I’m a bit disillusioned with the literary industry nowadays. It seems like most of the books that are being published are focused on making money and ONLY that. Granted, I know it’s an industry and I know that publishers have to make money in order for the business to work out for them, but writing books is not ONLY an industry, it’s also an art.
Not so long ago in time, writers—the really good ones—spent their days thinking up unique, highly personalized and complex ideas and translating them into beautiful words and story-telling. I’m talking about writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Tolstoy and the like. Literature was something that nurtured your mind as well as your spirit, and a single book could teach you so many things about yourself and the world, and besides this, it could also make you yearn for something—dare I say it?—that was greater than yourself.
But then things changed. And it’s not as simple as saying all literary novels are good and all commercial novels are bad, and that the explosion in the sales of commercial novels ruined literature for everyone. No. Commercial or genre writing does not automatically equate with bad writing. Really good commercial books also have the ability to make the reader connect with higher realities. They introduce the reader to alternate settings where the human condition is tested against extremely stark circumstances. Genres like fantasy, science fiction or dystopia serve to externalize many of the deep, multi-layered and complex nuances, fears, and virtues of the human soul.
Much like literary fiction done well, commercial fiction—when done well—serves to connect the reader with the essence of their own humanity, only that it uses much more inventive, fantastical and elaborate settings and plot (circumstances) than the real world. So no, commercial books did not ruin literature. What is ruining literature is what I like to call… FAST FICTION.
Much like its predecessors—fast food and fast fashion—fast fiction has one objective, and one objective only: To keep the consumer buying, using and consuming at an alarmingly fast rate. Fast food, for example, is the quickest and simplest option for anyone on the run, and as such it could be described as a highly consumable commodity. On the other hand, when it comes to fast fashion, many stores are focused on putting out new clothes every week, and these clothes are not made with the best material, so it forces shoppers to keep buying and discarding new clothes on a monthly basis (instead of doing it like the French women who buy clothes made with really good material that last them years and mixing their look up with bags, shoes and accessories, but I digress).
Like these two industry practices, fast fiction in the same way puts out highly consumable fiction in the form of books that are entertaining although not very deep. Books that can be read once and then discarded or stowed away in a library to gather dust. Books that the reader quickly replaces with the next book that has a shiny cover and a mildly enticing back cover blurb. Much like candy, these books taste good, but are not nutritious for the mind or soul. They can make you feel, but these feelings are hardly transcendent. And because publishers know what sells quickly, many of these books share much of the same tropes.
And really there is no other category that exemplifies this practice as much as YA (young adult). On a personal note, I confess I used to be a reader of YA… when I was a teenager. I even read some YA in my early twenties. And then it got stale. I couldn’t relate to the naïveté of the characters any longer (really I could hardly relate to it when I was a teen). The tropes were just much too repetitive and the stories got increasingly worse in quality as the years went by. Even as a teen I read adult literature (and preferred it), so it wasn’t a big tragedy when I finally decided I wanted to stick with adult.
I understand that adults want to feel normal when reading YA and have started this whole campaign stating that it’s okay to read YA even though you’re well into your late twenties or beyond, but in my point of view this is exactly one of the things that is killing literature. Readers that stick with this age category past their ‘due date’ are giving the signal to publishing houses to keep putting out these superficial and in some cases very badly written stories.
Not all YA is cut from the same cloth, but if we’re being honest, 98% of the YA books that are being published will not stand the test of time. They will fade into the background and the forgotten annals of history. They will not become the next Lord of the Rings, or the next Chronicles of Narnia, or the next Harry Potter (which is an outlier in this category). People will forget about them because there was nothing in the first place that made these books stand out when compared with actual, complex literature, other than the emotional rush they may have afforded readers, which is quickly replaced by the next book that can offer this same rush.
People will forget about the love triangles and the teenage angst. But have people forgotten about books like Anna Karenina or Wuthering Heights? These are works of art that stand the test of time. I dare you to name one YA book published recently that you think will have this same long-lasting effect way into the future. I personally can think of none.
And so YA is now the category that is crowding the whole market (much to this reader’s annoyance) by publishing book after book of fast fiction, with the percentage of books that actually have some form of artistry behind them becoming smaller by the minute. All because Children’s Literature is now put on a pedestal, and, you know, it’s okay to read YA.
The reason for this is that for the majority of readers, Children’s Literature is what they like to read because, mostly, it’s easy. It’s what they can assimilate. But this is hardly nourishment for the mind. Like I mentioned before, fast fiction is candy-literature… but candy is not good for the body, and fast fiction is not good for the mind. And most fast fiction can sadly be found in the YA age category.
In the worst cases, it frustrates me to see adults fawning over Lola liking Jake because Jake is so dreamy. It’s embarrassing for me to see adult women swooning over 16-year old characters, or getting so emotionally invested in some dumb love triangle and in the emotional upheavals and downturns of teenagers. We should be past all that. Or at least, there shouldn’t be so much of it. But this is only one reader’s opinion. You may feel differently about YA, and that’s okay. If you do, I urge you to study the reasons why you like it so much. Give it a good once over.
I yearn for a change in the industry. I want to see the adult category (and all of its genres) growing again. I yearn for more mature content in books, content that—when properly digested—helps the reader grow both personally and intellectually. Content that challenges the reader. The adult category needs some love, too. And publishers will only start paying it more attention when the readers start demanding more quality fiction in this area. And that can only be done by a change in our reading habits, and by breaking the dependency on fast fiction that has swept the industry so forcefully during these past few years.