A Question for You, My Dear Readers

The wonderful Kathleen T. Horning sent me a link to this discussion of Twilight on NPR in which much mock is made of the writing style of Twlight. Judging from the comments if you love Twilight then the NPR people are being condescending meanies and if you hated Twilight1 then their comments are hilarious and spot on.

Now, I do not want a discussion of the merits or otherwise of Twilight here. In fact, I will delete any comment trashing Twilight. We do not diss living authors on this blog. What I’m interested in is a broader discussion of adults’ attitudes to YA literature.

My question is this: What do you think of the frequently mounted defence of Twilight and some other popular YA titles that no matter what you think of the writing style or content it’s intended for teens so that’s okay. Or at least it gets teens reading?

Here’s what the folks at NPR had to say in response to that claim:

Linda: One thing we haven’t talked about much, except in the comments, is the fact that for a lot of people, both the quality of the writing and the content of the story, as far as its nonsensical aspects, are really irrelevant if the book is intended for or appropriate for teenagers.

This is an argument I would find a lot easier to swallow were it not for the facts that (1) I don’t think Meyer necessarily meant it as YA fiction and I think she’s said that; and (2) it is read by many, many adults who take it quite seriously. It seems to me that it has been embraced as fiction by enough adults that it’s legitimate to look at it that way. And that’s true EVEN IF you accept that it’s okay for things to be bad if they’re for teenagers, which I … don’t.

Marc: Of course. It’s wildly insulting to teenagers to insist that it’s acceptable to foist inferior product on them because . . . why, exactly? “This is a terrible book. Give it to your daughter.” How is that not a terrible abuse of kids’ minds?

In the comments on their Twilight posts there were many claiming that it was wrong to criticise Twilight at all because it’s popular and has gotten teens reading. I’m curious to hear your responses to that claim as well. Are such claims made about equally-criticised-for-bad-writing books by the likes of Dan Brown?

NOTE: Remember I want this to be a broad discussion of attitudes to YA literature. I’m not kidding about deleting any Twilight bashing.

  1. Even if you haven’t read it—how do you hate a book you haven’t read? []


  1. Jason Black on #

    Here’s what I think is wrong with the “no matter what you think of the writing style or content it’s intended for teens so that’s okay” position.

    First, it is implicitly an “ends justify the means” argument. Which, as anybody who ever took an ethics/morality course in college knows, is crap. The ends DO NOT justify the means, whatever you may think of the ends.

    Ok, so that’s the ivory tower philosophical objection to the argument.

    But what really cheeses me off is that, implicit in that argument is the notion that _better_ writing would somehow have been _less_ effective at getting teens to read. As though the statement “if had written Twilight, it would have bombed” somehow made sense.

    Which is ludicrous on its face.

    Who says teens don’t appreciate quality writing? Who, in fact, dares say that? THAT’S condescending. Teens may not be able to express in analytical terms the difference between Twilight’s writing style and any other, but to suggest that you somehow need second-tier writing in order to appeal to teens, that’s what object to.

  2. Jess on #

    I’m horrified that there are people who think children’s books have the right to be ‘inferior’ because they’re for young people. If the people who think that actually thought through the implications, would they still think that? I hope not.

    As for getting kids reading, I’m all for that. But the thing is, for these books to become popular, or even to be published, there has to be SOMETHING about them that clicks with readers. I don’t just mean Twilight, Dan Brown too, or whoever you want to bash. I’m no fan of either, really, but I recognize what they’re doing has merit, even if I can’t outline it for you. But the attitude behind a statement like, as long as it gets kids reading’ does mean you think the product is inferior, doesn’t it?

    So is the problem getting kids to read, or getting kids to read what adults consider meritable? That seems sanctimonious.

  3. Jess on #

    Jason said,
    Who says teens don’t appreciate quality writing? Who, in fact, dares say that? THAT’S condescending. Teens may not be able to express in analytical terms the difference between Twilight’s writing style and any other, but to suggest that you somehow need second-tier writing in order to appeal to teens, that’s what object to.

    Yes, that.

  4. Terra on #

    Ok, So I don’t know exactly how to answer this, BUT, I am a 30yr old and I LOVE YA books. It is mostly the genre I read. I haven’t been big into reading EVER. Then a friend turned me onto the book and told me that I HAD to pick it up. I didn’t even know about the book. I went to the bookstore and found it in the YA section and was thinking, “Ummm YA? Really?” I wasn’t sure I would be into it, but I was swept up in the Twilight craze after I finished the first book. From then on I have been reading any and every YA book I could get my hands on. It takes me to a fantasy world and relaxes me, like stepping out of reality for a while. I also started reading the “real teen problems” genre and fell in love with reading everything about teen issues. Again, all YA books. All of my favorite authors are YA authors and I will always push reading on to anyone I know even though they think I am crazy for being so obsessed with the YA genre. But when they start reading them, they too fall in love.

    I think the majority of the “Twilight haters” are really “trend haters” and Twilight is not only a trend right now, but as you said it’s popular. I’ve heard a lot of slamming on YA authors because of the books they write for teens, but really if anything, there are a lot of books out there that I think could open up their eyes and minds and I think parents need to chill a bit. I hope I don’t get slammed for saying that. I don’t want to mention author’s names either or book titles because I don’t want to get in trouble. LOL All in all, I am an avid reader now and it all started with reading Twilight. Sorry for the long post.

  5. LJK on #

    As a teacher who uses YA in her 7th grade classroom, I think it’s wildly insulting to say that bad writing or plotting is okay because it’s intended for teenagers. Teenagers aren’t dumb, they’re just younger and less experienced. Do we really want them learn about the world using badly written novels as their examples? I also don’t think that getting teens reading at any cost is an excuse, especially not when there are so many well-written novels out there for kids and teens. Kids will read what is interesting, informative, fun, and entertaining.

    We got to the climax of our 500 page class read today (Edith Pattou’s East), and they were falling out of their chairs with excitement to see how it ended. And this is a book with a girl hero (the class is 65% boys), multiple narrators, and a complicated timeline. And the kids love it! They don’t need something written down to their level. In a few years, some of these kids will try to unravel what is happening in Liar (and hopefully tell me) and then be ready for Ulysses. Or maybe not Ulysses (ick).

    The best YA fiction is well-written AND attractive to kids. It shouldn’t be one or the other.

  6. jonathan on #

    I think it’s a ridiculous argument. As you have mentioned, there are adult books which are criticised by some people for lack of literary merit but this does not make them YA books.

    Although I don’t always like the divisions, I like teens to be able to access books that people consider “literary” as well as books that are considered otherwise. In the same way I like adults being able to access books across the same spectrum.

    I think the distintion between literary & otherwise is a completely seperate distinction to adult & teen.

    I’ll also add that I think teens are far more likely to read accross these styles of writing rather than feeling bound to a particular style like so many adults are.

  7. Laurie on #

    “In the comments on their Twilight posts there were many claiming that it was wrong to criticise Twilight at all because it’s popular and has gotten teens reading.”

    This is kind of horrifying, actually. Because much of the criticism leveled at Twilight is in regards to sexism and cultural appropriation, this is like saying, “oh hey, it doesn’t matter if you think this is reinforcing negative stereotypes, you shouldn’t complain because at least it’s got teens reading!” Silencing tactics, much? Not to mention the implication that teens couldn’t possibly appreciate better writing anyway, so what does it matter so long as they’re reading?

