As The Fault in Our Stars barrels into theaters this weekend virtually guaranteed to become a blockbuster, it can be hard to remember that once upon a time, an adult might have felt embarrassed to be caught reading the novel that inspired it. Not because it is bad—it isn’t—but because it was written for teenagers.
I have two words for Ms. Graham: Fuck you.
I don’t read a lot of fiction because — and this is something I’ve said many times in the past — I’m very picky about what I read and I have the bad habit of judging books by their covers. The vast majority of my personal library is composed of non-fiction books, usually of a scientific bent. There are, however, authors whose books I will buy without even asking what they’re about simply because I’ve enjoyed their work in the past. Some of them are “young adult” authors such as J.K. Rowling. I don’t care if they’re not aimed at my demographic, I only care if I’m entertained by them. It’s the same reason I often go see “kids movies” like How To Train Your Dragon or Toy Story or Kung Fu Panda even though my own kid is now 23 years old.
Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this. I know, I know: Live and let read. Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose. But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.
Again, fuck you. Maybe it’s a sign that I’ve never completely grown up, but I’m of the opinion that if someone is enjoying what they’re reading then we should probably be happy they’re reading at all. My wife reads all manner of vampire and werewolf stories from authors I’ve never heard of that to me all look like the same story over and over again, but she’s happy reading them. Meanwhile, I tend to buy every book Neil Gaiman puts out regardless of whether it’s aimed at kids, young adults, or adults. I don’t understand the popularity of shows like American Idol, but I’m not going to begrudge someone’s enjoyment of it. Especially when I occasionally tune in to watch a kid’s show like Adventure Time.
I’m a huge fan of Mark Twain, but I’ve never read any of his classic stories. I have read a lot of his essays and talks and magazine articles. I’m a fan of his in spite of not having read the things he’s most famous for. The other night I realized I had a book containing a collection of his stories that included Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I have no idea where I got it, probably a gift from someone who knows I’m a Mark Twain fan, but there it was and for the first time I opened it up and starting reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Interestingly enough, in the preface to the story Mark Twain had this to say:
Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.
I wonder what Ms. Graham would have to say about that? Tom Sawyer is considered a literary classic and yet Twain says he aimed it at children. Should I be embarrassed to be reading it now that I’m 46 years old? I know some who might argue I should be embarrassed that I’m haven’t read it sooner.
Perhaps I’m not very sophisticated about the entertainment I consume. If so, then so be it. I often dismiss “serious” movies because they don’t have enough explosions for me to spend the money to see them in theaters. I generally don’t give a shit which ones win “Best Movie” at the Oscars because it’s often stuff that bores me to tears. I don’t pay attention to the New York Time’s Best Seller lists. And my musical tastes are often off-kilter to what’s popular.
I’m not ashamed by any of that. I don’t see why others should be about what they’re into. And anyone who thinks I, or anyone else, is worthy of being looked down on because I’m not into the same shit they are can go fuck themselves.