted with such a dismal state of (intelligent) reading.
You're the best.
J.D.February 24, 2012 at 8:55 pm
Well, admittedly, I wasn't the most avid reader when I was younger, but I do know that it was actually the classics (i.e. the stuff you read in English class) that really got me to take writing more seriously as a teenager. But even stories like The Giver, for example, I would hesitate to lump in with the "young adult" category, even if it is written for that age group. I do think the Twilight phenomenon does have something to do with all of this though, since there was a huge surge in the genre after its release, and suddenly we're seeing labels like "paranormal romance" in the bookstores.
I wonder if we're being a bit elitist and snobby, or if there's a bit of truth in the catering you mentioned. There was an article I read once on Book Riot in which one of the writers proposed the idea of adding more "young adult" reading material to school curriculum to make it seem more relevant to teenagers. At first, I thought the author was being facetious, but when I realized I was mistaken (from reading her remarks in the comments), I think I felt a tear roll down my cheek. Because let's face it: most of those kids in those classes won't read critically ever again, let alone good adult literary fiction. And I really don't think catering to the students' "taste" and sensibilities, who are sixteen and really don't care at all, will suddenly bring over more converts to the literary dark side.
This post ended up being more depressing than I intended, but it was just some things I've been observing lately.
AFebruary 24, 2012 at 9:54 pm
I don't think we're being snobby. In a way, literature and especially poetry was always sort of inclusive to a certain sort of a person anyway.
I was reading some biography on Elizabeth Barrett Browning and it mentioned that she was this crazy avid reader (probably because she was totally bed-ridden half of the time) but anyway she read Paradise Lost when she was a little girl. I was just a little taken aback. I mean, I'm just getting around to reading it and it blows my mind half of the time. All of Milton does. I cannot imagine being like twelve and reading such an epic.
But, really, society is getting dumber, it is no surprise. I just don't think people need to create a sub-genre for teens. It is so counterproductive. Why can't they read a regular fiction book? How will they ever learn or break out of being a "young adult" reader? I think it just creates a big issue. The only way you can advance is to throw yourself into the storm. You learn to understand sentence structure, not to mention how to write better yourself, only through coming into contact with challenging adult books. Can't go through your whole life reading at a teen level… whatever the hell that is.
J.D.February 25, 2012 at 11:01 am
I really don't think "dumber" is the most appropriate word, but I do agree that our way of thinking is changing very quickly. I definitely think it's because of the influence of the internet (especially those that are growing up as children now) and all this exposure to a vast amount of information and not being able to handle it or sort it out. There's so much consumption going on, but they're only little nibbles of different things here and there. Because of that, I feel like people are encouraged to think more shallowly than before – since it's now becoming more about breadth of knowledge rather than depth.
AFebruary 24, 2012 at 7:21 pm
PS; I realized how mean my critique of Twilight is and wanted to just add that what I meant was that there are more important – not to mention better – books than Twilight (or any other young adult fiction). It is just a matter of finding such books.
Also, did you realize this post sort of tied into your other commentary about the reading material in high schools? I am surprised you didn't bring that back up, since it ties into this same problem.
J.D.February 24, 2012 at 9:05 pm
I'm pretty sure there have been more scathing reviews out there! And yes, fortunately, we have the internet now to find such books for us!
I actually didn't intend to bring that up originally – I was just sort of thinking about it near the end as I was writing this post. But maybe I should do a separate post someday about that.
PS: Did you delete your Goodreads? I enjoyed following what you were reading and your reviews on there!
AFebruary 24, 2012 at 9:48 pm
Yes, you should do another separate post about it. I always love reading your observations no matter how depressing they are. Don't think just because they are a little saddening that I don't enjoy them. We need more writing like yours.
PS; I did delete it on a whim. I'm still on shelfari, though, because aesthetically it is pretty? I don't know: http://www.shelfari.com/tigersihaveknown
J.D.February 25, 2012 at 11:28 am
Well, thank you!
Your shelfari is reminding me how many classics I haven't read yet either…I still haven't read any James Joyce, for example. Might want to get on that. I used to have a professor that was obsessed with Ulysses, but I never took that particular class with him.
sebastian lubbersFebruary 25, 2012 at 11:29 am
wow you guys are kind of elitist????
w/e i love you assholes
J.D.February 25, 2012 at 11:41 am
We love you too, Sebas.
I'm still waiting for more of your pompous reviews. Thanks.
AFebruary 25, 2012 at 6:16 pm
I love and miss you lots Sebastian. Email sometime! x
M. DominicFebruary 28, 2012 at 6:41 pm
We should take a trip down to Books & Books, you'd like it there.
J.D.February 29, 2012 at 3:17 am
That sounds like a really good idea for a field trip. I haven't been there before.
» The Small Things and the Big Things : joseph danteMarch 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm
[…] some time with Melissa, dear friend and fellow writer, and we went to the same Barnes and Noble I was talking about a few weeks ago. Apparently, I’m not going crazy because there have been articles now where the stores are […]