    Of course, the whole concept of “it doesn’t matter whether it’s well-written if it’s for kids” goes hand-in-hand with the belief that if it’s for kids, it can’t possibly be ~serious literature~. Logically, if it can’t be ~serious literature~, it can’t be all that well written in the first place, right? It’s not like the concerns of children and teens actually matter, so we can just ignore anything for them as trivial. Because, you know, being a child or an adolescent isn’t a part of the human experience or anything. (Kids are actually a particular breed of hamster! Little known fact.)

  8. jennygadget on #

    What Jess said.

    Much of the mocking of Twilight annoys me not because there isn’t merit to it, but because people seem to go after it because it being shelved in the teens section makes it a safer target compared to equally bad fiction marketed to adults.

    (That and there often seems to be more than a bit of “ew, girl books! cooties!” to the mocking.)

    Overall, I see many adults look down their noses at titles that are popular reading choices among children and teens (Goosebumps, Gossip Girls, Twilight, Captain Underpants) – even while many of these same adults read little themselves that would not be considered the adult equivalent.

  9. Sarah Rees Brennan on #

    There’s also the fact that Twilight is seen as FOR GIRLS, and just like with romance novels, anything with a female audience is automatically regarded as inferior. Which is simply and unquestionably gross.

  10. Cyndy Otty on #

    Regardless of my feelings towards Twilight, I have to say that the argument that poor writing is okay in a YA book has always bothered me. Especially when I was in the target demographic. Quality is always important to me in whatever genre of book I’m reading and defending a sub-par writing just because it isn’t adult fiction makes no sense to me. It’s one of the reasons I don’t enjoy the authors who subscribe to the formulaic style in their books — as in all of their books are basically interchangeable with one another because, basically, they’re all the same story.

    That isn’t to say I haven’t read books that I have critical issues with — including writing style or grammar usage. And in fact, good writing has been the saving grace for me in books I’ve read that I don’t quite enjoy. But I don’t think there is really an excuse for poor writing. (Or poor editing!) Regardless of the genre or target age group.

  11. marrije on #

    I don’t think “it’s for teens so it’s OK if it’s bad” is a good excuse for bad writing.

    But I also think that everybody (teens and old people) should be free to read not-very-good stuff, or rather stuff-I-don’t-think-is-very-good, which of course is not the same thing. Free to enjoy what we want to enjoy, and also free to think later on “hang on, that wasn’t so good / rather sexist / just plain weird”. That’s an educational experience as well.

    I used to love books by this guy who writes about ripply-jawed submarine men. And now I don’t. But I had tons of fun reading him, wasn’t scarred for life by the badness, learnt a lot (about submarines and secret services), and I can do a mean impression of his writing style.

    You never know exactly what will stick with these teens who are reading Twilight, or Potter, or John Green. Let them enjoy what they want. And let the fun-makers enjoy their fun-making. There is no gold standard of the objectively good for everybody.

  12. Tansy Rayner Roberts on #

    I always feel a bit torn up about this one – I’m not a fan of Twilight myself, and have criticised it publicly for several I think quite valid reasons (no more on this, out of respect for your policy!) but at the same time I dislike the way that many other criticisms of the book take it too far. I end up defending something I dislike, or at least people’s right to like it.

    It’s okay to not like a book. It’s fine to discuss publicly why you don’t like it, and what’s problematic about it. But the vitriole against Twilight has gone too far, to the point that it is implied that anyone (those kooky women, mostly) who likes it must somehow be wrong, or have something wrong with them.

    Some people I really like and respect love Twilight!

    This idea that there is a universal standard of ‘bad writing’ and ‘good writing’ is pretty despicable, actually. There are many different kinds of writing, for different purposes. I read Twilight super fast because I found it to be the kind of good writing that grabs you and pulls you along into the story, whether you want to go there or not. It’s what I call “bestseller good” writing. It’s not good writing to me in the way that Jo Walton’s Lifelode or Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels are good writing to me (nourishing, long-lasting) but hey, those books take work. Twilight is fast and delicious. Sure, it gave me a tummy ache afterwards, but I’m not going to (cough, I’m going to try my best not to) judge others for their choice of candy. I read Gossip Girl books, after all.

    The most popular books should never be immune to criticism. If that many people (especially teens) are reading them, then it’s all the more important that we look closely at what they are saying and how they are saying it. “Bad books” shouldn’t get a free ride because of a teenage audience.

    But if that many people like a book, no matter what criticisms you might have of it, maybe you have to revise what you think “bad writing” actually means. Or indeed “good writing.”

    (I don’t think this issue is about teen fiction v. adults in any case, I think it’s about women’s bestseller fiction v. men’s bestseller fiction and for all the criticisms I have read of Dan Brown, it’s nothing compared to the sneering about popular fiction by and for women)

  13. Emily H. on #

    I think that most teens are not extremely sensitive to sentence-level prose. I remember being 15 and being startled, occasionally, by a beautiful sentence; but at the same time I was reading Pern and all sorts of bad writing, and not caring at all.

    But most *adults* are not extremely sensitive to sentence-level prose either. If Dan Brown and James Patterson are open to criticism, then surely YA is too. And the only way to learn what good writing is is by reading it — so teens deserve wonderful writing perhaps more than anybody else!

    Still, it’s pretty old to pick on Stephenie Meyer for being a bad writer, isn’t it? Okay, okay, we get it. We could be using that time to yell about Margo Lanagan or Francisco X. Stork or M.T. Anderson or any of the other YA writers who are capable of astonishingly good prose.

  14. Kris on #

    Hi there, Justine. First off, just a quick background on myself, so you will get a sense of where I’m coming from. I’m in my twenties, so I am an adult, but I didn’t start reading YA until Twilight. Before that, most of my life was spent reading adult fantasy and popular adult fiction. I guess I just assumed that adult books were more mature and well-written and, therefore, better all around. I am happy to admit that I was wrong.

    I have pretty strong opinions when it comes to writing for teens, though. “No matter what you think of the writing style or content it’s intended for teens so that’s okay.” What does that even mean? I’d say content and technique are more important in YA lit than adult lit because 1) teens are sophisticated, intelligent creatures, and they deserve quality writing that reflects that, but also 2) they are young! They don’t have the life experience that an adult does, and their ability to separate fact and fiction — especially in books that deal primarily with romance – is inherently faulty.

    I’m not saying teens should or should not read certain books. I don’t believe in censorship. But it is the responsibility of the writing community and adults in teens’ lives to be aware of what teens are reading, and to stress the importance of thinking about what they read, not just mindlessly consuming and following current trends.

    As far as the idea that criticized YA books “at least get teens reading,” I think is a blatant misinterpretation and careless approach to the discussion of teen literacy. Teens don’t need to read classics written in old English that bore them to tears. What they do need, and deserve, is quality writing and responsible storytelling. There are so many current YA authors who provide just that, and it is important to recognize and honor them for it, and also to spread the word to teens about these books.

    Thank you for this thought-provoking and relevant question.

  15. Podblack on #

    Okay, I’m guilty of the ‘it gets people reading’ attitude. As a former English and English as a Second Language teacher, I’ve had first-hand experience of trying (sometimes desperately) to encourage literacy skills.

    I recall having one student who read nothing. Not even magazines or the internet. But because of her love for the TV show ‘Lost’ (which, can can be argued is pretty trashy, especially past the first season…), she got into reading science fiction via my suggesting a few novels (‘Taronga’ by Victor Kelleher and the Twilight series).

    I’ve seen students openly debate (before the film came out, mind) the Edward vs. Jacob appeal, with a passion usually only expressed for pop-stars. Students could cite passages that indicated how well they read the books.

