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The New York Times's Room for Debate section takes up the question of why adults are reading books for kids, like The Hunger Games and so on. Joel Stein considers it "embarrassing" because books are "one of our few chances to learn." Lev Grossman defends the merits of the young adult genre, saying that these books prioritize straightforward plots and clear characters in a way that literary fiction typically doesn't--so they're not better or worse, just different.

A little snooty, isn't it? I don't see how what you "should" like or do is a relevant question when it comes to fiction, unless maybe if you're an English professor or something like that. It leads quickly to absurdity. Mr Stein's thinking seems to imply that there's a political economy of leisure reading in which books are competing directly for a limited number of slots in your reading life. The opportunity cost of reading The Hunger Games is that you could have been reading something more virtuous, like The Adventures of Augie March.* But why not then say that it's embarrassing for a person to do anything else in her spare time--like watch a movie, or go for a run--if you haven't already read the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels (a list on which some of the honorees are actually young-adult fiction to begin with, or were treated as such at the time)?

I liked The Hunger Games, the books and the movie, and while it's possible to approach them from a highbrow perspective--as a critique of capitalism, for example, or a deconstruction of gender--the primary appeal is that they're exciting and engaging.

On a related note, although I read my share of fairly lowbrow books--YA, mysteries, sci fi, even chick lit--the most trite book I read last year was a literary novel that was warmly reviewed in the New York Times. 

*I once heard someone say that no one has ever actually finished Augie March and, as strange as that sounds, I think he might have been right.

03/30/2012 14:43

He was not


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