Dear YA, I am sadly done reading you.
But you knew this already. I haven’t been reading you for over a year or so. The readers of this blog might also know, because I’ve been going on and on about this…. for over a year or so. A year or so can change a lot, you’ll see.
Reader, I am exhausting.
Reader, I also happen to want to write one last post before I fall off this planet entirely. And it feels like I only have enough in the well of pixie dust and words for this one. This is a culmination of words gathering for over a year and and a half now.
So, dear reader and dear YA, hear my farewell out.
As strawberry jam
I cannot say goodbye without acknowledging the good times you and I have had, YA.
I started reading (generally) in 3rd grade (only 8 years old), and I’ve started reading YA in 6th (at 12). That year I devoured well over 100 books. One summer month I read no less than 17 (The Mortal Instruments, The Lunar Chronicles kept me company).
This is how I grew up with diversity in the media I consumed. There is no way I can adequately even begin to explain HOW IMPORTANT this was for me to see as a young blood. It thought me values that I hold dear to this day. Reading about gay characters, POC, and outcasts in Percy Jackson and the Olympians made me a better person. Reading made me a better person.
YA helped me grow up.
Now I would have other standards for the books I read than I would have had, had I not read YA to begin with. The lack of characters of colour or LGBTQ+ people in the books is the first thing I notice. It is a hole that I seek to fill. My eyes subconsciously seek diversity because it is what I grew up reading.
I’m grateful that my eyes know there is a hole to begin with. That literature can be, and often is, incomplete.
Thank you for that YA.
Our good times were sweet. Now, as readers like me grow up, they will demand diversity in other genres as well. Diversity is spreading in the publishing world and it’s been trickling from YA towards all parts of the industry. Leave no book untouched by it.
Books have thought me words are power.
But this is a farewell, so it cannot all be sweet as strawberry jam.
The Ya Community TM
Disclaimer: this part is pure subjectivity.
There’s a lot of good thins to be said about the YA community online. I joined this community 5 years ago, more or less, as an introverted nerd that needed escapism.
The problem with the YA community is that it behaves much like a group of introverted nerds, who need escapism, sitting down in an echo chamber.
Because well, that’s what it IS, essentially.
People who read YA started reading it in their early teens, at the time when comfort was needed and escapism delivered it. It’s hard to let go of that as you grow up. The same way some will always turn to re-watching their favourite animated movies when they are sad, people will always turn to a YA book because they loved YA.
But having people who want to escape build a community means that community is an escape, in itself.
It is a remote island from which few leave because, well. It’s comfortable.
I started reading YA because I liked it, I told myself.
I started reading YA because I finally found a community I could belong to, not like those real life bullshit classrooms full of mean bigoted kids, is actually closer to what was happening.
But after 5 years I found out a thing or two.
Just reading the same books as your social groups on social media to tick the daily box of approval, to feel like you are keeping up with this community, is an unwinnable marathon.
This sounds vague and general so I’ll bring it back, closer to myself, though I would like that statement to sink in as is, outside personal experience and the singural pronoun.
For me, reading YA, looking back, has been more of a “eating what was being spoonfed” plus the rush I got from being in on the conversation happening in this specific room.
It tasted like acceptance. Because that’s what it is, essentially.
I would never take YA away from the people for whom it still means that, because their feelings are no less true, fair enough. YA is not less an escape, and The YA Community formed exactly around that idea with exactly those principles at its core.
But truthfully, I’ve never really liked the books I was reading.
“Overly critical”, “grump” all are words I used to describe myself. You see, art is subjective and so I just have to bear with it all, so is the curse of being a critical reader – you don’t enjoy over half the things you are reading. The books I was reading weren’t bad, it was I who was so critical.
It never crossed my mind to try to read anything else that might work for me because, well…. everyone was dissing classics before their hands even touched them. Some kind of allergy. And so, I couldn’t possibly want these kinds of books… right?
Literature, contrary to what this community would have you believe, does not exist in a vacuum. Literature, and art as a whole, is more like a conversation.
A conversation that has been happening for far longer outside of social media.
If you find that you don’t like most books you read, stop. Don’t make that your personality trait. Don’t treat it as a virtue. It’s simply not working for you. Try something else.
Giving books only 5 stars is not rare – you just have to change what you are reading and make sure you’ll enjoy every single book. Peeling off the “grump” label will prove harder than actually enjoying your reading life.
The Dumbness Myth
Hey you! Yes you. Reader.
You. Are. Not. Dumb.
