I Am a Reader. I Am a Writer.

In the last day, I’ve been raging. Raging, I tell you. I don’t do anger often, it’s not an emotion that I’m particularly comfortable giving or receiving. I won’t get into the nitty gritty details of why I was angry because I talked about it on Twitter a LOT and because I don’t think it’s productive to rehash it. But I do want to address some of my takeaways from it because they’re understandable out of context and I think they’re deeply important.

1. Reading:

I should not have to defend my love for YA literature by saying, “I read adult books too!”. I read adult books. I love adult books. I’m happy to recommend adult books. Get me talking about Sula by Toni Morrison, The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht, Swamplandia by Karen Russell, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Blunt, or A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Mara and we’ll be talking so long our coffee will get cold. Or adult spec fiction! Have we talked about my unbelievable love for Rhiannon Held’s SILVER series? They’re the only werewolves I’ve loved. I LOVE those books. And I think Mira Grant aka Seanan McGuire’s Newsflesh Trilogy is basically the best thing since sliced bread.

But those books? They don’t “justify” me as a reader.

Reading justifies me as a reader.

I am a reader. I read about werewolves and zombies and parallel worlds. I read comic books and graphic novels. I read romance novels and I read historical novels. I read young adult literature in almost every subgenre. I read literary fiction. I bend over backwards for a good poetry anthology.

I am a reader.

We have to stop valuing some books over other books. We have to stop saying that a literary fiction book is a smarter book than a romance novel, or that an adult novel is smarter than a young adult novel. When we create a hierarchy of literature, we create a hierarchy of readers. We say that some readers are better readers than other readers.

This is not Animal Farm (see what I did there?). Some of us are not more equal than others.

We are all readers. Can’t we all be readers?

I love Young Adult lit. I can read Where’d You Go Bernadette again and go right back to Fangirl and then go right into United We Spy and feel like I, as a reader, came away a better person not because of one of them, but because of all of them. Because they are all books. They’re all stories. And stories, stories, are ultimately what we should value. Stories have value. Reading is valuable. Readers are all valued and valuable. That is the long and short of it.

2. Writing

Things I’m tired of hearing: “Do you write stuff other than YA?” “Are you going to write an adult book at some point?” “I feel like all YA is the same.” “You should write something else.”

All of this insinuates, and trust me, even if you don’t think it does, there are MANY other YA writers who can chime in and say they hear the same shit and feel the same way, that what I am writing now is lesser. Lesser because it’s for kids? Lesser because it’s for teens? Lesser because it’s young adult and now many people buying young adult are actually adults? I don’t know why.  Lesser in some way. Because it’s not always literary (though there’s plenty of brilliant literary YA out there). Because I have the audacity to write a book with kissing and romance and a female point of view?

A book can be smart and commercial and include romance and kissing and be written for or about teens and include angst and a million other things. A “light hearted contemporary romance”, as some of us were discussing online a few nights ago, can be much harder to write than a dark dystopian novel. I think people who write flirting and kissing well are made of magic or something because I struggle through those scenes.

You do not have to write a literary novel for it to be smart.

Not all literary novels are smart.

A Young Adult novel does not have to act like an adult novel to be a smart and worthy book.

I want to write what I love writing and the stories I want to tell. Some of what I write is young adult. Some of what I write is new adult. Some of what I write is adult. The story tells me what it is. That’s all.

Just like what we read shouldn’t be hierarchal, what we write shouldn’t be either.

I don’t ask adult writers, “Um, are you going to write something else?” But I might.

Every time an adult fiction writer, or a poet, or a short story writer asks me if I’m going to write something else, I’m going to ask them when they’re going to write a young adult novel, or short story. Because then they will be forced to say, “I don’t write that.” Or, “my writing has evolved,” like young adult literature is a stepping stone on the path to literary fiction, the prehensile thumb of literature.

There’s a huge difference between improving writing (which we are all always working on, regardless of what category or genre we write) and suggesting that despite one’s best efforts and improved writing, they’re not writing well enough because they aren’t writing books that are “smart enough”.

