Cheating on YA

Kerri Majors, EditorI’ve always been a monogamous reader. I like to read one book at a time because then I can totally immerse myself in the world the writer has created, without distraction from another imagined world. I mean, Jane Austen would probably roll over in her grave if she knew I wanted to take a break from Mr. Knightly with Harry Potter. I just couldn’t do that to my books, and their authors. (As a side note, I have noticed that many writers feel this way about their reading—I wonder if we are predisposed to taking this too personally?)

On the rare occasions when I voluntarily read more than one book at the same time, I honestly feel like I’m cheating on the book I started first. There have been two exceptions to this for me: 1) School—being assigned to read more than one book at a time was not cheating, it was required. 2) Talking books in my car. I had an approximately 2-hour round-trip commute to and from FDU, and I found that talking books made the time speed by pleasurably and productively. And because my car books served such a specific purpose—in fact, at times they were a sanity-keeping necessity—I never felt like they were a naughty distraction from the book on which my eyes lingered, the one that sat by my bed waiting for me to pick it up and sink into its oblivion.

When I started reading more YA a few years back, I had no problem bouncing back and forth between so-called adult fiction and YA, even though I was reading so much YA partly as research, because I was writing a YA novel and wanted to feel like I understood the genre I was trying to break into. In fact, I set up a kind of informal ping-pong pattern: one YA novel, then an adult novel, then YA, then adult, and so on. I read without compunction.

But now that I’m a YA editor, there is a whole new way I feel the guilt of cheating on my books: When I take a break from YA novels to dally with a favorite adult author’s new book, or to mess around with a memoir for my book group, or linger over a novel that came highly recommended, I find myself suppressing pangs of conscience: You should really be spending more time with YA. How else will you know who to interview next? You already don’t know half the authors YARN’s fans do… The fact that I’ve been a teacher of writing for the past eight years doesn’t help—it’s made me a bit too much of a slave to the idea of the reading assignment (even if my assignments are self-imposed).

A smattering of my summer reads.

I suppose I’m just not cut out for cheating, because for me the experience is not what you see in movies, or in “Sex and the City” when Carrie cheated on Aiden with Big—tortured but orgasmic. Instead, I feel like I rush through the non-YA read just to get back to YA. While I’m rushing—I cannot lie—YA begins to feel more like a chore than the pleasure it really is. But then when I crack open the spine of my next YA novel, and get into the groove of the voice and story, I feel happy and secure again, the way you’re supposed to feel in a good relationship.

Do I enjoy YA all the more for my time away? Yes. Yes, I do. So maybe book monogamy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I suspect there are loads of other readers out there who have lists of books they are required to read this summer (by their schools, their circles of friends, etc). It doesn’t matter what genre you’re supposed to be reading—classics, mysteries, Pulitzer prize winners, whatever—I’m here to tell you to take a refreshing break from those requirements.

Yes, cheat on them. With impunity. Go ahead a pre-order that copy of “Hunger Games,” and try to finish “The Illiad” before it arrives so you can wallow in Katniss’s next big adventure before delving into “The Odyssey.” It’s okay. As a teacher, a writer, and an editor (and, okay, a cheater), I give you permission.

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