Saturday, January 5, 2013

New Adult books. (No, not new books for adults.)

"New Adult" literature seems to be a hot topic again. There's a great round-up of the recent discussion over at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy, but basically, the idea is a publishing category for the age just after Young Adult. (Oh, semantics, you make me laugh.) Coming-of-age stories set at a slightly later age. (An age just old enough that parents don't get to object if there's sex.)

Most of my friends and I are in our twenties or early thirties, and I think it's fair to say that yes, we're coming of age in a sense. (Ask me in a few decades if it's fair to say the same about people in their forties, fifties or sixties; I suspect the answer may be yes, though we'll obviously be working on different transitions.) The early years of adulthood involve a lot of big decisions, a lot of firsts, often a lot of struggling. We're figuring out a lot of the details of who we are, and I do think there's a place for stories about that. I also think there are a lot of books about that already, with or without an age slapped on their spines like they're leveled readers (which are a topic for another post).

Here's the thing: figuring out who we are means pursuing the things that interest us or that we think might interest us. In some cases, that might mean reading realistic novels about people around our age, but it also means a lot of other things. Some friends my age love science fiction, some love graphic novels, and some love mysteries; most read from more than one genre. Several of my similar-aged coworkers have a Proust Club. Another friend is currently reading three novels, one science text, one social history, and one book on musical theory. And (to oversimplify) I read a lot of kids' books.

I'm not saying it's not worth highlighting books that people going through one thing or another might like. There are plenty of venues for that, especially in an age when, hey, a lot of twentysomethings like to read the Internet. But the idea of a New Adult section of the library or bookstore makes me squeamish. Shelving kids' books roughly by age or grade is, if not unavoidable, generally logical because of difficulty level. But it's still hard to recommend the perfect book when the only information available is an age number. And just as not all nine-year-olds are the same, not all twenty-nine-year-olds are the same.

And hey, if you're over forty? I bet it's still okay to read books about people in their twenties.


  1. Isn't this genre gone mad? Will they suggest next that there should be specialist books for the over 60s, on the assumption that we only want to read about old people (and go all pink and flustered if anyone mentions sex!) Can't people be interested in people - whatever their age, or gender?

  2. Agreed! I'd be curious to chart the ages of the main characters of the year's bestsellers and then the ages of people reading them - I bet the results would be all over the map. (For one thing, twentysomethings aren't the only adults reading The Hunger Games.)