    There’s a blog-entry on my site, where I discussed influences on developing a young person’s reading skills, on peer-pressure helping develop a love rather than dislike of literature and on cultivating bookclubs by finding commonalities amongst students, in terms of what they enjoyed.

    But I’ve also seen uninformed, opinion-filled ranting posts of the ‘Twilight is Hurting America’ ilk, with people claiming with absolutely no references or evidence to support their views that ‘Twilight damages self-esteem and reduces literacy levels’. Who is thinking of those poor female children, waaahhhhmbulance hypocritical rants – when they’ve never helped out a women’s shelter, marched for equal pay or supported a picket line for educators who do make a measurable impact on literacy skills.

    The Twilight-bashers remind me of the kind of attitude that was once reserved for the ‘Harry Potter’ series — not that it has entirely disappeared, mind! If I had criticism of ‘Twilight’ (something I have not seen raised by any of those sites), it would be the depiction of the indigenous population, the werewolf tribes, who apparently are based upon real groups in the region who have been rather overshadowed and unacknowledged by the author?

    Anti-feminist? Didn’t the same oh-so-sophisticated older generation who are now sneering and criticising ‘Twilight’ grow up with ‘Flowers in the Attic’ or Sidney Sheldon, Judith Krantz or Joan Collins? Do we neglect to keep cracking away at that glass ceiling as a direct result? Trashy? How many people still read Mills and Boon? Or fail to mention that often writing this kind of work provides income for women who ‘back in the day’ had to use pseudonyms just to get published?

    That it promotes an uncritical attitude towards good literature and we should be stuffing a copy of ‘Lolita’ in their hands telling them that ‘we know better than you about what’s good for you’? Expect to have it thrown back in your face when they note that your parents read ‘Peyton Place’ or ‘Valley of the Dolls’ and you sure don’t treat them with the same disrespect I probably don’t have to point out that ‘Lolita’ was banned, censored and even now I have well-read, well educated colleagues who ‘found it a pretentious bore even after they worked out exactly where the dirty bits featured…’

    I’d suggest that people figure out exactly (with psychological evidence) what constitutes ‘a terrible abuse of a young person’s mind’ before they settle for the knee-jerk reaction of blaming a fondness for a book as the downfall of a whole generation. Or maybe they should learn a little more about the Gothic-genre and how many of the messages (and some worse ones) are not uncommon and it’s better to promote critical reading skills, analysis of issues and discuss them rather than snatch copies out of hands saying ‘that’s baaaaaaaaaad’.

    Just look at how many bargain-basement bins are now overflowing with half-price ‘Twilights’ as young people move onto the next trend. Quick, let’s condemn that too, we can’t have people get too interested in anything without hailing it as the end of civilisation as we know it!

    What next – the ‘glamorisation of werewolves will lead to serial killing kids?’ 😉

    Although, please don’t get me started on the bible as being a potentially good example of ‘people being far too keen to support a text…’ 😉

  16. JLC on #

    Great post!

    I disagree with the notion that teens are incapable of enjoying ‘quality literature’ nor do I feel that teens should only be exposed to ‘quality literature.’ Every reader is capable of understanding the difference between ‘quality literature’ and ‘light reading’ and both types of books can be fun to read. Every book that is published (and many that aren’t) deserve a spot on a book shelf. Teens should be given the opportunity to decide for themselves if a book is worth his or her money.

  17. Jessica on #

    You and the commenters are asking a ton of questions here. One is what I see most people answering: is it okay to condescend to teens by writing poorly? Another is: is it okay for teens to read poorly written books? A third (another one people seem to be answering more often): is it okay for poorly written books to be “gateway” books? A fourth: is it okay to criticize poorly written books that have gotten people to read? And I’ll stop here even though there are a couple more because I sense this will be too long already!

    1) Of course it’s not okay! The whole argument that Octavian Nothing isn’t accessible to teens precisely because it’s challenging is ridiculous. (That reminds me: There’s also a conflation, I think, between books that are challenging and books that are well written. Sure, there’s a lot of overlap, but we’re talking Venn diagrams here, people!) That teens won’t or can’t read anything of “high” quality is definitely an insulting assumption.

    2) I think this question has an equally obvious answer to the first. Of *course* it’s okay for teens and anybody else to read things of “lower” quality. (These highs and lows are in quotes because I’m not even sure what I’m referring to here. Quality is pretty subjective even if you can determine the criteria.) I’ve always loved to read, but I was pretty literally an insatiable reader from the ages of eleven to fourteen or so. And I read everything from Austen to the Babysitter’s Club to I don’t even know what. Reading “bad” books and reading “good” books aren’t mutually exclusive, especially at that age (at least that was more true for me then than it is now in that I have a harder time reading bad books nowadays).

    3) Re: Gateway books: I had a brother who hated to read for years, until he read Watership Down. Now, I don’t know many people who would call WD a poorly written book, but it was still a gateway book for him. WD made him realize what reading could do for him, it was the spark that started a big ol’ fire. I honestly don’t see the difference between his spark started by WD and someone else’s started by Twilight or any other book. I don’t really feel this is a case of ends justifying means. It’s more like, to continue my fire metaphor, using crappy wood as kindling, but (hopefully) using nice, big, dry logs to build up the fire and sustain it.

    4) Um, yes. Criticize everything. Critique does not imply prohibition or even dislike. Critique says, “I find this problematic for these reasons.” What’s wrong with that?

  18. Stephen on #

    My theory is that this is fairly simple, regardless of whether the book is aimed at teenagers.

    Proposition: the primary purpose of a book is to be read.

    Corollary 1: any book which is seldom read fails in its primary purpose

    Corollary 2: any book which is widely read succeeds in its primary purpose

    Conclusion: The Twilight books succeed in their primary purpose and are therefore ‘good’ books.

    Whether they fit any particular literary or moral standards or are suitable for a particular group of readers is a matter for the individual. These judgements are purely subjective and not subject to any absolutes.

  19. Lorel on #

    I’m of the view that anything that gets people reading is a good thing. You have to ask, why are they reading it? There must be something in Twilight that’s missing from other YA and general fiction and it fills that niche. Good or bad is entirely in the eye of the beholder. If you personally like something, no one can tell you its bad. I’ve enjoyed many criticized books and hated many lauded literary works. Does my opinion count? As a customer–yes it does! But I’m not going to push my opinion on anyone else; let them decide for themselves. I hate art snobs (in visual arts or the literary world), because they’re proselytizing fanatics who don’t care about anyone else’s opinion. And it’s downright wrong to criticize a book you haven’t even read.

  20. Jack Heath on #

    Teenagers do deserve the same quality of literature that adults do. However, any book that gets kids reading has earned some measure of respect. Popularity doesn’t make the writing in the book good, but it made the book worth writing.

    Would I say the same of Dan Brown? Yes, but to a lesser extent. A lot of people liked The Da Vinci Code, but it wasn’t anybody’s first book. All those kids who loved Twilight, having never read anything recreationally before – they’re out there right now, reading other books.

    I think Meyer deserves a thank you for that.

  21. Gwenda on #

    I think it’s a ridiculous argument, but I see it as a variation on the “It’s a bestseller so of course the writing sucks” argument that you do see swirl around the books of people like Dan Brown. I also believe Twilight gets this kind of derisive treatment because it’s a romance and its success is largely fueled by girls and women–so it’s doubly “cursed” in that respect. So, I actually only see these arguments as tangentially being about YA, really.

  22. King Rat on #

    If it getsb kids (or anyone) reading, that’s great! All the more reason to ngive it a real critical look. Why bother to trash/critique something that no one is reading anyway. And the critiques allow people to discuss the book intelligently with the kids who do read it. However, the criticism should take into account the audience to an extent.

