Ranting McRanty Pants; or, Why Joel Stein Can Kiss My Ass

Today’s planned post has been put on hold in favor of venting. Regularly scheduled programming resumes Sunday.

For those of you who don’t spend an ungodly amount of time on Twitter and thus don’t immediately catch wind of things like this, today comedy writer Joel Stein published an article in the New York Times called “Adults Should Read Adult Books.” Go read it right now. It is not very long. You will be back in no time, I promise.

Have you read it? Yes? Good. Now let me tell you why everything it says is wrong and Joel Stein is an irresponsible asshole. I’m going to take it one point at a time and be as brief as I can, but no promises. I could write an entire blog post about each one.

1. You are never too old to read anything.

The main point of this article was, of course, that adults shouldn’t read things not written for adults. He fails to give any reason, though, other than “act your age!” which is a stupid reason to do anything. Don’t act your age. Act your self. The rest will follow.

Age is not what matters when it comes to reading. Reading comprehension is the only thing that matters. If you can understand what the words on the page are saying to you, it is fair game. Period.

One of the most rewarding experiences a person can have is re-reading a book read as a child and seeing the nuanced differences in understanding that come with growth through the years. If you have never re-read a childhood favorite, I am sad for you.

2. Being written for an adult does not make a book valuable.

Yes, there is a lot of crap young adult fiction out there. Guess what? There is equally as much if not more crap adult fiction. Take a look through the NYT bestsellers if you don’t believe me (coughGirlWithTheDragonTattoocough.) Target demographic does not determine the worth of a book; actual writing determines its worth.

By the same token, being written for a child does not make a book trivial. If you had actually read the Hunger Games, Mr. Stein, you would see how mind-bogglingly stupid your description of it as a book about “games you play when you’re hungry” is, although I suspect you only went with that ill-advised attempt at humor because you couldn’t find a way to make “child slaughter” sound frivolous.

Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein are children’s authors, yet I would argue that a single work by either of them is more valuable than the complete anthologies of Mr. Nicolas Sparks. I dare you to prove me wrong.

3. Limiting yourself to books intended for your demographic is horrifically stunting to your growth as a human being.

Do you know what the best way to become an ideologue is? Read only things specifically directed at your demographic, whether it’s a religion, a political view, a class, a profession, a gender, or an age. The whole point of reading is to experience things beyond your own life. If you are an adult and you only read things intended for adults, you will quickly become disconnected with what kids are like (replace “adult” and “kids” with the opposing groups of your choosing). Read things that aren’t meant for you. It’s the best way to learn. And on a related note…

4. Girls like to read good books, too.

This is probably an unfair assessment, but I’m mad so I’m going to make it anyway: Mr. Stein, do you also think that only women should read chick lit? That does seem to follow from your logic. Perhaps you even think that women should read only chick lit, since it is the genre aimed at them, and leave the rest to the boys? I’m having trouble understanding why “tween girls” are the ones reading all this frivolous fiction. Why girls? Why not kids? Or just tweens, if you insist on insulting the young? Because middle school me would love to kick your ass on that one, if she weren’t too busy reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.

5. Books are for learning; movies are for entertainment; never the two shall meet…? I call bullocks.

Books are entertainment. Pure and simple. They are, first and foremost, designed to entertain and delight (except, like, manuals and such, but let’s just stick with narratives here). The fact that they also, often, educate is a reflection of the fact that humans are inherently complex beings who desire depth and meaning in their stories. It is not a reflection of the form.

Similarly, the fact that many movies that come out have little or no educational value does not mean that movies (or video games, since he took a shot at those, too) are inherently uneducational. You can learn a lot from a well-crafted movie. Hell, you can learn a lot from a poorly crafted movie. If you aren’t learning things from movies, the problem is not the movies. It’s you.

Medium is not inherently tied to value or purpose. Video games, movies, and comics can all teach profound lessons about what it means to be human, and books can be utterly entertaining without any deeper value. Pay attention.

