Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Adults Should Read Adult Books"; a brief response to Joel Stein

I recently read this post. Here is the link:

NY Times/ Joel Stein

In essence, Joel is writing that adults should -- well -- only read adult books.

This is problematic for several reasons.

1) He never defines what constitutes an adult book. He misses the simple fact that adults can write books for children and explore complex themes within them. Read George MacDonald. He wrote about universalism, theodicy and suffering within fantasy. And often for children. See C.S. Lewis as well.

2) I agree with him about Twilight, but I could care less if an adult (which he makes out to be a man in order to humiliate -- I wonder if Joel would have the same response if an adult woman was seen reading Twilight) reads a book. Freedom entails people are allowed to read whatever they please. This includes Joel's column.

3) The issue is, Joel essentially dismisses all literature he deems as "non-adult" and sweeps them under the rug without first having done his own research. For all he knows, these books tackle appropriate themes and issues of identity. About how they do so and to what degree they are effective is an entirely different argument. Joel is begging the question.

4) I think much of Joel's response is a reaction against a personal preference, and he extrapolates this above into something larger. This is where personal preference comes in, and frankly, I'm not convinced Joel is thinking outside the bounds of his own little box. Which is what reading adult books ought to teach.

Except children's books can very easily teach tolerance and kindness.

5) Joel also misses another simple fact: teachers often require students to go out and see movies. And, since Mass Effect 3 is just out and reads like a novel in of itself, again I think Joel is simply reacting against something he doesn't like in a childish way.

This is not a call for Joel to read The Hunger Games. Frankly, I could care less if he does at this point. However, I do think Joel is not only condescending but also grossly misinformed. A reflective man would realize that there are different modes of communication and expression within art and this can easily be reflected in books for children or young adults. I see no reason why an adult can't enjoy a book for young adults.

I don't like Twilight, because I think it was poorly written, illogical and a prime example of boy-idolatry. That said, I'm glad I read it because now I have an informed opinion about it and can confidently articulate my thoughts.

Joel has not read it, and since he has not read it, I think quoting Christopher Hitchens is enough:
"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."
I think Joel's piece on this matter fits in perfectly with Hitchen's paradigm.



  1. Hear hear! I'm going to paste a direct quote from someone else's Facebook comment because he summed up perfectly exactly what I felt about Joel Stein's article: "I suppose he will read books for men because he's a male and books for Americans because he's an American and books for snobs because he's a snob. Shallow, narrow-minded? You bet." Joel's automatically dismissing books that he prejudges as not significant. It's his prerogative if he doesn't want to read "non-adult" books, but it's a shame because he's missing out on some poignant stuff.

  2. Thanks!

    I think he wrote this to ruffle some feathers. ;)