  23. Zeborah on #

    I love Stephen’s theory – it reminds me of Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science. Of course there are exceptions: an author may be specifically intending to appeal highly to a tiny subset of readers. But on the whole, yeah.

    On the original topic – just to amplify what others have said that on the one hand no, bad writing shouldn’t be foisted upon teens just because they’re teens and don’t deserve better; but on the other hand there’s no proof that Twilight is objectively bad writing.

    Objectively I don’t think there’s any such thing as “bad”. There’s only “bad at [achieving some goal]”. There are things that Twilight (and Harry Potter and Mills and Boon and Dan Brown) is bad at. But there are also things that Twilight (et al) are good at. And if we don’t try to understand what those things are, then we won’t understand why these books appeal to so many people, and we won’t be able to join those appealing things with things that we value and create a book which is both insanely popular and also good-by-our-standards.

  24. Stephen on #

    > I think it’s a ridiculous argument

    Well, maybe, but as you say a book is not bad just because it sells.

    I still think it is fair to say that a book that people buy is, in some sense, a good book because it meets a need. People do not part with their money unless they think they are getting something for it.

    And a book that people do not buy may be considered by some to be the best thing ever written but it hasn’t really succeeded as book because it isn’t being read.

  25. cameron on #

    Basically I think people like a ripping yarn. The quality of the writing isn’t an issue unless it takes you out of the story. I didn’t notice the ‘failings’ of the Da Vinci Code because I was sucked into the adventure.

    For younger readers other things might throw them out of the story. I have given well written and gripping books to my son (who reads well above his age) which he couldn’t get into because the level of assumed knowledge (and assumed life experience) was too high.

    Twilight is a ripping yarn that doesn’t go over the heads of teen readers. They don’t get thrown out of it. Does that make it YA? Not nessesarily. It has messages which I don’t think younger (and older?) teens have the life experience to interpret properly.

    Would I let my kids read it? Sure.
    But would I have a chat to them about self respect and what to expect in a fair and equitable relationship (particularly if I had a daughter who was being sucked into the whole vampire fantasy)? You bet I would.

  26. Chantal Kirkland on #

    Holy moly, there are like full blog-post sized responses here! Way to get people talking.

    Me? Oh, I don’t usually hate a book before I read it–I won’t even comment on it if I haven’t at least tried to read it. But, I will admit: Some of the books I choose to buy were poor decisions; but some of them were awesome. And I almost always choose the book to buy based on the cover, the blurb and the first few pages…not because some genre it’s labled as.

  27. Joe Iriarte on #

    Podblack, I don’t think the problem is in thinking that it’s a good thing when a book gets people reading. I think the problem is in suggesting that teen books are crappy but that’s okay because they get kids reading.

    I definitely think anything that gets kids reading is a plus.

    I also believe that any book that is widely popular is artistically successful. It may not succeed artistically with me, but I think that’s something else entirely.

    As for the specific question, I don’t think it’s wrong to criticize a book that gets kids reading. I do think that the success a book has in finding young readers mitigates whatever faults you may perceive in it, though.

    I also don’t agree with the mentality that kids are a good market for inferior quality writing, with one caveat: kids are less apt to recognize ideas that are already well-explored in adult genres. (I’m thinking here primarily of my preferred genre(s), in both adult and YA fiction, science fiction and fantasy. Some ideas that are considered passé in the adult version of the genre are still fresh when it comes to YA.

    I like what cameron had to say about letting your kids read [whatever] but having a conversation with them about with them about their expectations in their own lives. As a father of two who works full time and writes part time, I will admit that I can’t read everything my kids read (I know . . . I’m an awful parent) but I can make a point of reading the specific titles I’ve heard I’ve got reason to be concerned about.

  28. V. Vega on #

    #12 Tansy Rayner Roberts: “I end up defending something I dislike, or at least people’s right to like it.”

    Yeah, that. I worked at Borders pre-Breaking Dawn and had a front row seat for the whole Twilight phenomenon.

    My favorite criticism of Twilight was when a woman dragged her son back into the store to return the book. She asked me if the book involved demon-worship. I told her no, Twilight is an abstinence fable written by a deeply religious woman who chose to use vampires because of all the symbolism society has attached to them. She said she still wanted to return it until her husband got a chance to have “the vampire talk” with their son.

    No lie. I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out what “the vampire talk” is. (The best I could come up with was something along the lines of “when a man and a woman love each other very, very much and they make a pact with the devil…”)

    See, that is an example of defending something you don’t like because the argument against it is just so completely flawed that you can’t help trying to tear it down a little.

    Mostly I’m upset that some people think getting people to agree that the argument is stupid means you’re for whatever the argument is against. Yes, Twilight gets kids reading. Yes, Twilight is a YA novel. Yes, a lot of older (than teenage) women love Twilight. None of those things address whether Twilight is a good novel or what sort of literary standards it should be held to but that was never the question, was it?

  29. Ali on #

    Ooh, interesting! This is something I think about a lot actually. So my thoughts, which I will try to keep short(ish):

    ‘What do you think of the frequently mounted defence of Twilight and some other popular YA titles that no matter what you think of the writing style or content it’s intended for teens so that’s okay. Or at least it gets teens reading?’

    – I definitely wouldn’t agree with the suggestion that if a book is bad it doesn’t matter if it’s for teens. However, with Twilight, I don’t see it in terms of good or bad. I mean, if you say it’s bad, then I am not very good at the literature studies/critical/analytical side of reading, so I don’t really feel qualified to disagree with you. But to me, it was more challenging or unchallenging. I am NOT saying that teens can’t read challenging books, because that’s pretty obviously not true. But I think teens, AND adults, need a mix of both. We need books like Twilight and the Da Vinci code because sometimes, we want to read a book and we want it to be easy. And I don’t think there’s actually anything shameful in that, or that it makes us ‘bad readers’. It would just be good if we could vary it, so we are reading (to use the John Green terminology) the Twilights of the world AND the Octavian Nothings of the world. But for both adults and teens the existence of books that are easy to get into arguably does, ok, ‘get teens reading’. So….I guess I am maybe agreeing with these people, in a way?

    ‘In the comments on their Twilight posts there were many claiming that it was wrong to criticise Twilight at all because it’s popular and has gotten teens reading.’

    – At the risk of offending anyone, that is just kinda silly. If there are legitimate criticisms to be made of something then they should be made, and there is no reason to stop people from making them.
    What bothers me sometimes about the criticism of Twilight, however, (and I don’t deny that there are legitimate criticisms to be made here) is the inescapable feeling that it’s popular, it is aimed at girls, it even features (gasp!) girls as frankly desiring sexual subjects, so it makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. And so their automatic reaction is to dismiss it, because it’s GIRLY.

    *disclaimer* I am not saying that all, or even most criticism of Twilight comes from this place. I just all too often see comments that do feel like this.

  30. Caitlin on #

    I want to heartily second what PodBlack, Tansy and others have said about “good” and “bad” writing.

    Using a lower standard for teens is wrong, but trying to set what is “good” and “bad” for teens without their input is silly and useless. I can give you a list of literary reasons why Lord of the Flies was a well written book but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed reading it very much in 12th grade no matter how much my teacher told us it was a good book.

    I don’t think “it gets people reading” should be a means to avoid critique. It is a good thing especially since fewer people (of all ages) are reading books these days but doesn’t magically golden plate something.

    A wide appeal is a factor in the discussion but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discuss the flaws. The problem with the major franchises is that the devoted fanbase refuses to see any wrong directed at their favourites. We should be able to talk about the negatives without feeling like it destroys the entire story.

