I’m somewhat addicted to YAF.
Young Adult Fiction.
Its a sad affliction–leaving you feeling confused, full of angst, and sometimes dirty. I suppose, really, I’m a little ashamed. Its not the worst guilty pleasure in the world, but people–its called a guilty pleasure for a reason. And why, you ask, do I feel guilty? Well, I was wondering that myself today, along with the reasoning surrounding my addiction. Why do I like it? Or, at least, why am I attracted to it so?
The guilt, if its really guilt, stems from the fact that I believe I should be reading something more substantial. Here I am, an intelligent, married, 30-year old woman indulging in prose written for teens. When I should be reading, what? I don’t know–some Joyce, perhaps? My inner-teen smirks at the thought. No! I want instant gratification.
Ok–not all the time. I have to redeem myself here by saying I LOVE reading. I always have. I read lots of books, many different kinds, and even some poetry. So, why do I keep coming back to YAF?
When I was a kid I used to read, no devour, books. Mostly…The Baby-sitters Club series by Ann M Martin. I LOVED those books–saved my money and bought them when I could. I remember getting so excited when we’d go out shopping, and I had that $3 or so in my pocket, knowing what I was going to spend it on. Once, I was so entranced that I missed seeing a HUGE pool of spilt Fab detergent as I wandered down an aisle in K-Mart, causing me to slip, fall, and get covered in blue goo. I was embarrassed to the extreme. The series is what I think hooks me now. Most YAF is in series, so, you can pick one up and just keep going and going. I like feeling like I’m jumping into a different world in a way with books. And when or if you like the characters–its awesome and it keeps you wanting more.
I started with things I knew from childhood. The Dark is Rising series, by Susan Cooper, to name one. These books made kids the heroes, which was refreshing to a youngster. Next came The Princess Diaries. I picked up some at a charity shop, thinking to give them a try as I always thought the film was cute. Gradually, I picked up more. Some more Meg Cabot, the Narnia books, the Inkspell trilogy by Cornelia Funke. The more interesting and well written, like Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, really felt like adult reading. In fact, I don’t include it in the YAF section of my home library (yes, I am THAT person). However, most cannot live up to that. I got into the Harry Potter books in university…pretty late in the game actually. I picked one up and got hooked. I’ve heard all the arguments against them, but what can I say–they’re well written, and engrossing. Besides, I liked the characters and I wanted to find out what happened…this is my downfall with things like series. I WANT, desperately at times, to know what happens to made up people. I should be sectioned.
The other thing is…I kindof like the angst. I really don’t know why. Sometimes it leaves you feeling terrible and hollow. But I like it nonetheless. I want more of it. Which was how, in this state of hunger, I found myself reading The Vampire Diaries…
Yes, the lower order of YAF…TVF. Teen vampire fiction. The phenomenon that has reduced teen girls, adult women, and some dudes to wobbly-weirdo messes drooling after Robert Pattinson. They dream of not only of vampires, but werewolves, angels, and fairies. Yes, I’ve read Twilight…all of them. And yes, in the beginning I liked it, and went all swooney over good-hearted, non-homicidal vampires. Just like when I watched Buffy, and saw Angel for the first time. But the difference between the two are extreme, as I now see. For many reasons. But in this case, it’s this: because even in the face of the unbelievable, some reality kicks in on Buffy. In Buffy, there is no weird ‘I know I love you and you love me even though we’ve only known one another precisely three minutes but I know its real and true and everlasting forever and ever until the end of time…and beyond’ sortof moment. You know? The reality of not being able to have a future together inevitably kicks in. In Twilight, however, Bella becomes increasingly sure of her undying love, and as soon as she knows he loves her she’s set. Well almost, because, in the book even when he says he loves her she never believes it. Why? Because he’s SO awesome. And as I was reading the first book of The Vampire Diaries–I realised that even amongst all the unbelievable they were throwing at me, that moment of ‘clarity’ between the 2 characters threw me. Not because I don’t believe in that kind of love, or at love at first sight, or second or third, or whatever. But because its so cliché. In fact, most of these new wave of vampire or occult books are full of cliché and are derivative of one another (nothing illustrates this like the Buffy vs. Edward youtube video). Somehow, I began to see the light…that some of these books, anyway, were a waste of my time.
Its cliché, formulaic even, but why is it so alluring? A recent article on globalcomment.com believes the allure of vampire fiction lies in the beauty of beasts themselves. That we, as ‘normal’ humans, don’t want to look in the mirror and see our un-magical selves. That might be true, but its also true that we, especially women, want to believe in something like love eternal. Like a seemingly unattainable, god-like, perfect man wanting us, a mere mortal woman. That these unattainable guys could be yours and will adore you in the way you’ve always dreamed. After a bit of a runaround, mind. Also, in YAF-land, you get to live in that young, exciting, teenage world again. Where all love is angsty and full of yearning. And to us older ladies, its kindof sexy. Immortality? Eh… Sparkly skin? Eh… Brooding-I-will-love-you-forever-how-you-like? Ding!
Emma Watson, the actress who plays Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, stated in this month’s issue of Empire magazine that the HP films weren’t like Twilight–that they weren’t selling sex. Vampires have always been synonymous with sex, and the occult has always been enticing to people. The sexiness doesn’t stop with Twilight, even if there isn’t actually boot-knockin’ (well, not until the end). Its always alluded to in TVF, and the passionate romanticism and angst fills in the rest. Where these stop, new, adult fiction picks up. Yes, I mean Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, ie True Blood. These books present an alternate universe, a world where vampires are known and even loved. We see things from inside their world. And we see a lot, A LOT of sex. And yes, I’ve read them. Its writing style is similar to YAF, but with a lot A LOT of added kink. And despite my better judgement, I DO want the next book–whenever that comes out. But the question in my head is whether or not this type of book is just weird voyeurism. Or erotica even.
The thing is that some people can’t see the difference between fantasy and reality. I believe in Prince Charming, but I also believe that the real one is…well, REAL. I say, get your kicks in by all means. Enjoy the hell out of this new WTF-ery if you like it. But make sure you also realise its drawbacks. THAT guy you’re pining over, even if its only for a few hours, isn’t real. All he is is the new bad-boy gone good. The age-old female ideal. Yes, the adage claims that nice guys finish last–but what if he’s an angsty vampire? Or a brave werewolf? Or a renegade angel? All of us want a little bad with our good. And most of us would like to think that we’re worth staying good for.
Last word, though: blood isn’t sexy, no matter who’s sucking it.