6. Trololololol.

Yes, I realize that Mr. Stein is a comedy writer, and this piece is probably intended as satire. I don’t care. It may be a joke, but it isn’t funny. He is espousing opinions that lots of people legitimately hold, and by not clearly labeling the piece as satire, he is condoning those opinions. People will feel ashamed for reading young adult novels because of this article. They will stop reading them. That is a terrible, terrible thing, especially in a time when people are so wedded to the immediacy of film and television that getting them to read anything is a miracle in and of itself.

It is irresponsible and downright dickish to write such a piece, and I’m more than a little bit upset that the New York freaking Times thought it worthy of publication. Mr. Stein, you should be ashamed of yourself. Now go to your room.

Irately yours,
M.M. Jordahl

“A child becomes an adult when he realizes that he has a right not only to be right but also to be wrong.” -Thomas Szasz

pg. 27 of Focault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

P.S. For more ranting on the subject by someone much more intelligent than Mr. Stein, check out Miss Emily’s post over on myrioddity.

8 thoughts on “Ranting McRanty Pants; or, Why Joel Stein Can Kiss My Ass”

  1. If it’s any consolation, almost nobody seems to agree with him–out of dozens of comments I’ve read on the page you linked, only three have expressed any support, and they were clearly already dickheads.

    One of them said something along the lines of “Give me [laundry list of Famous Literary Authors] any day!” Included in this list: Shakespeare, Xenophon, and Umberto Eco. What do these three have in common? Jack shit. All three wrote in different languages, different times, and different genres–for different audiences!

    1. They have in common being Serious Authors Who Write Serious Things For Serious People, I guess? Although what little Eco I’ve read so far hasn’t actually been all that serious…it’s kind of silly, actually….

      1. Eco is really silly! He gets a bit inaccessible at times not because he isn’t silly, but because his silliness wanders into very erudite territory. “Semiotics, roflmao!”

    2. Also, there is nothing Serious about Shakespeare. The dude was basically writing the sitcoms of his era. Popular fiction. That’s all he was. XD

  2. I totally agree. I hope Stein is being satirical. I can’t imagine being enough an imbecile to sit down and write about how people shouldn’t read something, without first reading it yourself. And, also, who tells people not to read anything? I can’t imagine I’d ever respect someone for reading Harlequin romances, but they’re reading, and I can’t ever consider that a bad thing. Anyway, reading Harry Potter led me to reading other things, from Jane Austen to Nabokov to A.S. Byatt. I remember having an argument in the 7th grade with a girl who was reading Tom Clancy and told me I shouldn’t read kid books anymore. She proceeded to tell me how her book started with a bunch of violence and sex, and was therefore ‘adult’. I’ll Pass. YA books don’t have to be childish, just like adult books aren’t necessarily better because they are more serious. A lot of ‘classics’ are books that center around YA-age protagonists, from Tom Sawyer to Scout Finch. They’re infinitely better than ‘adult’ books like the Stieg Larrson trilogy or Danielle Steel or something.

    1. Great point about Tom Sawyer and To Kill a Mockingbird–or freaking Huckleberry Finn, one of the greatest American classics. XD Heck, Romeo and Juliet stars teenagers, as do a number of Shakespeare’s other plays (though that is at least partially an artifact of the era in which they were written, Juliet was still 13 freaking years old, and that makes her a teenager in my book).

      I also think it’s kind of sad that people are starting to equate sex and violence with maturity and, therefore, value in fiction. There’s a place for sex and violence in media, of course, but it shouldn’t be the point. If it’s essential to the theme/plot, include it. If it isn’t, why the hell is it there? Rawr.

      I like to think of YA fiction as, like, “gateway fiction.” You start with school-age wizards, then before you know it you’re reading the really “hard stuff” like Vonnegut and Orwell. XD Reading addictions for everyone! Yay!

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