Do adults not want to read about other adults anymore?

Warning: Potentially unpopular opinions to follow.

My entire life, I’ve most preferred to write about young people. Even when my characters age into adulthood, I still see them in my mind’s eye as they were in their younger years. With the exception of parents, I only wrote about people around my age until I was in my mid-teens. In fact, my Atlantic City characters were written pretty unrealistically as adults until I was an adult myself! I had such little experience with writing about realistic adults, they inevitably felt like overgrown adolescents playing at being grownups.

I’ve honestly never had any problem with adults reading books intended for a younger readership. If you’re writing about young people, it stands to reason that you need to be familiar with the category. That was actually what helped me to realize I (mostly) really write adult literature that just happens to have young protagonists, instead of books that would be considered YA or MG by most folks nowadays.

If you write a book review blog that focuses on YA, MG, or children’s lit, it also stands to reason you’ll be reading a lot of that. And many books written for younger audiences are so well-written they transcend age-based categories. If a book is really good, we can enjoy and relate to it in different ways at different ages.

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However, I’ve become increasingly off-put by this undeniable trend of adults now exclusively, or nearly exclusively, reading YA and sometimes MG. I’ve seen many people, YA writers or not, outright admitting that’s all they read, and that they don’t read adult books.

Many times, a trend is so pervasive someone isn’t aware of taking part in it because of social contagion. Take, for example, the explosion in first-person present tense and alternating narrators/POV characters. Of course I don’t think everyone doing that is deliberately, mindlessly following a trend. But when you’ve seen so many examples, it does start to influence you. A lot of younger writers admit they think past tense and third person are stuffy, boring, and outdated, or don’t think books can still be written that way!

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Of the YA published within the last 10 years or so, I most enjoy graphic novels and novels in verse. I also love contemporaries with a gritty, urban setting, like the late great Walter Dean Myers’s books. I’ve been sadly disappointed in a lot of the YA historicals published in the U.S., and really didn’t click at all with any of the other genres I had to read for my YA Lit class.

I’ve revisited a number of books I loved when I was younger, and many times was left wondering why I ever loved them so much. Maybe it was because I now read more as a writer than a reader, but it’s also due in part to how those books are written for a younger audience. Adults want different things out of a story than children, preteens, or teens.

So, yes, I do find it kind of weird and creepy how adult women are openly swooning over fictional teenage boys, announcing crushes on them, feeling fluttery over their kissing scenes, and declaring themselves Team So-and-So for books with love triangles.

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I’m an adult, and never had the type of high school experience often depicted in YA contemporaries. I never dated or went to parties and dances, and didn’t want to. I barely even went out socially with my peers, also by choice. And forget taking part in current pop culture!

How can you relate more to a bunch of high school kids when you’re in your thirties? Don’t you want to read about other adults, with adult concerns, in a writing style meant for adults? There’s certainly a valid time and place for those kinds of stories, just as not all adult literature is going to be Crime and Punishment or Don Quixote. However, we all need a balanced diet, and too much of any one thing isn’t good for us.

I’ve also seen a lot of adults who start talking like characters in YA contemporaries. It’s really embarrassing to hear a thirtysomething soccer mom regularly saying, e.g., “All the things!” “All the feels!” “All the whatevers!” Their real-life writing style is often indistinguishable from that of an actual teenager!

This feels like deliberate cognitive stunting, avoiding engaging with writing intended for adults. Having a favorite or preferred genre (books, movies, music, artwork) doesn’t mean you should exclusively consume it. It makes us better-rounded when we sample from other buffets.

Top Ten Tuesday—All About Romance Tropes/Types

Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s topic is All About Romance Tropes/Types. I decided to split the list, with half the items being tropes and types I hate, and the other half being the antidote I love to see in their places.

Hate:

1. Instalove. Enough said!

2. Awesome, perfect, amazing first-time sex, whether it’s the first time for both parties or only one of them. Of course it can happen, but not nearly as often as the romance industry wants to lead us to believe.

3. The man ALWAYS being older in an M/F romance, esp. when the female lead is barely legal. Can we please have some more realistic, appropriate age differences, or at least a thoughtful exploration of the dynamic an age difference can create?

4. Rape and domestic violence (NOT to be confused with consensual BDSM!) being presented as romantic, swoon-worthy, excusable. When a female character in a romance has had a tragic past including rape or domestic abuse, it should have an original angle, and not dominate her entire life or storyline. I’m far from the only person who hates the “rape as character development” trope seen in so many movies, TV shows, and books!

5. The headless, hairless bare chest on the cover. It’s even worse if this kind of cover also includes a crotch shot.

Love:

1. A couple who’s been friends for a long time before becoming lovers, childhood sweethearts, or a couple who’s already together when the book begins. This kind of road to happily ever after, or happily for now, is so much more interesting and realistic than instalove.