A statement, I know. But I am telling you this because this is what I thought, as well. I was intimidated by any classics, any non-fiction, any and all adult books really. I barely knew a drop of English and, as a bilingual bean in training, anything above Harry Potter was, understandably enough, outside of my level.
But after a few years of reading YA I felt comfortable enough to at least try. And, to no one’s surprise but my own, I could actually understand words.
Sure, I struggled a whole month to read Mrs Dalloway. But when I finished it I felt actually accomplished. Which I hadn’t felt in over 5 years. I forgot reading a book could make you feel accomplished. And the next book I tried was even easier. 2 weeks. Then back to a few days. (I am a speedy reader, generally speaking.)
Soon enough I settled into a new rhythm, and what was previously “outside of the comfort zone *cough* another circle of hell” became known. Familiar.
So yes. You are not dumb. Classics are not all boring. Just be ready to suck at reading again for a while.
Be a bit more confident. If nobody told you this, I’m telling you know: You CAN read ANYTHING you want.
Do not shun classics.
Do not shun poetry.
Do not shun serious adult books.
Ultimately, do not put yourself down like this, do not underestimate your intelligence.
You have your wits about you, you won’t get bored or confused.
There are hundreds of thousands of infinite books out there, in the world just waiting to be read and discovered and enjoyed. Slotting yourself into reading YA only is doing yourself a huge disservice.
One last thing before I go
I only have one last thing to say before I go.
Dear authors or aspiring authors: You cannot produce great literature if you do not consume great literature.
This is a belief I hold near and dear to my heart.
I see the words ” you cannot write if you do not read” circulated as advice for wee fledgling writers. And it is true. You can’t be a writer if you are not a reader. Or, very few can.
You can’t be a writer if you are not touched by stories.
And for stories to stick they must cut deeply, and wedge themselves with iron hooks inside your reader heart.
How many YA contemporaries have you read with such sturdy claws? How many fantasy novels have you encountered that stuck? Most books I’ve read these past years were not even knives. Were not even iron. Were usually as sharp as lukewarm water.
No matter how many of these you read, none will make an impact.
Take it like this: reading levels are a ladder. One heavy book will make you struggle but after finishing it you’d have climbed fifty steps and you didn’t even notice, too busy struggling with dictionaries for complex words.
A book that is the reading level you’re comfortable with, will only get you one step. It is no bother at all. You needn’t glance up from it. You needn’t shift your worldview. You needn’t make any effort.
Of course you can read hundreds upon hundreds of these lukewarm books, and eventually that will help you climb a few steps on the ladder. But it will take you years of sitting in a comfort zone.
You will get farther if you read one powerful book than twenty flimsy ones.
Here is a secret: some of the most well acclaimed YA books have books they draw from. Most other YA books draw, wrongly, first and foremost from these popular ones. One cannot make a sketch of a sketch of an original piece of art and make it be a masterpiece, or, at least, think it just as vivid.
Which is why we cannot even begin to talk about nuance if the lines of the piece are so muddled.
If you want to write good books you must read good books. Moreover, you must go to the source yourself. You must experience it on your own, and draw your own opinions and conclusions. No one would write a Red Riding Hood retelling without first reading Red Riding Hood.
Your view on someone else’s view cannot be packaged and candidly sold as its own book, with pages that will not dissolve under the eyes of the readers.
And because I’m obsessive about inspiration, and all the bits that make a whole, here is a list of certain pieces behind the most well known series:
Cassandra Clare? Charles Dickens (in TDA) & the wold romantic poets (Poe, Wordsworth)
Maggie Stiefvater? Sir Thomas Malory (in the Raven Cycle), W. B. Yeats (just one of the many poets but damn Maggie deleted her Tumblr and now I cannot find any receipts for all I’m saying here) , a whole lot of “boring” non fiction texts predominantly dry history and latin ones (especially Cicero’s De Amicitia in The Dreamer Trilogy)
There are many, many others, lurking beneath the surface. Craft is craft. You must first respect it for it to be respectable.
And so I’ve reached the end of this letter and with it ultimately, an era of this blog. Or the Era. I don’t know where to head from here. It’s been a journey and I’ve fallen in love with reading and writing. This is, in a weird way, falling in love with it even more.
This is peeling back layers and falling in love with what is underneath as well.
I’ve said in my first few posts that I love reading so much because it’s the only thing I never seem to grow bored of. Probably I didn’t realise how true a statement that will prove to be.
Do not grow bored of reading.
Goodbye YA. Or better said, goodbye reading things that I didn’t really like. Hopefully I said everything I wanted to say, Sadly things on this topic always seem to escape me. Oh well, reader, you and I shall keep on living.
If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.— Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood