You Can’t Read That: Book Shaming and Nerd Culture

(photo credit)

What was the last book that you couldn’t put
down? Personally, I’m making my way through The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa
Meyer, and I haven’t been able to put them down. The books are fun re-imaginings
of fairy tales amidst political intrigue, plague, and the threat of war.
They’re also very much Young Adult (or YA) fiction.

If you’ve read the article by Ruth Graham that’s been making its way around the internet (or any of the billion
responses), you’ll know she thinks I should be ashamed
to read YA fiction. Graham disparages YA for its “pleasurable” reads, its
reliance on the teenage perspective, its frequently satisfying endings (where
has she been that she thinks this still happens?), and its ultimate failure to
be “literary.” As someone who is now in my late-twenties (shudder), I shouldn’t be entertained or entranced by anything
written from the perspective of a teenager.
Graham argues that I (alongside
teenagers and other literarily stunted adults) should aspire to more “grown-up”
reading. YA novels, in her perspective, are unable to teach us anything about
life. But let’s ignore the argument over whether YA is valuable, and instead
focus on the core of her argument: it is not worthwhile to read for any reason
other than the pursuit of sophistication. And, Graham asserts, YA fiction is
supremely unsophisticated.
Well, I say screw that. We have few enough individuals in
this country who read for pleasure anymore—and shaming people for the type of
book they choose to pick up isn’t helping the problem. There are thousands upon
thousands of legitimate reasons to read Young Adult fiction, but by far the
most important is this:
Because you want to.
So, in the spirit of fighting against this type of bigotry
and shaming, here is my list of YA books and series that you should definitely
pick up this summer! Some of these books share “deep” stories that rival many
of the adult fiction that Graham lauded, but some are definitely more fun romps
in sci-fi and fantasy. All, though, deserve a read!
Note: The lines of “Young Adult” literature are frequently
blurry, but all these books are usually, if not always, considered YA. 

(Superheroesque gets a small kickback if you purchase through this link. Thanks for your support!)

Do you have any YA recommendations? Leave them in the

The short version of this blog post basically enforces a
truth that I hold dear—different people like to nerd out over different things,
and it’s never brave or cool or responsible to condemn people for enjoying
things that you may not personally enjoy.
Let’s ignore the Slate author and
talk about ourselves for a moment. We’ve built this nerdy community, and within
it we should support each other and our passions. As Wil Wheaton said, “Being a
nerd not about what you love, it’s
about how you love it.” I won’t be shamed—you can’t take my books from me.

As a card-carrying member of the Justice League, honorary Star Fleet ensign, and a Ph.D student in political science, Amanda doesn’t have much spare time on her hands. But when she does, she spends it gaming, nerdcrafting, marathoning shows on Netflix, debating Tolkien online, sewing costumes for cosplay, and writing on

Find Amanda? Twitter ★ Tumblr ★ Blog

About Amanda

As a card-carrying member of the Justice League, honorary Star Fleet ensign, and a Ph.D student in political science, Amanda doesn’t have much spare time on her hands. But when she does, she spends it gaming, nerdcrafting, marathoning shows on Netflix, debating Tolkien online, sewing costumes for cosplay, and writing on

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  • Mariko

    I was actually just asked by the clerk at the bookstore if the two YA novels I was buying (Linger by Maggie Stiefvater & Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, in case you were curious) were for myself. I admitted that, yes I was a 35 year old woman buying werewolf romance fiction and immediately launched into a "beach reading" defense when really I was just proud of myself for buying books I knew I would actually read.

  • Lisa Black

    Oh no, people are reading books for pleasure and enjoyment?! Golly gee, I thought that was *why* I read but I guess I've been doing this bookworm thing all wrong. I love the Lunar Chronicles, and I can't wait for the next one. I've also been reading the Throne of Glass books which are fairly enjoyable – again, looking forward until the next one ^___^

  • Kerry

    Part of me wonders if the original Slate article wasn't just click bait – since it is common knowledge that YA fiction is enjoying a boom right now (and has been for the past few years). This thirty-something in particular is looking forward to reading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

    I still remember my 10th grade English teacher asking the class who are favorite authors were. This being the 1990s, V.C. Andrews, Anne Rice, Stephen King and Daniel Steele came up – a lot. She wrote all the authors' names on the board, then told us that we were all "reading crap." What a great message to give a roomful of teenagers excited about reading. Anyway, super-long story short: no one should ever feel ashamed about reading – anything.

  • Mia Moore

    I think the original article was pretty click-baity too… but I know lots of people that judge what books or media people choose, just like your English teacher. So I'm really glad that there's been loud, huge outcry over this article!

    BTW – Fangirl was AWESOME. :)

  • Erika Ye

    I have trouble distinguishing YA fiction and Adult fiction since…they're both fictitious stories usually not meant to convey knowledge or make you learn anything and are just for you to enjoy (so for example, are Tolkien books considered YA or A?). I don't think there needs to be any distinguishing between the two because a lot of 'young' or 'childish' media are being analyzed and considered deeper anyway (I've listened to many talks on people just picking apart themes from Adventure Time). The theme of 'children can teach adults things' also tends to come up a lot, in movies, books, and real life.