    Is Twilight a fun, romantic, fluffy and engaging story? Yes. Sure is, I really enjoyed it. Does it also have a problems? Yeah, and not discussing them doesn’t make them go away.

    Was it Justine who wrote the blog on racism in Gone with the Wind? Ignoring it because you love some other element of the story doesn’t make it disappear but it also doesn’t mean you can’t still love the parts of the story you love.

    That’s my two cents.

    Young people shouldn’t be given lower standard books but we also need to be flexible to what the needs of the individual reader are and sometimes (ok the vast majority of the time) emotional resonance trumps beautiful prose and that isn’t always a bad thing. Also being popular shouldn’t get you a pass on critique.

  31. Kate on #

    I love John Green’a outburst in one of his vlogs: “stop condescending to teenagers!!” Teenagers deserve quality writing and plotting too.

    As for the ‘at least it gets them reading’ defence, I am dubious. Of course I think they should read more, but unsure whether stuff like that will encourage them to read some quality stuff, or just more of the same.

  32. alyson on #

    I wrote a blog post in response to this and the NPR articles. It’s far too long to post as a comment so here is the link if anyone is interested:


    What I discuss is the fact that I think it’s not okay at all for a young adult book to suck, because that book is going to be what encourages teens to read more. If they’re reading low-quality novels then they’re going to expect the same from future reading.


  33. cameron on #

    V.Vega you made water come out of my nose.

    “when a man and a woman love each other very, very much and they make a pact with the devil…”

    I was drinking when I read this. A little warning next time.

  34. Monica on #

    I read Twilight in a graduate level class in Gothic literature. It’s really funny to compare the obsession with Twilight now to the kind of obsession that Catherine Morland has for the Mysteries of Udolpho in Northanger Abbey. I also read all of the “horrid” books listed in Northanger Abbey, which were “trashy” Gothic novels from the end of the 18th/early 19th century, like _The Mysterious Warning_ or _The Necromancer_. Having read around 20 of these novels, Twilight is about average to me for a Gothic novel.

    I also admit to finding the gender issues problematic, all of the novels are inspired by/tributes to classic literary pieces (again in the Gothic tradition–most of the “horrid” novels use classical and Shakespearean references in an attempt to claim literariness), which I think points to the inherent gender issues in so much of classic literature. While Mr. Darcy does not watch Elizabeth sleep, I don’t know that his and Elizabeth’s relationship is one that I’d want to emulate. In fact, I’ve been trying to figure out if there are any “literary” romantic couples whom I would want to emulate, and have had trouble coming up with one. Antony and Cleopatra has been the best I’ve been able to come up with.

    I don’t know if the condescension in this case is primarily because of the YA designation, or if it’s more because it’s aimed at a heterosexual female audience and has been darned successful at it. At least in my English department, however, almost everyone has read it–in fact, it’s much easier to admit to liking Twilight than to liking Billy Collins (who, again, is popular and sells books, and popular=bad). It would be interesting to compare the Twilight phenomenon and backlash with other “girl” crazes, from Anne Radcliffe to the Beatles.

  35. Chris Lawson on #

    I think a book can be bad for technical incompetence, narrative failures, or moral abjectness. Without mentioning any books in particular, it might be said that some fail on all three counts, and a cursory review of literary history will show that such books are in no way barred from being critical darlings or massive bestsellers.

    But none of this has anything to do with YA specifically. I can’t think of a single reason why any genre should be considered exempt from critiques along these lines. “Getting young people reading” is a very poor defence, in my opinion. More of an exculpation, really.

  36. Elodie on #

    I *hate* that idea! How I read is how I write and speak. I have read shakespeare and come out accidentally wanting to form my sentences like he does, all “old english” style. Now I stopped myself before saying it because I could tell that was a bit off 😛 but I see no reason other books shouldn’t have the same effect — it’s just that they’re closer to regular language so it’s not noticeable. I have always read a LOT, books of an “advanced” level compared to my age as I was younger–I would find a lot of our high school “vocab words” in my reading. I think it is THE one thing that made me write extremely well, with a good vocabulary, and creative sentence structure. If we assume all young adults can read is badly written low level junk…. what a terrible idea. If a book has neither a very intelligent or “teaching” storyline (which, I don’t mean to twilight bash in particular, but the storyline IS a bit superficial), not a good writing style, what is the use of getting young adults to read them? Why do we care about “getting young people to read” if they are getting NOTHING from this reading? I do not get it.
    I’ve stopped reading recently because I can’t get my hands on good books. Darned bad libraries. My vocabulary has immediately dropped off. I make spelling mistakes, my sentences are dull, boring or worst, malformed. We should never incite people to read badly written books — we are teaching them that they have a reading level limitation when they probably do not. I feel like HP has a pretty good (not amazing by any means, but not bad) reading level, and yet I saw 2nd graders reading right through that series. Don’t tell me teens need dumbed down grammar and vocabulary.

  37. Bernice Mills on #

    I think that’s a terrible excuse!
    Teenagers will be reading it so it’s okay for it to be rubbish?
    Come ON, people!
    Imagin: you’re sixteen. You read Unnamed Book, which is badly written but gripping anyway. you finish Unnamed Book, thinking ‘hey, this reading thing is EASY!” and go on to another book.
    Which is well-written and interesting but, because it’s not written in totally simplistic and unimaginitive prose, you find it ‘too difficult’ and put it down.

    Not to mention: We WANT kids to read so that they can LEARN things. Not about anything in the story itself, but about language and how to use it. Have you ever met a rabid reader who couldn’t use the language properly? Badly written books will only teach teens – who are very vulnerable in this regard – to use bad language. In that respect I would prefer a badly written book for adults, because adults are less susceptible to fads and also, more set in their ways, language-wise.

    And that’s just the ‘I don’t read ut I’ll give it a look because all my friends are talking about it’ group.
    What about kids like me? I read Wilbur Smith when I was a teen. Badly written books used to make my head explode (I’ve mellowed. Now I just throw them out the window).

    Do we want to cause exploding heads in the YA market? No. We don’t.

  38. Angie on #

    It’s tricky, of course, because as someone mentioned above, at 11-16 I was reading Flowers in the Attic and all kinds of dreadful stuff.

    But I think the difference is that today, the YA section is SO FULL of good, well written stuff. There’s no REASON to read badly written books “to get kids reading” because if someone would take the time to hand some of these books to kids, I think they’d love them.

    Both of the adults in our house read YA, as well as the 15 year old. “At least it gets kids reading” is like saying “Well, they’re eating cheetos, but hey, it’s got corn in it, that’s a vegetable; right?”

    There’s room for Cheetos in someone’s diet, but you need some broccoli and some whole wheat and other things, too. So while I didn’t stop my daughter from reading Twilight, I’ve given her other things to read, as well. (She came to her own conclusions about Twilight, which I’ll not share here.)

    Right now she’s reading Percy Jackson, having seen the movie, and I suspect it’s not High Literature either, but she’s also spent some time this year reading Neil Gaiman and some other stuff that both interests her and is deeper and more thought provoking.

    A balanced diet in all things. But the idea that “kid’s lit” doesn’t have to be well written because it’s for kids is a load of hooey. Sometimes it’s junk food brain candy, and that’s okay, but adults read enough of that sort of stuff, too. Sometimes you just want a story that’s quick and easy and entertaining, but you can’t really subsist on that alone.

    If Twilight gets a kid reading, a parent should be right behind them, saying “Okay, now try THIS” and making sure it broadens their experiences, not just leads to more “cheetos” style books.

