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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Americans influenced more by Young Adult novels

    This past week, Mother Jones ran an article titled “Almost All the Books People Say Influenced Them Were Written for Children.” It analyzed 130,000 responses to the recent viral Facebook status that asks people to list the 10 books that have impacted them the most in some way. The top three books were the “Harry Potter” series, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Other popular books included “The Hunger Games” and “The Catcher in the Rye.”
    In other words, the books that most of us read in middle school.

    Ruth Graham set off quite the kerfuffle this summer when she published an article in Slate claiming, “Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children.” The debate raged for weeks, with columnists at The Washington Post and The New York Times Book Review weighing in on the merits, or lack thereof, of “canon” literature versus “popular” literature.

    But the critics can whine as much as they want. This newest Facebook fad has settled at least part of the debate: Young Adult novels are the books that Americans claim to have been most affected by.

    The books of adulthood may teach us the same lessons in more nuanced and sophisticated ways, but YA literature is important simply because it reaches us first in our formative years.
    These books with their simple plot lines and innocent star-crossed lovers are able to leave a lasting mark on people. They’re relatable.

    I chose a book from the optional summer reading list going into my freshman year of high school, and I still think about it almost daily. The language and the plot twist hooked me. “I am the Messenger” by Markus Zusak has stayed with me all these years. I can’t explain why — at least not in terms of literary merit or grand themes. But it wormed its way into my heart and stayed there. And who’s to say that isn’t good enough and that books like that aren’t “real” literature?
    Patricia Anders, a professor of the UA College of Education and co-editor of the Journal of Literary Research, weighed in on the topic. Anders said she believes YA literature contributes to the development of imagination and language in the youth.

    “No, of course adults should not be embarrassed by reading YA,” Anders said. “Teachers and other professionals working with youth should read YA to keep in touch with youth.”

    Along with expanding creativity, Anders explained that YA helps the process of moral development in young people and allows the reader an escape from their life in the real world.

    Sometimes I get so wrapped up in these ridiculous love stories that I have to remind myself that bumping into a cute boy in class probably does not mean that we’re getting married on a South Carolina beach next year. But a girl can dream, right? And at least these books spark my imagination.

    I would much rather read about a fearless heroine following her favorite band across the country than a dense book on philosophy. Even most philosophy majors would probably agree. And what scares me is that I could lose my love of reading because I might feel silly reading young adult novels when I’m no longer young.

    Many of the books on the “Most Influential” list were assigned to me in middle school, but will our college assignments leave a lasting impact on us in any way? While we scour through required English readings, textbooks and the latest Oprah’s Book Club recommendation, we shouldn’t forget about the inspiration we found in the novels of our childhood.

    After all, the quotation hanging above my desk at home reads, “Maybe everyone can live beyond what they’re capable of” — one from the Markus Zusak book mentioned earlier. I think it might give Socrates a run for his money.

    Trey Ross is a journalism sophomore. Follow her on Twitter @_patriciaross

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