Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
The March 23 release of the Hunger Games movie reinvigorated the conversation about the popularity of young adult fiction—especially among all of us grownups. It happened with Harry Potter; it happened with Twilight; and now Suzanne Collins is thrilling a transgenerational readership with yet another blockbuster YA series, the Hunger Games trilogy.
As fully fledged adults, should we be embarrassed for reading YA? The themes Collins grapples with in the Hunger Games include dystopia, government oppression, love, murder, and violent rebellion. Why should those not appeal to an older audience as well?
Last week, the New York Times Opinion section opened up a debate called “the Power of Young Adult Fiction.” The main questions posed were, “Why are such varied demographics drawn to YA, and how have these books risen in popularity so fast?” The debate included opinions from seven people from various professional backgrounds: authors, a book reviewer, a Time magazine columnist, a librarian, and even a teenage blogger.
What I found interesting about this piece was the breadth of diverging views it presented. Emma Allison, the teenage blogger, comments on the power social media has had on readers of the YA genre. She tells us, “writers are not just quiet gatekeepers of the human psyche anymore: now, they get to be this generation’s rock stars.” Librarian Beth Yoke argues for young adult literature as the gateway to a life-long love of reading. “If we want today’s teenagers to become proficient readers who value reading for fun,” she says, “it is critical to make room on our physical and virtual shelves for contemporary young adult literature.” YA author Patricia McCormick posits, “young adult authors are doing some of the most daring work out there.” All age groups can be drawn to YA’s tendency for the literary avant-garde.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is columnist Joel Stein. He explains, “the only time I’m O.K. with an adult holding a children’s book is if he’s moving his mouth as he reads…I’ll read ‘The Hunger Games’ when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.”
As a twenty-five-year-old adult who is also a passionate devotee of the Twilight and Hunger Games series, I say all reading is good reading. What better way to introduce literature to young people who would have otherwise found it repugnant? If you liked Twilight, perhaps you might also enjoy Pride and Prejudice. If you were standing in line on Thursday, March 22 at 11:30 p.m. waiting for the midnight showing of the Hunger Games, you might be more likely to pick up The Road or 1984.
One reason that may have propelled the popularity of YA fiction among older readers is the anonymity that comes with reading on an ereader. Appazoogler Claire Schulz wrote about this phenomenon in “Confessions of a genre fiction addict.” She theorizes that “perceived prestige plays a larger role than many would care to admit in our book buying habits.” It would be interesting to chart the age demographics of people who purchase these books, and in what format: ebook or print. (But, alas, we don’t have that kind of data. Please, please, won’t someone make ebook sales numbers publicly available!)
And there’s nothing wrong with a little YA to break up your tedious, three-millennium study of “real” adult fiction, Mr. Stein. Just because readers enjoy these books doesn’t mean they’re incapable of, or disinterested in, reading anything else.