  39. Ali on #


    ‘What I discuss is the fact that I think it’s not okay at all for a young adult book to suck, because that book is going to be what encourages teens to read more. If they’re reading low-quality novels then they’re going to expect the same from future reading.’

    – In the case of Twilight, which I’m guessing is what you’re talking about, I have to disagree. I can tell you first hand (because: read twilight, got temporarily sucked in, was quite involved with the online fandom before said fandom went, shall we say, somewhat unreasonable) that Twilight has, in practice, got A LOT of its fans onto more ‘high-quality’ books.
    In all these ‘what shall I read after Twilight’ discussions, the first books that invariably come up are Libba Bray’s ‘A Great and Terrible Beauty’, Scott Westerfeld’s ‘Uglies’, Cate Tiernan’s ‘Book of Shadows’, Holly Black’s ‘Tithe’ and Melissa Marr’s ‘Wicked Lovely’. And after that? Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, Lord of the Rings, Sabriel, etc etc. These books are, I would argue, really not bad books! Sure, they are mostly YA and not long-established ‘classics’, but they are good books, books that make you think, and books that make you a better reader.
    I have seen many, many instances of people who fell in love with Twilight, then moved on, picked up ‘A Great and Terrible Beauty’ with it’s comparatively awesome messages about gender and relationships, and loved it. Ditto for all the other books. I have seen relatively fewer people saying ‘I loved Twilight but then I tried to read these other YA books and they were too difficult so I gave up.’

  40. Anil on #

    If it’s okay to let writing ‘dip’ just because it’s meant for teens then who decides how far can writing standards slip before it is not okay. The threshold for ‘tolerance’ can only slip further from the previous red line so to say.

    It’s a slippery zone we enter, and moreover it would mean we need to dumb down to reach the YA audience, and by that I do not mean subject them to academic or pedantic language or thought processes in what is essentially entertainment value, but atleast get the writing right.

  41. AliceB on #

    I heartily agree with what Emily H. said at #13, that “most teens are not extremely sensitive to sentence-level prose,” and with her follow-up that “most *adults* are not extremely sensitive to sentence-level prose either.”

    I learned what was good writing by reading. But even though I was a voracious reader as a teenager, I was well into adulthood before I figured out what was sloppy writing. And it took even longer to figure out what made writing good. I’m fairly certain I’m not the only person with this experience.

    Couple this with the fact that in the *business* of publishing, if the storyline grabs readers, there’s plenty of forgiveness for sloppy writing. The bottom line is whether the book sells.

    So when a sloppily written book with a catchy storyline does well, in adult literature we’re told “it’s a plot-driven book.” For teenagers we’ll be told, “well, they don’t care so much about the writing.” Both statements to some extent are true. (Though neither is the whole story.)

  42. mb on #

    I haven’t read Twilight and therefore couldn’t fairly bash it if I wanted to — but there is definitely something in it that speaks to many teens (and adults). It seems weird to say that quality of writing is beside the point, but what seems important here, and key to the phenomenal success of the books, is that it’s filling some sort of need kids have, whether I understand that or not. I don’t think that’s necessarily a teen/adult issue, though I can easily imagine some of the teens who love these books reading them later and thinking, “Huh? What did I see in this?” because that need might have resolved itself by then.

  43. Shveta Thakrar on #

    I’m going to echo all the people here who think it’s crazy and condescending to say books for teens must somehow be of a lesser quality.

    As for the idea that somehow books for teens don’t deserve to be critiqued just like any other literature, well, that’s just silly. Our books reflect how we think, reflect the messages our society throws at us. Why shouldn’t we take them apart? Why shouldn’t we be allowed to examine what the messages are, how the writing is structured, why the book works for us and why it doesn’t, etc.?

    And who says teens don’t do that?

  44. Shveta Thakrar on #

    Also, what Sarah Rees Brennan said. This makes me so mad!

    There’s also the fact that Twilight is seen as FOR GIRLS, and just like with romance novels, anything with a female audience is automatically regarded as inferior. Which is simply and unquestionably gross.

  45. janni on #

    I feel like we’d get farther if we just looked at books as books, and turned off the condescending “oh, it’s only for teens” attitude forever.

    Taken as simply BOOKS … if a large number of people enjoy a book, they enjoy it, that’s legitimate, and is worthy of respect — for those readers it IS a good book, and looking down on them for it is … well, see condescending, above.

    That said, critical discussion of a book is ALSO legitimate, and the good the book has done or the fact that it’s well loved shouldn’t preclude that, at all.

  46. Becca on #

    I read a few of these great comments, and skipped to the end (because I’m all time-constrained like that) but what I think is a food metaphor (because, we love food):
    Eat your veggies and your protein and then, hey, if you want it, have dessert. A little cupcake is fun. Enjoy it. Learn to recognize the difference between fueling and snacking, but why not enjoy the sweets now and then?

  47. Aja on #

    I feel like – well, I actually think a bunch of things, but to pare them down:
    – it is important, vital, and necessary that regardless of genre, we loudly and vigilantly call out problematic, privileged, and harmful writing for being problematic, privileged, and harmful. I feel like the Twilight backlash began because people were reacting to, and attempting to address, those things. As they *should.*

    – But the inherent misogynistic attitude that people (women and girls included) seem to have towards ‘stuff girls like,’ basically, just means that any useful critique of Twilight, or other books like it, gets swallowed up into this rageful, hateful noise that boils down to:
    a) why does that idiot Bella do (whatever x thing she does)
    b) why do those idiot teenage girls keep reading Twilight & books like it

    and all that does is obscure the point, which is not to just summarily bash what girls and/or teens are clearly in love with, because if teens are reading it, then it’s clearly doing *something* right, even if you don’t agree with what that something is. There’s a lot in Twilight that I dearly wish smarter, more progressive, and more self-aware YA fiction could duplicate. I feel like it’s *incredibly* necessary to critique the trope of what I’ve come to call ‘bad romance’ in YA fiction, but too often what happens is that, just as John Green said, people who have good reasons for wanting to critique something wind up being condescending about what teens (and oh, especially, what *girls*) are reading, and wind up bashing the taste of readers themselves.

    (Also, tangent, but I just read Salon’s recent post about women’s fiction and I feel like it is very relevant, at least in part, in that it discusses attitudes towards women in literature:
    “the attitude Traister follows back at least a couple hundred years, that female novelists and their audiences are essentially unserious, that we’re primarily drawn to escapist fluff, small-scale relationship dramas, or anything that elicits a good cry, no matter how cheaply. And it’s exactly that kind of thinking that makes authors like Duchen go out of their way to “be taken bloody seriously for once” — only to find that, oops, they’re still women writers. So even if they escape the high heels and martini cover trap, they’ll get slammed for being too bleak and weepy, too “issue”-oriented, for making the reader feel, in Goodwin’s words, “like a social worker by the end of it.”

    I feel like teen literature is in much the same boat, in that writing for teenagers is always facing an uphill battle. If a YA novel succeeds with teens, then it’s a hallmark of teenagers’ bad tastes. If a YA novel succeeds with adults, then, depending on the book, its either a) a freak exception; b) proof that the book is really more of a crossover than a ~true~ young adult novel; or c) just a sign that adults’ taste is as bad as teens’. You can’t win.

    To which I say: anyone who seriously discounts YA at this point is revealing far more about their *own* issues than the inherent issues of the genre. The genre is definitely *not* issue-free; but there’s a vast difference between discussing those issues, and summarily dismissing the writing and trashing the readers. I feel like so often that’s what potentially useful discussions of YA devolve into, whether it’s Twilight or Harry Potter or Ellen Hopkins or Sarah Dessen, or, you get the picture. We can, and should, do a lot better than this.

