The covers of most of my old "Sweet Valley High" books
have been torn off. Not because they were stripped and resold, but because this 31-year-old grown woman was ashamed to be seen reading them on the subway.
But no more! The hotly anticipated release of "Mockingjay
," the third installment in the "Hunger Games" trilogy
, proved once again that it's more than just teenagers lining up to scarf down Young Adult lit, so why are women so ashamed to read it in public? And why are we drawn to it in the first place?
I threw myself whole hog into Hogwarts, reading every J.K. Rowling book voraciously and going so far as to become a fan of the band Harry and the Potters. I even have one of their T-shirts, emblazoned with "Voldemort can't stop the rock!" and I wear it often. I loved Harry Potter because when it came out in 1997, my life was just starting to get complicated, and over that period of 10 years, I went through several huge cross-country moves, relationships (failed and successful), job changes, family struggles, car insurance snafus, etc. Somehow, grown-up challenges are both complex and boring at the same time, but Harry's mission remained clear: Stop the bad guy.
To be a woman is to be a relentless analyzer, Terminator-like in our ability to size up any situation in the blink of an eye. We can admire another woman's dress from the treadmill before figuring out which congressman we're voting for and after coming to a decision that we should be spending more time with the dog and less with the random guy we're dating. We think deeply, we feel deeply, we live deeply, and those qualities are often draining.
Young Adult lit is escapist, but beyond that, for women who constantly evaluate every situation from all angles and lament that none of their choices seem clear-cut, a good old-fashioned black-and-white struggle is soothing. Our lives are adult literature, so why on Earth would we want to entertain ourselves with adult literature? The language in Y.A. lit is clear and unfussy, the relationships are teenager-complicated (how I wish I could return to that level of messiness), and the dilemmas are epic and yet totally something an empowered woman such as yourself could handle. Doesn't that sound awesome?
Men have been doing this for years by way of graphic novels, which are as escapist as they come, and they feel free to read them pretty much everywhere. The man-child geek-pride movement, while adorable, has given the go-ahead for men to stay boys forever, and yet we're supposed to feel even slightly ashamed for reading an actual novel without
pictures? I don't think so.
I've never read the "Hunger Games" trilogy or the "Twilight" series, but I will defend to the death your right to read them in public without shame. I understand that it's the one time a day that you stop thinking about your career / activism / relationships / hem length, so whip those books out, ladies! We have enough on our minds without also giving a second thought that our intelligence is being judged by the literature we read.
I might still hide my "Sweet Valley" books though. Those are embarrassing on too many levels.
Emily Gordon is a Lemondrop contributor, blogger and journalist who lives in Los Angeles.