Writers are writers. We all sit down on our butts (or walk on treadmill desks, which honestly I couldn’t do, not because I am lazy but because I can’t do two things at once). We all put our pens to the paper or our fingertips to the keyboard. We all revise. We all put stories down and feel defeated. We all feel victorious when we succeed. We all get rejected.

Writers are writers. We all tell stories because storytelling is in our blood. We as humans have a collective memory fine-tuned to tell stories. We learn through stories. We find solace in creating content, in dreaming up characters, in exploring worlds that have never existed until they moved from our heads to paper or screen. We all ponder and turn around questions about family and love, relationships and curiosities, good and evil, what makes people tick and what makes people go on when they cannot go on. We all begin writing by asking questions of ourselves and of our worlds and of our characters.

Writers are writers. We are all writers. Not a single one of us is more or less than another writer. Our worth is not in what we write or how much money we make but in the process and the writing. Our worth is that we continue to write, no matter what, despite everything.

We are all writers. We are all readers.

No one benefits when we tear each other down.

Here’s the truth of it.

1. I read Fifty Shades of Gray (Grey? Gray? I’m too lazy to google and I can never remember). I also read the other two. I own them! They’re on my nook. I paid money for them. And I’m okay with that. Excusing all the possible discussions about whether it was well written or whether it was BDSM or whether it was a healthy relationship, this is the value of Fifty Shades for this reader: it gave me permission to read smutty books. I NEVER read smutty books before Fifty Shades. But now I do. And I like them. And I think they’re fun. And I can’t regret that. As a reader, I found a permission slip in EL James’ trilogy. And that’s okay.

2. I think that hatred or disparaging commentary on Young Adult literature is frequently rooted in sexism. I think that people, both writers and readers, look at a book written for teenagers that might include kissing or romance and think that it can’t be a smart book. I think that people, both writers and readers, look at a book written from a girl’s perspective and find it inherently lesser in value. And they might not realize that’s what they’re saying or what they’re analyzing, but I think it’s a common pattern and the root of a lot of this. Look, I’m going to keep writing books with teenage girls who say like too much, who paint their nails and worry about their hair, and who kiss boys even when it shouldn’t the most important thing on their mind, because those girls? Can still be smart and wonderful and lovable and worthy.

3. Everyone carries their own baggage. After a year of feeling like I had to defend my book as YA and OK to be YA (It’s OK to be YA! is my next campaign), being told last night that I “was the problem with YA lit” was the straw that broke my back. I am tired of defending the types of books I read and the types of books I write. They are worthy, both of them, and if you can’t see that, the burden of changing your mind is now on you.

I am tired of trying to hold your hand to broaden your mind.

Broaden your own mind. Do your own work. Figure things out on your own. Be curious. Be less proud. Be humble. Be willing to read things that are different. Be willing to write things that are different. Be brave enough to be uncomfortable. Be brave enough to admit that what you read or what you write is not a measure of your worth against another reader or writer.

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8 thoughts on “I Am a Reader. I Am a Writer.

  1. Saw this coming. Good points.

    I disagree with you on the hierarchy of literature. I don’t disagree with you that no one genre or style or anything is better than another. All genres are created equal. But all works are not. We decide whether consciously or unconsciously what we think is better than others. We all have reasons for why we do. But we create our own hierarchies.

    All genres are created equal but not all art is created equal. What we read should be hierarchical. What we read should be the best of what it is so that if we write we can be as good as what we read if not better. Maybe that’s just the Hemingway approach and I’m inherently sexist. But I also don’t believe most of the old literature we read is very good either so maybe I’m just spiteful. After all, I think James Joyce is as poor a writer as Stephanie Meyer.

    We’ll talk soon enough but I’m a megalomaniac so I had to add my two cents. I love telling stories. But I love telling a better story even better. Maybe I’m part of a dying breed. Maybe it’s just that men are competitive. I don’t really know. Next time I tell a joke I’ll make sure to stick to puns like how Beowulf took matters with Grendel into his own hands. Or maybe I’ll piss you off again so you can inspire the next generation of writers.

    1. Go back and read this, David. At any point did I ever say anything about the quality of the story? No. I’m not talking about quality of the stories and throwing that out there is a red herring that distracts from the real discussion that was being had here. And if you say it’s not, then you’re *still* implying that a book that isn’t literary or doesn’t conform to *your* standards is not “smart” enough.