  48. Kilks on #

    I think that something can be good because it gets teens reading and at the same time it can be criticized based on the writing, plot, structure whatever.

    I do think its good that so many teens are reading because of Twilight, but that does not invalidate problems people have with the books.

    Books should be not be given a pass because it has been written for teens. There are too many well written books out there for teens.

  49. Lauren on #

    (Since I didn’t have time to read through all the comments, someone probably posted something like what I’m about to post)

    Well, I think The issue (and I’m not bashing any book) Between readers and the book, is more the topic. Like Jess said, is it more about getting more kids to read? Or getting kids to read parent approved books? Well I think it’s both. The topics our parents read about when they were our age were different, in the context that it was more concealed about certain topics. The authors normally (or someone who read the book) told the reader that it was not real. We just do not see it these days. It gets harder and harder to distinguish reality and fiction.

    A good example is in “Love is Hell.” there is this one part where this girl thinks shes falling in love with a boy who lived in the old haunted mansion she lives in now. All the while a new book just came out having the same description. she couldn’t separate fact and fiction, and went to the author thinking that she was spying on her and this ghost boy.

    So I think that the problem today is that we mix too much fantasy into real life that it confuses the kids and adults. So keep reading, But keep your facts straight!

  50. Megan Hoover Swicegood on #

    I do think it’s cheating young people to say that quality doesn’t matter. However, kids are smart and they can tell when something is poorly written, uninteresting, or generally crap. As an adult who is widely read I may be able to compare and contrast the style/plot of Twilight with other works and feel it inferior (or superior) but, it would foolish to dismiss a teenager who feels connected with this series because “they don’t know any better”. They know what they like and if a book makes a reluctant reader interested in books, then I don’t care what kind of quality I think it is. It can be a great jumping off point for a lot of really well written stuff.

  51. Sherwood on #

    I tend to think that some books’ strengths are their ability to focus sharply on, and for, the audience intended. This may or may not relate to so-called writing ability (which is difficult to get any three people to agree on).

    If I’d read Twilight at thirteen, I think I would have checked it out of the library so many times they would have had to order a second copy. Same with Eragon. These books had such strong appeal for a certain age I used them in the classroom with great success.

    There are some award-winning authors who are marketed to young adults whose books got a big zero of interest from kids–but continued, and continue, to gain kudos from adults.

    So it goes!

  52. Paige on #

    It’s wonderful that Twilight has gotten lots of my peers to read. However, that doesn’t mean it should be exempt from what’s basically bad reviews. Every piece of writing since the beginning of time has had someone who doesn’t like it. Books, including Twilight, are supposed to be read, have their plot disected, be critiqued, and so on.

    And on the subject of it’s-okay-if-a-book-is-bad-if-it’s-for-teens? That’s complete BS. I know *I’m* not going to read it if it’s bad.

  53. N. on #

    Well Twilight gets a lot of press but this exact same conversation is had about romance novels all the time. It is also had about “commercial fiction” all the time, maybe most frequently in graduate programs filled with students who can’t figure out why no one will give them a pile of money for their literary magnum opus. It’s hard to bridge the gap between critical acclaim and commercial success. That’s as true of movies and art as it is of literature.

    Furthermore, these conversations extend backward in time. Many “classics” border on unreadable by the standards of our day. Even more modern works get a thumbs-down by contemporary standards, filled as they often are with “head-hopping” or “purple prose.”

    People who say such books are “badly written” or insist that teens should be reading something “better written” are privileging their own taste. At a certain point (opinions vary but I’d say anything that has been professionally edited in a real publishing house) the vast majority of “criticisms” leveled against a book are purely matters of taste. One person’s “overwritten” is another person’s “poetic.”

    So to claim that anyone is “foisting” an “inferior” product on teens says very little about the product and a great deal about the disdain one group has for the taste of another. Nobody is forcing teens (or adults) to love Twilight. And if it bothers you when someone enjoys something you think is garbage, maybe you need to worry less about what other people think.

  54. Susan on #

    I feel that Stephenie is a phenomenal storyteller. I read those books because I’m transported into a world that I remember from the alpha-male 80s romances I used to love. Johanna Lindsey, Jude Deveraux and the like employed the same techniques. And I read these Fabio-illustrated bodice-rippers when I was a tween and teen, the same age group as the intended Twilight audience.

    A story is a story is a story. The way it is written may raise the hackles of critics and MFA students, but to be able to get the reader so utterly immersed in a fictional world makes me awestruck.

    And I want to say the following butchered quote is from Michael Crichton:

    “My critics could fill the seats of first-class. But I am not writing for first class–I’m writing for the hundreds of people in coach.”

  55. Justine on #

    Thank you so much for all the wonderful comments. This is a fascinating discussion.

    However, so far I’ve had to delete ten Twilight bashing comments. Please stay away from discussing Twilight’s merits or lack thereof. I have left the Twilight defences stand but as they seem to only incite the Twilight basher I’m going to have to ask you to stop discussing Twilight directly. Twilight is not what this discussion is about. Adult attitudes to YA lit is the subject at hand. Thank you.

  56. Jacob on #

    I made a really long comment but realized that I could just sum it up in a few sentences, so here goes (I’m speaking for myself and for the people I know who read, which is a lot):

    A lot of the time, most of the time, some adults underestimate teens. They underestimate our understanding of how books work–they’re not real, not really, and seeing mythical creatures in books won’t usually make us want to kill people because (INSERT FANTASY CHARACTER HERE) does it in So and So Book. They don’t get that a lot of the time we like books despite their literary quality because we like them. We get that some of them are not the best written, but we like them anyway. The classics are well-written, but a lot of them? They’re boring. Some are still culturally relevant and enriching and others make no sense whatsoever. And we know when a book we like is well-written, too. Sometimes that makes us like them even more.

    But some adults, they just don’t get it. “If teens are reading it, it MUST be trash,” they say. Probably none of you. But to those adults? Get over yourselves.

    (And that goes for people who think ‘women’s fiction’ is trash too. Seriously? Books don’t have private parts, and even if they did that wouldn’t affect their quality.)

  57. Lauren on #

    @Jacob Nice! I agree completely!

  58. Justine on #

    Jacob: Well, put. The other thing that bugs me in all these discussions is the idea that all teenagers are exactly the same and have the exact same tastes. Aargh!

  59. Lauren on #

    Yes! Exactly!

  60. rockinlibrarian on #

    Well, I read through all these comments last night and felt like I had nothing new to add, then my mother in law called me this morning and asked if I wanted a pile of old Babysitters Club books that she’d just found in her basement: “I don’t know where they came from, even,” she said quickly, “[sister-in-law] didn’t read Books Like That.” “Sure, I can add them to my old copies, round out my collection,” I said. “They’re actually re-releasing modernized versions of the series, but maybe [my daughter] would like to read my old ones for laughs, anyway.” She, continuing on as if she hadn’t heard me properly, “I mean, do you really want them? Would you want [my daughter] to read something with more redeeming value?” I laughed. For one thing, hadn’t I just admitted that I not only read the Babysitters Club as a kid but I also KEPT my old books? AND it is well known to my MIL that I am a very good reader, a highly intelligent person, a person who holds degrees in both library science and elementary education? But all I said was, “They have lots of redeeming value! I learned all my best babysitting tricks from those books!”

