Friday, December 12, 2008

You're giving me a language complex

The things you learn from the Washington Post! In today's Short Stack, written by Dennis Drabelle, I learned that one "graduates" from children's and YA literature to adult novels. No, really! Take a look at the article's introductory paragraph, which I've snipped here:

There comes a time in every reader's life when he or she graduates from kids books and young-adult titles to nonfiction with no holds barred and fiction that draws on the full resources of the language in portraying complex human relationships... The switchover doesn't happen all at once, of course, but there must have been a night when kid lit provided all the thrills and fascination I could handle, followed by a dawn when it seemed blah.

The author then goes on to give us a list of "grownup" books he read around the age of 14. It makes me wonder a few things, the least of which is, "Is this article written for the purpose of being a competitive reader?" You all know competitive readers: "I read The Iliad when I was eight!" "My son/daughter/cousin/neighbor's kid read Harry Potter at 3 and they're his favorite books ever!" I am in no way saying Mr. Drabelle didn't really read or enjoy these books; I am just one of those cynical people. I'm dying to know how old he is and what books were around when he was a teen. I'm also dying to know if anyone guided him to YA lit when he was in its target age range.

He asks at the end of the article for readers to chime in on the books that transformed them into grownup readers. I wonder, then, if those of us adults who read and love YA are not considered "adult" readers.

I think what really annoys me the most is his statement about the "full usage of the language to portray complex human relationships." I have two words for you, Mr. Drabelle: Charlotte's Web. Sure, one could argue that E.B. White didn't use all the words he knew, or strive to write the way Faulkner or Morrison would. It's a disservice to books, however, to say that those that don't use the most adult of adult language and lots of fifty-cent words don't use it fully. The great thing about language is that there are many, many ways to use it. White showed us in Charlotte's Web that complex human (or pig and spider, as the case may be) relationships can and are portrayed in books that don't use the language fully by Mr. Drabelle's standards. Thinking about it, doesn't every book use language fully? Doesn't Ramona and her Father use language as fully as The Great Gatsby? The books fulfill different reader needs and purposes, absolutely, but to say that one is less "full" than the other seems a little silly to me.

I don't think readers should read only children's and YA books all their lives. I certainly enjoyed my fair share of adult books when I was a teen and I expect that most of you reading this did as well. I do think, however, that children's and YA literature is not to be dismissed by any reader, especially those who think enough of their own maturity to call themselves grownups.

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