So I was watching the movie Young Adult last week, and even though it was a well-written and acted movie, it was sort of awful anyway. I was writing last time about the dearth of positive teacher-characters out there, and now here comes a film about a young adult writer, one of my other hats, and it’s a pretty grim picture too. For me, the really memorable image of Mavis, the main character, is her habit of taking her laptop out to coffee shops and bookstores to write the final book in her young adult series. She keeps overhearing actual teens talking, and she types their words right into her book, so that it sounds legit young. I myself learned about “legit” by overhearing one of my ninth graders, and I wrote it down and included it in my first YA. So I guess I’m who Jason Reitman was making fun of on this one.
The majority of YA books are written by O(lder)A peeps, and we’re straight faking it. I mean, we have to be, right? At least I don’t have to stalk teenagers at like Chipotle to write down what they say, though. I actually end up being accused by non-teacher adults of sounding like a teenager myself. Which is sort of demoralizing unless you find a way to turn it into a second career.
I read a lot of YA, and I also have an addiction to shows that I am not in the target demo for. Of course, a lot of these shows were books for teens first: Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, Secret Circle, Lying Game were all YA series first. Why do I like them? Do I wish I were seventeen? Um, hell no. I mean, there are things to miss, which are too depressing to enumerate. I mean, I didn’t used to pay much attention to gravity. But no, happy to be all grown up. Am I a case of arrested development like Mavis from Young Adult? Those folks make crummy teachers, and I was actually always sort of a middle age person in disguise (well, not so much in disguise these days ;)—so that’s not it.
The thing is, I just like these books and shows more. There, I said it. This might be a bold claim, what with all the recent uproar in cyber-book-land over Joel Stein’s NY Times piece the other week claiming “Adults Should Read Adult Books.” I do read books written for adults, and I watch a few adult shows. But the stuff I’ve been the most excited about over the past few years has all been designed for and marketed to the teen set.
In TV land, if I’m a person (of any age) who likes science fiction, fantasy, or soapy romance, there’s not that much to choose from. In a parallel universe, I can watch Firefly. My all-time favorite TV moment last year came when in a flashback to 2003, Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon wrote a Friday night viewing clause into his roommate contract with Leonard “Might as well settle it now. It’ll be on for years.” What’s on now? Ringer? Okay, it’s sudsy, but that’s about it. Castle’s okay, but it’s yet another police procedural. I now know far more than I ever wanted to about the rate at which human flesh decays. Most of the fiction shows out there are either one of the nine million Law and Orders or CSIs…or they’re for teens.
I think when marketing TV to adults they figure we’ll all just eventually give up and either become armchair forensic doctors or just stay glued to HGTV. But I hate watching other people remodel their bathrooms. I’d rather see vampires try to turn werewolves into hybrid monsters.
And once you’re using words like “hybrid” and you’re not talking about energy efficient vehicles, you’re in the realm of lowbrow entertainment. I think that’s the point Mr. Bossy McSnobby pants was trying to make with his proclamation about adults and adult books. That books written for teens are not as complex, and therefore mature minds are wasting their time with them. But wait—not all books written for grown-ups are highbrow. Did he really mean that all adults should read Serious Literary Fiction? Sometimes I like to read that. Sometimes I enjoy broccoli, and I’m sure kale would also be fine if I knew what it was. But I also really, really love French fries. I could write poems about them. They are an important part of my world, just like hybrids and spaceships and Hogwarts and Hunger Games. Wait a second…those last two worlds might not impress the folks who only read books originally written in French, or written backwards, or as an homage to Finnegan’s Wake. But I don’t accept that that Harry and Hunger are lowbrow. Rowling transcended genres and demographics, and there are just as many adults as kids who cried their way through that last installment.
A good story takes you someplace. That’s it. For every story that makes its way into the world today, somebody’s going to label it. Those of us brave enough not to care about the label are probably going to be a hell of a lot more entertained, captivated, transported. We might miss out on knowing more about necrosis and stuff, though.
Here’s that article I was talking about, in case you haven’t been outraged yet: