Let’s Talk Bookish: Reading Outside Your Target Age Group

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Eternity Books. This is my first time participating, and I’m looking forward to participating in more of these in the future.

This week’s prompt is: Should readers read books that aren’t for their target age?

Examples of this are adults reading YA books, teens reading adult books, or children reading YA/adult books.

I’m of the general opinion that people should read whatever they like reading, regardless of whether they’re a member of the target demographic or not.

The exception to this might be children reading certain adult books. That said, far be it from me to police a child’s reading choices; that’s up to the parents. I don’t have kids nor do I ever want them, so I’m not going to touch this except to say that as a kid I was allowed to read whatever the hell I wanted, but I mostly stuck to my own age group by choice because I figured adult books would bore me. I wanted to read stories about kids doing exciting things. And, you know, I think I would have turned out fine even if I hadn’t stuck to those books.

In general I don’t see a reason to stick to one particular type of book just because you fit the target demographic.

Now, I might be biased. I occasionally read YA still even though I’m technically not a part of the target demographic (that said, is it just me or does the target YA audience seem to be trending older and older?) Heck, there are even some middle grade books that have piqued my interest. And in that same vein, I remember being a teen and not wanting to read YA anymore because I felt it was too juvenile (I feel like most readers go through a phase like this at some point) but I also didn’t want to read adult books because I had this idea in my mind that they’d be boring. Now that I’ve matured, I know that there are some juvenile YA books, but that’s not the whole landscape of YA, and there are some boring adult books, but that’s not the whole landscape of adult.

I think that there are a few different dynamics working to keep people reading only in a certain age group.

First, is the stereotypes associated with each grouping.

Some teens and young adults might think adult books are boring. I blame school for this. I myself have avoided the Classics genre like the plague since I finished school because it just reminds me of high school and being terribly bored and reading the sparks notes instead of the actual books for assignments, or else feeling like certain books were torture. To this day, I’ll tell anyone who listens about how much I hated the book Jane Eyre, though I occasionally wonder whether I’d have hated it as much had I read it on my own. There are books I had to read for school that I liked, but none that I loved. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein comes to mind as a book I liked but might have loved had I read it in my own time and in my own way.

It’s only now, 5 years post-high school, that I’m starting to think about reading any classics on my own.

On the other hand, YA books have a certain stigma to them (probably because they’re mostly enjoyed by young women and teenage girls, but that’s a topic for its own post.) On threads in book-related subreddits, I still see people referring to YA as a “genre” (which, isn’t the correct term, it’s literally just a way to group books with specific themes like coming-of-age stories) filled with vampire or paranormal romances, which 1.) isn’t even true these days, and hasn’t been the case for probably almost 10 years, and 2.) even if it were true why do people feel the need to shit on paranormal books or romance books? The people perpetuating this stigma often do not read YA, because if they did they’d realize that just like with adult books, YA books offer something for all readers.

That brings me to the second point, of people putting themselves into boxes.

People who answer this question and say that people should only read inside their own target age groups are probably adults who only read adult books. They’re on par with the pseudo-intellectuals from the book-related subreddits who turn up their nose at the mere mention of “Young Adult.” Some of them probably make wild claims of having been reading adult books since they were 5 years old to sound impressive.

At the end of the day, if you choose to only read books aimed at your age group that’s totally your choice. In my opinion, you’re just holding yourself back from reading more and from reading outside your comfort zone and maybe even from finding a new favorite book.

But whatever you personally choose to read shouldn’t dictate what everyone else decides to read.