I’m Not Embarrassed but I Agree

I think I am the only person not deeply offended by Ruth Graham’s Slate editorial, “Against YA” which calls for adults who are avid readers of YA fiction to be embarrassed of their junior reading habits.

With blockbuster novels like The Hunger Games and of course the sure to jerk every bit of moisture from your body as tears, The Fault In Our Stars. It seems everyone is reading one of the many currently popular novels or sets, even self-identified nonreaders.

According to Graham’s scathing piece, adults should be ashamed for focusing all of their reading energies on these novels. Curiously, everyone seemed to take this view as Graham being needlessly critical of the quality of the works themselves. As if the piece was saying that these beloved books are trite pieces of trash literature.

Which, to be fair, some of them are. To pretend that, say Twilight, for example, is some sort literary masterpiece is to do a disservice to literature. It was entertaining, for some, it spoke volumes to a certain set of readers but it wasn’t a breathtaking piece of literature.

Or The Pigman.

What was that last one? The YA of yesteryear. The forgotten racy books for young adults that helped define an era. Think, I know What You Did Last Summer or any of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street novels. Christopher Pike also had a run in with teen horror.

They were all well-loved, much talked about, and lovingly swapped between friends over lunch breaks. They were important for a time for a group of people who now, removed from that time remembers them fondly.

That’s where Graham’s piece falters at for most. This understanding that there’s nothing really wrong with reading and enjoying the work, but aren’t we all a little old for it? In much the same way that there’s no shame in being a fan of Disney films, there’s this very tangible reality although you may find enjoyment in them, adults are not the audience they had in mind.

A better analogy: You can order a happy meal but it’s unlikely it will keep you full for long.

Which is what, more than anything, Graham’s piece was speaking on. Yes, it used inflammatory language, meant to get clicks and a rise out of readers so they would share the offending piece. And then be kept alive through response pieces (much like this one!) and in that, it has done its job.

But as a thought piece, it failed as most people were stuck on outrage.

Young Adult literature is a happy meal. It’s got all of the same parts of Adult novels (for the most part) but in smaller portions and unlike Adult meals, you get a toy at the end.

YA works may dabble in the adult world but they are about speaking to and dealing with issues and emotions of a world that is not adult. And yes, we, as adults, feel the same emotions, we understand these reactions and desires, but we are viewing them from a point of nostalgia.

Katniss Everdeen’s revolution and inner monologues would have been worlds different if she had been 30 with a baby by Gail. The sympathy that we feel for Bella’s relationship with Edward would likely have read differently if she had been a 25 year old post graduate.

Their adventures are packaged neatly. Not the messy novels you get into when you get out of the worlds of happy endings. Novels whose stories end only because the writer runs out of words. They end in sadness, death, illness. Sometimes they’re happy though and that’s nice.

The embarrassment that Graham calls for isn’t, in my opinion, the kind that makes you turn red at parties. It’s the same sort of embarrassment that soccer moms used to have when they tittered over the latest saucy romance (pre 50 Shades which has made erotica mainstream. A move I found both joyful and tragic in equal measures).

They used to call them “guilty pleasures” like eating chocolate cake in bed while you stream True Blood and fantasize about Eric Northman. There’s nothing wrong with it but it’s also not something that you just share with everyone.

There is this climate of “as long as people are reading” that permeates the reading culture. As if the simple act makes up for the fact that no one is reading the really good books. The ones that help make sense of the adult world. Not the ones that help not quite adults enter into it.

Just like reading a steamy romance novel can give your mind a break from reality, so does the YA world. But it’s not the only fruit. There are books that just as entertaining in other parts of the books store and everyone should explore those too.

If reading is your thing. It might not be. But if you think it is, do yourself a favor and try some new flavors.

Money and the Rainbow

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This week, LaVar Burton aka Geordi La Forge, used the internet as a force of good and brought one of the greatest PBS shows ever to grace the airways back from the dead. Reading Rainbow is alive once again. But it’s not getting rebooted as a television show, instead it’s kicking over to the tablet and computer screen as a paid app service and some people think that this is a questionable move.

Reading Rainbow was the well-loved PBS television show that served as an afternoon escape for millions of kids. The program featured different books that children should be hip to in a time before there was the internet. There was no Good Reads to tell us what we should pick up. There was only LaVar and the rainbow seal on the books to let you know that this book was certified enjoyable.

The program was never about learning to read, that’s one. It wasn’t a teaching tool. It was exposing children to books that were exciting and different so that they would read. This wasn’t Sesame Street, this wasn’t about fundamentals. This was the advanced world of words. You’ve already been hooked on phonics, Reading Rainbow showed you what you could do with it.

Which was really another great thing that the series did, the books weren’t always educational. What kids get in school are a lot of classics, stories that teach something or other but not much in the way of just being a good story. Reading Rainbow had its share of work that taught some process, skill, or life lesson but it also featured many works that were just good stories.

Now, in today’s world where kids can most defiantly read, the still suffer from the same problem, they don’t read. Sure they may pick up Harry Potter but outside of that, children aren’t really exploring the world of books as much as they should. The world is increasingly digital and the Reading Rainbow app is an answer to this.

But it’s not free and that is a point of contention. The original show aired on PBS and was available for all children who had a TV. The reboot, so to speak isn’t only available over the internet and behind a pay-wall which seems troubling for a company that is promoting a tool to help all kids and not just those who have mommies and daddies that can afford to purchase them.

But Reading Rainbow wasn’t really free. For the majority of people, of course they didn’t see a charge for it but it aired on PBS which at the end every episode of every show lets the posts the message, “This program made possible by *list of sponsors* and people like you.”

That wasn’t a feel good message tacked on at the end to make people feel included. That was actually how PBS was funded. It’s why they were always holding telethons. PBS and therefore Reading Rainbow has always been funded by the people.

This round of programing has just brought that same aspect into the 21st century. Instead of a line of phones, it’s been put out on the telethon of today: Kickstarter. And it’s done amazingly well but it’s only a beginning.

The reality of this is that the operation will need more than a million dollars to run indefinitely. There are servers to maintain, developers that will need to be paid, new content that will need to be created. PBS has telethons constantly and there’s a reason for that. These things cost money to keep going. A million dollars seems like a lot, it is a lot, but for the scope of this project, a million dollars is just a start.

This project will need funds that go beyond crowdfunding and they will need a way to get them. Namely, they will need to generate income somehow. I’d rather pay an entrance fee than have my kids subjected to ads every 30 seconds.

Then there’s the fact that they are a for profit company now rather than a nonprofit. Here’s the thing about that, the only difference between nonprofit and for profit is what they pay in taxes. Just because a company has to meet a bottom line doesn’t make it a bad company.

There’s a lot of freeware out there aimed at helping children develop reading skills. Some of it’s good but most of it is not so good. Reading Rainbow is a tried and true brand that does something no other program does. It promotes literacy for the sake of literacy. And if that’s not worth throwing money at, then I don’t know what is.