      I’ve written and deleted and turned a reply over to your comment so many times in my head now. I’m choosing, and it’s important you know this, not to reply to every point because I’m repeating what I wrote above: it is not my job to educate you. It is not my burden or my responsibility.

      1. What you said was we have to stop valuing some books over other books. This is the part I am discussing. If that doesn’t imply what I discussed then I misread the words on the page and I’m wrong. I don’t refute anything else you said. This isn’t a straw man. That’s the part of the discussion I want to discuss. That is a lie but only slightly. The majority of what I said above was aimed at that and the rest on the fact that this is extremely frustrating to deal with. I agree with you on so many points but disagree with you on one. That doesn’t mean I discredit the whole thing. And maybe I just disagree with your wording then. But when I read we have to stop valuing some books over other books…that’s what I get from it.

        I didn’t come on here to argue. I came here to discuss. In the same snark filled way I’ve been since day 1. If in our discussing I don’t understand something then I want to be educated. Not because I expect it to be a burden or a responsibility for you, but because as far as I knew we were friends and either I am so wholly ignorant to the situation here or you are displacing a hell of a lot of pent up frustrations on me when for the most part I agree with you.

  2. “What we read should be the best of what it is so that if we write we can be as good as what we read if not better.”

    What we read teaches us how to write, yes, but reading ONLY what we deem (or specific communities deem as) “the best” is a waste of time.

    Let’s keep it simple. I’m a writer who’s reading and I think: “I dislike this book. The scenes aren’t very engaging. Why is that?” Then I go spend time pondering scene construction and even go to write to figure out how my scenes work.

    If I read great books and believe they teach me how to write, I end up trying to write like great writers and then I never learn as much bc when people reject my work as derivative I’ll just say “They don’t know what good literature is! Hemingway did it so it’s good!” Hemingway also used enough prepositional phrases in his early fiction that you could weave a very warm blanket with them.

    Hierarchies are fun because they create discussion, but they usually end up working dull weapons meant to defend particular cultural/class elitism.

    (Nice try on that last line, but you earn no credit for “inspiring the next generation of writers” by inspiring this post.)

  3. So basically, people will have opinions on what they like better based on personal taste, and all writers come to writing with varying skill levels. Nothing was refuting that in the post. Whether one form deserves more respect than another depends on the reader, but they both deserve respect and room to exist. The actual problem is disrespecting one form because it doesn’t exactly mirror another, or let’s face it, contain the qualities that you the reader have decided need to be present in a work before you will respect it (based on your own experiences, society, etc.). But that doesn’t mean one form is better or worse–they’re just different. Sure, you don’t have to like it but that’s about all the say you get in the matter–it’s not up to you to decide its worth to everyone else. And all forms of writing deserve respect, and so do all attempts. If you have a problem with the writing in one book and then decide that you hate that entire genre, or even dislike it, then that’s your own shortsightedness. And it’s your own ignorance.

    When I was technically within the later parameters of the “acceptable” age range of readers of YA fiction, a librarian actually asked me if I would be interested in moving onto adult fiction. I was EXTREMELY offended. She had based this shortsighted opinion on one thing alone, my age. She did not consider the span and scope of the entire YA genre or how its works might relate to my experiences, my interests, my ideas, my worldview, everything that had brought me to that moment in my life. And she had also neglected to consider the extreme talent of the writers who write YA, which should never have to be defended.

    When people ask me if I’m going to read or write any adult fiction, I just smile politely at them. They don’t understand, and it’s a pretty abstract question since some YA and adult novels are so close in scope that you would have trouble placing them in either genre without someone telling you where they “belonged.” You can have an adult novel with a child as a main character, and I’ve read many YA novels with prominent adult characters. It’s definitely an odd question since I don’t ask people if they’re going to stop wearing jeans and move on to a more adult form of pants or if they’re going to stop watching College basketball since those guys are still in college and move onto REAL basketball. Plus, the real reason such parameters exist in fiction is MARKETING and if you’re going to base what you read on a marketing system, then that’s not a very literary approach anyway.

    Really, the point of this insanely long comment is to say thank you Katie for writing this.

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