2. Realistic, awkward, fumbled first-time sex. I can see an awesome first-time scene if one of the parties is already rather experienced, and the virginal partner is very emotionally ready and open to being a student, but even in that kind of instance, it’s still the couple’s first time together. What worked with previous partners might not work with the new lover, and there’s a whole new dynamic if this is the experienced lover’s first time with someone s/he loves instead of a purely physical act.

3. Couples where the woman is older. As a proud puma (woman in her thirties who likes younger men), formerly a bobcat (woman in her twenties who fancies younger guys), three years away from officially being labelled a cougar, I really love seeing these kinds of match-ups. Sometimes an older woman is just what a younger, inexperienced guy needs to get his head screwed on straight and gain valuable life experience.

4. Healthy, mutually respectful relationships, including sexual negotiation and moving at a speed comfortable to both parties. It’s really sweet when someone asks permission for a first kiss, and it makes for a better sexual relationship when the couple discusses and agrees upon things in advance, while their clothes are on. If someone, e.g., has a certain fetish or doesn’t like certain things, the heat of the moment isn’t the best time to first bring it up!

5. A cover featuring the couple but with interesting details to set it apart from other romance covers. For example, a richly embellished purple ballgown, a guy with an attention-grabbing shirt, a foreboding background.

Top Ten Favourite Graphic Novels

Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s topic is Top Ten Favourite Graphic Novels/Comics. I haven’t participated in this for a really long time!

In no special order:

1 and 2. The two Persepolis books, by Marjane Satrapi. The Story of a Childhood is set from 1980–84, and The Story of a Return is set from 1984–94. The first book is about life in Iran after Khomeini’s takeover and during the disastrous Iran–Iraq War, and the second book covers Marji’s four years at a French-language school in Vienna and her return to Tehran. I chose the first one as my graphic novel for my YA Lit class because of my warm memories of my family’s Iranian friends when I was growing up, and couldn’t not read the sequel. So many people don’t realise Iran was a very modern, secular, Westernised country until 1979.

3. Anya’s Ghost, by Vera Brosgol. I chose this as my paranormal book for my YA Lit class. I never got into the whole paranormal trend, and really liked that the book has more of a paranormal element. I also adore a good ghost story, and the fact that Anya is a Russian immigrant. It’s a lot easier for me to relate to a contemporary character when she’s more like I was as a teen, instead of a popular kid with lots of friends and a dating life.

4. Skim, written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki (who are cousins). I chose this as my gay and lesbian book for my YA Lit class. This is also what would be called contemporary historical fiction, being set in the Nineties. Having been a teen in that decade, I understood so many of the references and the whole experience of having been an adolescent in those years. This isn’t an overt story of lesbian love, but rather a girl who has a crush on one of her teachers and is exploring her potential orientation.

5. Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, by Brian Fies. This is the story of a father and son who go to the World’s Fair in 1939 and go through the ensuing decades, with all their changes. They’re in a timewarp, and so don’t age till near the end. I loved all the depictions of bygone technology, events, and innovations.

6. The Arrival, by Shaun Tan. I love how this story of an immigrant to the U.S. is told without any words. If a story is well-told, no words are needed to understand. It’s kind of like F.W. Murnau’s film The Last Laugh (1924), which is bookended by intertitles but told only through pantomime acting.

7. Mendel’s Daughter, by Martin Lemelman. I found this on one of my rabbi and rebbetzin’s downstairs bookshelves one long Shabbos afternoon, and was very impressed by it. It’s the story of the author’s mother, Gusta, and her childhood in 1930s and 1940s Poland. Her family lived in a part of Poland which is now Ukraine, and thus was occupied by the Soviets before the Nazis came. Gusta and her surviving siblings hid in bunkers in the woods for two years.

8 and 9. Boxers and Saints, by Gene Luen Yang. This tells the story of both sides of the Boxer Rebellion and the years leading up to it. In the end of each book, the protagonists meet. I most enjoyed Boxers, and really understood where the Chinese were coming from. The companion, Saints, was a bit less interesting, with a less engaging protagonist. Her reasons for converting to Christianity were really shallow and insincere, and she didn’t grow much over the course of the story. Overall, I’d love to see more Chinese historicals, beyond certain overrated best-sellers of recent years.

10. A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return, by Zeina Abirached. This tells the story of a day and a night during Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s, when Beirut was divided into Muslim and Christian zones. Zeina and her little brother aren’t allowed to venture outside, so their apartment has become their entire universe. During this night and day, their parents are trapped on the other side of the city.

How to break all the rules and create a longtime international best-seller!

So many agents, editors, publishers, fellow writers, and readers swear by certain lists of rules for creating a successful book. Don’t you dare creep above 100,000 words unless you’re Stephen King, stick to one protagonist, never depart from past tense, don’t kill off important characters, don’t use a nonlinear narrative, strictly obey all the rules until you’re making millions of dollars, do this, don’t do that.

But there’s a certain longtime international best-seller which breaks a lot of those rules, and many people don’t seem to mind. See if you can guess from the clues. Since I couldn’t figure out how to create an HTML spoiler hide/reveal, I made the text of the answer a color that blends into the background and is only visible when highlighted.