    There are really, as someone in the comments already said, several questions at stake in this conversation. The “at least it gets kids reading” comment: This is a sensible thing to say about people who are JUST LEARNING how to read– all reading practice is reading practice and quality is not necessary– having print to decode IS. That’s all. Once you learn how to read, though, I kind of wish people would stop with the “reading is good for you! More kids should be reading! Any reading is better than no reading at all!” stuff. No kid wants to do something that’s supposed to be GOOD for you. And reading is just a hobby– a wonderful, world-opening, amazing hobby that I wish I could spend all my waking hours doing (and some of the sleeping ones too), but a hobby nonetheless, no more intrinsicly valuable than any other way people pass their time. Of course, oftentimes you do read books that completely change your worldview– or maybe just help you see something small in a new way. But nobody can say which books those are going to be. It could be something amazingly well-written, or it could be a pulpy paperback. Speaking of the Babysitter’s Club, Kristy and the Secret of Susan is a title that had a profound effect on how I saw the world, and would later affect me personally. No redeeming value, what.

    And those who brush off young people’s fiction as being not-as-well-written have neither read much young people’s fiction NOR much mainstream adult fiction. Anyway, most adult books are written on a 7th grade reading level.

  61. Jodie on #

    I really think the ‘as long as they’re reading something’ only applies to teens that struggle with reading. If they have a hard time with reading skills, or don’t like to read, then any book that helps them to improve and makes them read is good news, but once their reading ability improves, they enjoy reading, or if they’re teens that already really like reading then that argument doesn’t stand.

  62. Justine on #

    Rockinlibrarian: You could also mention that David Levithan used to write Babysitters Club books.

  63. Doret on #

    I skimmed about three pages of the comments and had to stop reading. I am betting half the people who said the writing for Twilight wasn’t good read and enjoyed the series.

    Twilight is their guilty pleasure read. In the day time they can’t claim it. Like when Seinfeld lied about watching Melrose Place. ( and yes I know that is a very very old reference)

    As long as adults are open to suggestions and aren’t limiting their choices to bestsellers, or what NPR, NYT or any other big media recommandations they will read YA.

    Sold a customer Monstrumologist by Yancey. The next I saw the customer, he said he loved it.

    Today, a customer who regularly reads YA, thanked me for suggesting Finnikin of the Rock by Marchetta. She loved it.

    As with fiction the level of quailty varies in YA and its up to the readers to decide what works for them.

  64. Alex on #

    I only have an analogy to add in regards to the ‘it’s getting them to read so it automatically gets a free pass’ argument. (And I know, I know, all analogies are wrong.)

    If I’ve sat in my room and not eaten anything for three days and then someone brings me McDonalds and I eat it… That doesn’t lead in to ‘Wow, McDonalds is amazing! It’s quality and ethics are now above reproach!’ What it says, if anything, is that in a specific situation a specific person reacted this way to a specific thing. It doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have to something else. And it really, really has nothing to do with quality. Sometimes something is just what some people need at a certain time. Or to put it another way, it’s like saying the standard ‘I need to eat. Food is good for me. I’ve eaten McDonalds. McDonalds is food. McDonalds is good for me.’ There’s a disconnect there.

  65. Thoraiya on #

    Stephen @ 18:

    Perfect simplicity. I like!

    I try not to say any more that something is “badly written” – if the tactics used by a writer to keep people reading are transparent to someone who has studied literature or read a lot of books, then it’s OUR problem that we can’t enjoy it any more, because we know too much or have experienced other, more concise styles that we prefer.

    I don’t like it when restaurant critics tell me not to have a well-done steak. Cos that’s the way I like it.

    And I think that what Tansy and other have said, too.

  66. Belongum on #

    I think Jason at the start summed it up for me best. Jacob too added what I’ve always beleived about our young people: people – largely – assume that a lot of young people aren’t ‘up to the mark’. To say that young people wouldn’t appreciate nor require quality writing is simply a load of rubbish.

    My own experiences working closely with young people at their worst possible times, is that they out-do adults on more levels than we’d care to admit. I’ve been in some extremely personal and dangerous situations with some of these young people and whilst the ‘front’ presented suggests that some sort of ‘silliness’ put them in that predicament in the first place. The truth BEHIND the reasons why though, is often amazingly complex and this says a whole lot more about their understanding of many things (affecting them in their world) than their so called teenage front does.

    The other thing about all of this is that our teenagers are – essentially – what we’ve made them. The responsibility for letting our young people down in this regard rests with us foremost – not necessarily the writers for presenting them with ‘inferior’ writing / product.

    Really what’s happened is that a ‘market’ exists for our young people – one of our OWN making – and there are people out there who write to address that market’s needs.

    How do we address the issues this raises? Well – I for one will take on the responsibility of seeing to it that my boys are constantly encouraged to read. I’ll take a part in that – both actively and passively – I’ll pull out books I enjoyed as a young bloke (when their old enough) and tell them about ’em. I’ll yarn with them about the why they like something over another thing. I’ll do this because this is MY responsibility first – and this is where it starts for me.

    Hmmm – now where were we again you mob? 😉

  67. dwndrgn on #

    I am curious as to what constitutes ‘good writing’ and ‘bad writing’. The main reason I ask is because isn’t fiction writing an art? Isn’t art different for everyone? It seems to me that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are such subjective things when discussing art that they shouldn’t be used at all.

    Does ‘good’ art make the viewer better? Does ‘bad’ art pollute minds?

  68. Kate on #

    Yes, there is such a thing as ‘bad writing’. It rambles on for too long, giving long pointless description, has a plot where nothing much happens, and characters/relationships which are not well drawn or fail to inspire empathy or interest.

    To take art as an example, it’s like the difference between a random amateur painting a lopsided portrait, and a Botticelli. One is clearly better executed.

  69. dwndrgn on #

    But if some writing is that bad, how could it become so popular? I’m not saying that there aren’t books out there that are just too bad to be believed, but the massive popularity of some books that have a reputation as being poorly written seems to point to some failing in the perception of those stating that the writing is bad.

    Sure some random lopsided portrait may be bad but it also may become hugely popular depending upon the whims of those viewing it. All I am saying is that the success of these stories is saying something. Exactly what it is saying I’m not sure but art being what it is, I couldn’t discount that popularity. I find most Van Gogh and Picasso works to be downright ugly, but I’ll not deny they are good because millions love them.

    I suppose I am saying that art cannot be judged on technical merits alone.

  70. Billy Smith on #

    Lively discussion here.

    Perhaps we should put a warning on books like — contains ‘badly written sentences’

    I’m sure teenagers would buy books like these by the truckload.

  71. Rebecca on #

    I am 13 years old and I don’t like badly written books. If the prose is too bad (such as [redacted]) it interferes with reading the book. There are plenty of light, fun books (like Harry Potter) that aren’t badly written.
    I am guilty of Twilight bashing. I read the Twilight books just so I could make fun of them. But then I realized, “What’s the point?” I don’t think that because of being popular and getting teens reading a book should be immune to criticism but there is a reason why Twilight is so popular. I hated Twilight but I also enjoyed it. It was fun.
    A lot of ex twilight fans now hate it with a vengeance.
    Lastly, every teenage girl, twilight fan or hater, has the jacob vs. edward debate. (Jacob is waaaaaaaaaay better.)

  72. Greta on #

    Teens should not be fed inferior writing for many reasons. Not just because they are just as intelligent as adults and able to comprehend what is happening, but if there are any aspiring authors, they will think that is the standard.

    As far as it is “getting teens to read”…I think that depends on the teen. It’s a great way to introduce the world of fiction to non-readers and (for those who think the series was poorly written) hopefully they will continue on to read better written books.

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