    I haven't been keeping up with any new or current book series since I keep spending the bulk of my money on other things, but I have found a great love for finding books at discount stores and reading those. "Kiki Strike in the Shadow City" by Kirsten Miller was one of my favorite books to read that I picked up for only 25 cents (a shame because I enjoyed it so much). "The Bear Daughter" by Judith Berman was also a very intriguing read, but don't read it if you don't like sad stuff, it's very It's A Wonderful Life-y. Cept with magic, the spirit world, and long adventurous journey. "Heir Apparent" by Vande Velde is a fun book about a girl being trapped in a video game akin to Elder Scrolls, so is great for readers who are video game geeks. "Piratica" by Tanith Lee is a book about a girl who abandons the prim and proper school she hates to become a legendary pirate captain.

  • Kerry

    I've heard nothing but praise for Fangirl, so it's definitely on the To Be Read list!

  • Starman

    Not surprisingly, as a Teen Librarian, I despised that article and thought it reeked of an author who writers serious books for serious people who had just had a meeting with a publisher who told her that she should write YA stuff since that is what is selling.

    Honestly, I don't think that author had read most of the books she was attacking. The biggest movement in YA Fiction over the past few years has been Dystopian novels and yet here she is saying all YA Literature is built around happy endings. Yeah… teens struggling to survive the end of the world. REAL happy stuff. I have my issues with Hunger Games too, but I don't think anyone can say with a straight face that the books end happily for anyone with the possible exception of Peta.

    Look, a lot of YA books are mindless fluff. *gives side-eye to Twilight books not 20 feet from where I am sitting* and I'm not about to fall on my sword to claim that Pretty Little Liars or The Clique are fine literature. But Ellen Hopkins books about teen drug use and prostitution? That's some pretty heavy shit and it's definitely YA Fiction.

    Fiction is fiction, regardless of the intended audience and if it teaches you something and/or entertains you, the mission has been accomplished. I've seen the flip-side of this where kids wanted to read something more mature and the parents said "Oh no – that's not for you yet." Not because of any content issues but because it was in Adult Fiction. And yet back when I was a teen, most of my reading material came from the Fantasy and Sci-Fi section of the local Barnes and Noble – not Young Adult.

    My attitude is that reading in any form is a good thing. That's why I allow reading articles on-line to count toward hours. Who cares if it is on a screen? You're still reading!

  • Mia Moore

    That's a really great attitude to have! Good to know my friendly neighborhood teen librarian has a positive stance on reading. 😉

    Interesting point about the recent dystopian YA trend – definitely not happy fluff!

  • Mia Moore

    It's always so weird to me when people ask why I'm buying stuff. Especially at JoAnn's when I'm buying stuff for cosplay. "What are you making?" makes me quickly wrack my brain for answers that aren't "A cartoon character's outfit."

  • CityLights

    I'm an English major who spends 99% of her life reading complicated "adult" literature, which I have to interpret and analyze for a grade on a daily basis. I enjoy it (otherwise I'd be in the wrong major) but it is TAXING, so when I'm on a break and not in classes, I often end up reading YA literature, and I'll be damned if some snob is going to make me feel bad about it. And if there is someone else out there who doesn't really read anything but YA, that's fine, too. Does this Ruth know that statistically speaking, we read more and are better educated than generations before us? I can't see how not reading up to her weird imaginary standards is hindering that, and in fact is probably doing the opposite.

  • Starman

    It is awesome.

  • Kerry

    Okay, okay, I'll move it up the To Be Read list! 😉

  • Amanda Brand

    Don't you know that you should only read to increase your ability to be pretentious? 😉

  • Amanda Brand

    I agree! I've never been asked if I was buying books for myself, but I have been asked if I'm buying video games for myself (drives me NUTS. I would leave if I wasn't halfway through the transaction). But when the ladies at the JoAnn's cutting counter ask I always respond "Oh, clothes." I'm not sure what these crafty, late-middle-aged ladies would think of my cosplay hobby :-/

  • Amanda Brand

    I'm in a similar situation–I'm studying political science, so I spend a lot of time reading heavy material. If I want to relax, I want to do it with a book that isn't a lot of "work" to read, especially one that is full of fun and action and excitement.

  • Amanda Brand

    Ooooh, Heir Apparent is now on my list! Sounds a little like Sword Art Online.

  • Joie_Fatale

    Agreed…click bait. That aside:

    I think that the appeal–that Graham vehemently detests in YA–is why we (teens, kids, and adults alike) enjoy it. I like some adult books, and some YA books. Hell, I read children's books too. A good story, is a good story.

    YES! There are trashy books ("trashy" YA, and "trashy" adult). But it's kind of like trashy TV (in which both are intentionally "trashy" anyway). Just because you like it, doesn't mean you don't like the "good" stuff either. These things are not mutually exclusive!

    Graham's inability to enjoy a piece of literature because it falls under the YA heading makes for the worst sort of critic.

    I think reading books actually important. As long as someone is reading, let them progress naturally towards the "sophisticated" stuff at their own damn pace. Let the imagination flow!

  • Erika Ye

    It kinda is, but replace constant fighting against monsters with trying to solve riddles from spirits, keeping the rest of the royal family from backstabbing you, and trying to keep the peace between the peasants and the royal guard.