Snooty Snobs Should STFU

Against YA: Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.

The more I thought about that, the more pissed-off I got so I had to do this post to refute it.

The largest group of buyers in that survey—accounting for a whopping 28 percent of all YA sales—are between ages 30 and 44. That’s my demographic, which might be why I wasn’t surprised to hear this news. I’m surrounded by YA-loving adults, both in real life and online. Today’s YA, we are constantly reminded, is worldly and adult-worthy. That has kept me bashful about expressing my own fuddy-duddy opinion: Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

Gee, Graham, you know who else you’re surrounded by?

Adults who read the comic strips in newspapers!

Was Peanuts not to your taste? Shoe? Calvin & Hobbes? The Far Side? Bloom County? What about Doonesbury? Or Dilbert? Would you have been embarrassed to look at anything other than an editorial cartoon? Or would you seek out only those by the esteemed Oliphant so you’d feel sufficiently “adult”?

You’re also surrounded by people who still read comic books!

Ever try Batman: Year One? Or Watchmen? Or how about Maus? Would Maus have enough gravitas to pass your Snoot Test even though — my god! — it has drawings in it. Of animals playing the parts of people! Maybe you’d give Maus a pass because of Animal Farm? Or is Animal Farm now considered YA since it’s generally assigned reading in schools to, you know, young adults? It’s so hard to keep track these days of what’s “YA.”

Let’s set aside the transparently trashy stuff like Divergent and Twilight, which no one defends as serious literature. I’m talking about the genre the publishing industry calls “realistic fiction.” These are the books, like The Fault in Our Stars, that are about real teens doing real things, and that rise and fall not only on the strength of their stories but, theoretically, on the quality of their writing. These are the books that could plausibly be said to be replacing literary fiction in the lives of their adult readers. And that’s a shame.

Oh look at you, up on your self-appointed throne, passing our indulgences and blessing certain books and types of stories like some Book Pope.

What self-aggrandizing egocentric hubris!

A better writer than you — or I and many other people — will ever be, had this to say about “serious literature” and “literary fiction” of the kind your type goes all soft and delirious over:

Interviewer: When did you decide to become a writer? When your teacher said that you were good?

Writer: Uh-huh. I forgot all about that. I decided to become a writer when I started reading the Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s — two magazines with supposedly good writing. The New Yorker too. I would read these short stories they’d publish and they were absolutely nothing. They said nothing, they did nothing, they . . .

Interviewer: John Updike.

Writer: Yes, I include him. And they were terrible, they just bored me. There was no life to them, and yet, these people were getting famous writing these stories, and I thought, I know their secret: They try to write about nothing at all, in the most boring way possible. No, I really felt that. I said, this must be some kind of snob inner circle secret. I must write something very boring that says nothing at all for pages and pages, and say it so boring that everybody gets bored. Then you think, this is really good writing, because I’m so bored, and nothing is said. So I tried the other way, I tried to say: A guy comes home from work, his wife screams at him, and he murders her. Like, a factory worker. They didn’t want that. So . . .

Interviewer: They? Who are they?

Writer: The editors. I don’t know, I guess I became a writer, not so much because I thought I could be a writer, but because all the known writers that were famous seemed to me to be so very bad. But for me to just stop and let them take over with their dull badness seemed to be an atrocity. So I started typing, trying to say it the way I thought it should be said –what was happening, but in a simple way.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

My god! Who would dare say such a thing?

You’ll find out later.

In the meantime, Graham, it’s your type who are driving people away — far, far away — from books.

Nothing gives me the feeling of having been born several decades too late quite like the modern “literary” best seller. Give me a time-tested masterpiece or what critics patronizingly call a fun read — Sister Carrie or just plain Carrie. Give me anything, in fact, as long as it doesn’t have a recent prize jury’s seal of approval on the front and a clutch of precious raves on the back. In the bookstore I’ll sometimes sample what all the fuss is about, but one glance at the affected prose — “furious dabs of tulips stuttering,” say, or “in the dark before the day yet was” — and I’m hightailing it to the friendly black spines of the Penguin Classics.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.


More than half a century ago popular storytellers like Christopher Isherwood and Somerset Maugham were ranked among the finest novelists of their time, and were considered no less literary, in their own way, than Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. Today any accessible, fast-moving story written in unaffected prose is deemed to be “genre fiction” — at best an excellent “read” or a “page turner,” but never literature with a capital L. An author with a track record of blockbusters may find the publication of a new work treated like a pop-culture event, but most “genre” novels are lucky to get an inch in the back pages of The New York Times Book Review.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.


At the 1999 National Book Awards ceremony Oprah Winfrey told of calling Toni Morrison to say that she had had to puzzle over many of the latter’s sentences. According to Oprah, Morrison’s reply was “That, my dear, is called reading.” Sorry, my dear Toni, but it’s actually called bad writing. Great prose isn’t always easy, but it’s always lucid; no one of Oprah’s intelligence ever had to wonder what Joseph Conrad was trying to say in a particular sentence. This didn’t stop the talk-show host from quoting her friend’s words with approval. In similar fashion, an amateur reviewer on admitted to having had trouble with Guterson’s short stories: “The fault is largely mine. I had been reading so many escape novels that I wasn’t in shape to contend with stories full of real thought written in challenging style.”

This is what the cultural elite wants us to believe: if our writers don’t make sense, or bore us to tears, that can only mean that we aren’t worthy of them.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

Now the reveals.

The writer in the interview was Charles Bukowski.

I can see your haughty sneer from waaaay over here, Graham.

Now to wipe it off your smug face.

The long passages I quoted above are from The Atlantic magazine. Is that more to your standard? Are the intellectual chops of B.R. Myers sufficiently “adult-like” for you? (If you can’t think of any answer, you’ll probably Google and find this: The Soul-Sucking Suckiness of B.R. Myers which, I warn you now, contains this sentence: “To date, I have yet to read a comprehensive debunking of the Myers bunkum.” — maybe because it can’t be. So don’t even.)

I don’t flatter myself that this obscure blog that has lately become a meeting place for those interested in inexpensive Chinese tablets will ever pass before the sanctimonious eyes of Ruth Graham. God forbid! She might need eye surgery (further up and back and under the bone is where repair would perhaps more fruitfully be attempted but ECT has come a long way since the old days so there’s always that first). But I had to have my damn say about this.

Read whatever the hell you like. Read whatever the hell interests you.

Leave the prissy Ruth Grahams of the world to their sentences of “strangled ways.”

They fully deserve that pretentious shit that will never have the longevity of Dickens or, my god!, the fictional father of all genres: Sherlock Holmes.


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