I think I was sixteen before I dared to venture into the teen section of the bookstore, which was always full of vampires and suicide and other unpleasant things. I’m twenty four now, and I haven’t made my way onto the adult shelves yet.
I don’t particularly want to.
It’s not like I’ve never read books meant for adults. I’ve done all the classics, read books people recommended, grabbed interesting things off display shelves, all of that. I’ve read plenty of adult fiction, and some of it has been good. Maybe a lot of it. But there’s one overarching problem that keeps me from moving on to the next section of the library.
Categories of contemporary fiction can basically be described as: children’s fiction, teen fiction, commercial fiction, and literary fiction.
Notice how I’ve divided the adult fiction into two distinct parts. And you all know what I mean. You’ve got your cheap paperbacks, which are sometimes good, but more often low enough quality that you can tell more time and money went into marketing and overproduction than into actual writing. And then you’ve got your “future classics,” which are all high-quality books full of metaphors and flowery language and a lot of Literary Significance, which ultimately tend to be about professors cheating on their wives, blonde girls dying, etc.
I don’t want to walk into a bookstore, examine my options, and make a choice between literary and commercial, because they both kind of suck. I may have spent a significant portion of my life studying literature, but mostly what I’ve learned from that is that while literature is good, capital-L-Literature is more a way for middle aged white guys to feel good about themselves than anything else. And commercial fiction can be a lot of fun, and sometimes it’s really good, but sometimes I want something with more substance, you know? And literary fiction only really provides “substance.”
There aren’t really rules for young adult fiction. Or maybe the rules are just opposite from the ones you get in adult fiction—you have to have both. Because kids aren’t about to put up with all that fancy, literary crap, Actual entertainment is mandatory. Sure, I find the occasional crappy commercial book in the YA section of the library, but you never get straight up I-Wrote-This-So-High-Schoolers-Would-Be-Forced-to-Read-It-in-50-Years Crap, and most of the cool stuff has actual meaning, too.
So if eternally reading about teenagers is the price I have to pay for a combination of fun and substance, well, you know where to find me.