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Reading Your Age

A collection of books in the Spohr Household

A collection of books in the Spohr Haus

Time Magazine columnist (and Babble contributor) Joel Stein ruffled a lot of feathers yesterday with an opinion piece in the New York Times entitled “Adults Should Read Adult Books.” In it Stein criticized adults who read young adult literature by saying:

“The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading The Hunger Games. Or a Twilight book. Or Harry Potter.”

So, yeah. Saying that reading The Hunger Games on a plane makes you a sadder human being than the weirdo watching porn? That has upset a lot of people (even if he meant it in jest). But here’s the thing – there’s more truth to what Stein is saying than many Hunger Games/Harry Potter/Twilight fans would care to admit.

Full admission: I have read every Harry Potter book and all three of the Hunger Games books. I may have even read some of these books, ahem, multiple times. (If you’re wondering why I haven’t read the Twilight books, it’s because I think vampires who can go out in the daylight is a bunch of crap. I don’t care HOW overcast it is in Washington.) The reason I read these books is because they are engrossing and full of intriguing characters. There is real artistry in the storytelling, and I believe that if Stein didn’t refuse to read young adult fiction there would be sections of the Harry Potter series that he would find quite impressive. Let’s not kid ourselves though, my fellow young adult fiction readers. Many of these books easy to read and digest. They can be the literary world’s equivalent of a popcorn movie, and if these are the only books adults are reading they are doing themselves a disservice.

On Facebook recently someone shared a link to the Amazon.com page for Dracula by Bram Stoker. Reader after reader (the majority of whom appeared to be adults) had given this classic, the very one that had introduced Dracula to the world, just one star! Their main complaint? That after Twilight they found Dracula too hard to read. After seeing those comments I could only shake my head. If adults aren’t willing to challenge themselves to explore more difficult vocabulary or to appreciate writing that takes a little longer to reveal itself, then that is pretty sad.

Klein says adults should read books for adults because books present one of our few chances to learn as adults. Whereas teenagers can read Twilight for fun while also reading classics at school, adults are finished with formal education. If we are to be well rounded adults we need to make sure that we are lifelong learners, and what better way is there to do that than through reading?

Biographies of important figures… non-fiction books about history, science, or society… classic fiction you’ve heard referenced your whole life but never read… all of these (and many others) can not only enrich you as a person but capture your interest as much as any young adult book. Even better? There is a lot to learn in these books, and educating yourself as you grow older will make your job of educating your little ones a little easier too.

Look, I’m a busy, stressed mom, and like a lot of adults I sometimes want to read a fun, escapist book and could give a hoot if I learn anything. And you know what? That’s fine. But before anyone attacks Stein, they should consider his point: if we are to become the most well rounded adult we can possibly be, we need to put on our big girl or boy pants and read books meant for adults, too.


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