1. It uses first-person, second-person, and third-person narration!

2. It uses all the major tenses.

3. Wordcount varies by translation, but the average is around 775K.

4. Many sections recount dialogues or events the reader is well aware of.

5. Some events are depicted more than once, in different ways.

6. It doesn’t have one clear genre.

7. Some of it is straight narration, while other parts are poetry and songs.

8. Several back-to-back parts narrate essentially the same events, with the same protagonist.

9. The true authorship has long been disputed, and no author is credited.

10. The narrative follows a nonlinear track more than a few times.

11. A number of characters are depicted as having unrealistic lifespans.

12. Many modern historians and archaeologists doubt the veracity or timelines of some of the historical events and people depicted.

13. There are a lot of violent scenes.

14. Many parts don’t thematically lead into one another, but introduce entirely new characters and storylines.

15. The story doesn’t stay with the same characters or family for the entire narrative.

16. Sometimes there’s more telling than showing.

17. The bat is referred to as a bird at one point.

18. The endings of both Parts I and II may seem a bit in media res, instead of with a fuller sense of closure and having reached the end of the journey.

19. There’s a lot of name-dropping of characters who never appear as more than names in a laundry list.

20. One section repeats the same paragraph over and over again, with the only slight difference being the name of the person who’s doing this action.

Highlight the text below for the answer!

The Bible

Did you guess correctly? Is there anything you’d add to the list of literary rules this book has broken and succeeded in spite of? Can you think of any other popular classics which break a lot of so-called rules?

Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage

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I read this fascinating book in 2010, after seeing it recommended on the now-deleted Television Without Pity forums. I wanted to try to understand why so many poor girls and women have such a different outlook on childbearing and marriage than I do.

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Having kids is the one thing a poor girl can be good at and look forward to. It motivates them to tone down a wild lifestyle and want to do better for themselves. Sadly, the odds are stacked against going to college or getting a good job. There’s also the attitude “Don’t get above your raising.”

Many used birth control, but then stopped, got more sporadic, or gave in to a partner who didn’t want to use condoms. A lot of these children were neither accidents nor planned, but somewhere in between.

Youth is considered the best time to have kids, since there might not be another chance. Men worth marrying don’t often come along until they’re much older.

Whereas having a baby as a teenager would’ve ruined my life, these mothers usually believe they got pregnant “only” a year or two before they were ready. They can’t fathom why so many bourgeois women wait until their thirties or forties.

Marriage is an adult activity, something you do when you’re more mature and settled, with a man who’s proven his worth over at least 5–6 years. The guys they deem good enough to procreate with aren’t always deemed marriage material.

It’s contradictory to view marriage as a bigger step than bringing multiple children into the world. Cohabiting for years and doing everything married people do is also marriage in all but name.

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Many courtships proceed at lightning speed, with men saying they want to have a baby after a handful of dates. Many mothers get pregnant within a few months, when they barely know one another.

A lot of these couplings disturbed me because they involved teen girls and legal adult men, or other inappropriate age differences (e.g., 13 and 17). An older dude hitting on me as a teen would’ve given me the creeps instead of making me swoon, “Ooh, he’s older and he likes me, I must be soo mature!”

That’s how teen girls get taken advantage of, older dudes pretending they love them and think they’re so beautiful and special, just to get them into bed. I tend not to have age differences of more than a few years in my characters’ relationships until it’s leveled out (e.g., 41 and 51, 23 and 28).

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When this fantasy pregnancy and baby become reality, men often deny paternity or jump ship. Often there’s a brief reconciliation after the birth, but these relationships typically don’t last. It’s not humiliating or embarrassing to get pregnant out of wedlock and to have all of their kids very young, because almost everyone does it in their communities.

They by and large reject abortion and adoption, even though that would greatly improve their chances of getting an education, finding a good job, and moving out of the slums. Adoption is seen as “giving away your own flesh and blood” instead of a selfless act of giving your baby the chance at a better life.

They take the attitude “If you’re gonna have sex, accept the responsibility,” though I consider it far more responsible to take birth control religiously. However, the bourgeoisie also have divorced marriage from these adult activities. Gone are the days of the shotgun wedding and needing to be married to be a respectable part of the community. People who cohabit and have kids out of wedlock are no longer social pariahs.

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The authors don’t have any definitive solutions, but they posit some ideas. If these guys had help with job training and education, these women would have better partners to pick from, instead of feeling they have no choice but to wait until their thirties and have already had three children.

They all need economic help and more resources put into their schools and local job markets. Relationship training would also help, so these girls wouldn’t be so quick to hop into bed with guys they barely know. They’d correctly understand “I wanna have a baby by you” is a pickup line or a goofy sentiment so early in a relationship, when they haven’t even discussed marriage yet.

With all these changes, they might start to value their futures and respect themselves enough to postpone sexual activity and childbearing until they’re in a position to support a family, and mature enough to handle adult relationships.