Saturday, May 21, 2011

Discussion: Beyond Classifications

I am not a YA reader.

I am a reader, who likes YA.
There is a difference, however slight. For instance, I might consider myself a writer who is Asian American, not an Asian American writer. In my opinion, labeling myself as an Asian American writer would pigeonhole me into a genre of expectations. It would be like me working with a certain set of parameters for a certain audience in mind. I'd rather my Asianness be just one part of the complex being that is me, and not an inflexible label.

This thought was inspired by the Diversity in YA event I attended last Saturday, during which the writers on the panel, all of whom are and write books about people of color or different sexual orientations, were asked if they felt like they had to represent their community in the publishing world. (I could be getting the wording of the question wrong, but that's the jist of it.) And one of the authors, I think it was Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, talked about how she thinks about all her writer identities, like she is a writer who is black, as well as a writer who likes cheese.

A writer who likes cheese? Bemi's answer struck me as being one of the wisest things I have heard lately. For what are we but a conglomeration of a million different things that make up who we are, and who's to tell us that one of those things has to define us at the exclusion of all others? I am a writer who is Asian American and a writer who loves chocolate. Does me being Asian American mean I can't write about my love of chocolate?
I am a reader who likes YA because, above all, I search for literary quality and emotional resonance in the books I read. I want to be awed when I read the book. It happens rarely enough, finding that one book that awes me, but when it does it is so, so worth the 200 other books I read before finding that one. And those 201 books that I read range across all genres and reading age groups. So I am a reader, first and foremost, and it just so happens that the majority of books I read, the genre with which I feel most comfortable, is YA.

I have a suspicion that most of my blog readers out there are also readers who like YA. This could be because YA itself is a genre of crossovers. Ever notice how readers of YA fiction are much more willing to venture into the other sections of a bookstore, whereas a lot of readers of adult fiction are much more reluctant to do so? This gives the publishing industry extraordinary migraines, and sometimes writers justifiably fear that their book being marketed as YA will limit its audience. But I think that, while a lot of us read YA as our primary genre, we are also not unwilling to try out an adult book, or even a children's book. And I love that about readers of our genre.

So play a game with me, if you will. A game of identities. Fill in the following sentence: "I am a reader/writer/etc who ____________, and a reader/writer/etc who ____________." The first blank is something about your identity that is "obvious" or "classifiable;" the second blank is something about your identity that is far less obvious and may even be surprising to others.

Here is mine:
I am a writer who is Asian American, and a writer who is interested in astrophysics.
And by "interested" I really mean more like "obsessed." Bet most of you didn't see that one coming, huh? But yes, if I were to have a second shot at college, I would've probably stuck to an astrophysics degree this time around. Me = nerd FTW!

It's your turn now. Will you play?


  1. I am a reader who is Canadian and a reader who loves cookbooks but can't make more than grilled cheese.

    What an awesome discussion post!

  2. Great post! I love this thought, and I think you are absolutely right.

    I am a reader who loves YA, and I am a reader who plays water polo.

  3. I'm a girl who is Korean and loves YA and urban fantasy in general, and I am a thoughtful person who has had the taste of nihilism.

  4. I very much enjoyed this post. Excellent insight.

    I am a reader/writer who is a redhead, and a reader/writer who likes to listen to rock music.

  5. Love it!

    I am a reader of YA (among others) who is as pasty white skin as my ancestors, and a reader who also plays bagpipes.

    The Book Swarm

  6. I love this post!

    I'm a reader who is almost 30 (but don't tell anyone!) and I'm a reader who loves sci-fi/fantasy AND romance novels equally.

  7. I loved this!

    I am a reader/writer who is left-handed and loves YA, and a reader/writer who loves the sunshine.

  8. Great post. I think that this subject brings up the problem with classification as a whole in the literary world. Who is to say if an African American author's novel should be classified as "African American lit" or what it actually is, a mystery? Science fiction?

    Here's mine:

    I am a reader/writer that is LDS, and a reader/writer that makes jewelry. :)

    - Alyssa of Redhead Heroines

  9. I love this post! :)

    I am a reader/writer who has curly hair, and a reader/writer who loves music.

  10. I am a reader/writer who loves YA, especially dystopian and books with dystopian elements; and I am a reader/writer who was severely and consistently abused as a child and young adult.

  11. I am a reader/writer of Urban Fantasy (young adult and adult) who is a natural blonde, and a reader/writer/ who loves body modification and clunky yellow jewelry.

  12. "I am a reader who is white american, who is a hopeless romantic, and a reader who loves Twilight and paranormal books."

  13. Cool post. I am a reader/writer whose ancestors have been in America for 400 years, have fairly dark skin and hair, green eyes, and is entirely of northern European origin. Freakish genes. I am a reader/writer who loves running, yoga, cooking, and my doggy.

    Your post made me think of another question. Being white, am I pigeonholed? Or is everyone pigeonholed into their culture or race?

    If I wrote a book where the main character was Asian, would people think me unqualified to write from a different race's perspective? Look at the criticism Kathryn Stockett of The Help has received for how she wrote the African American characters.

  14. I am a reader who enjoys trying different genres, and loves Polos and Mentos.

    This is such an awesome post! Thank you. I think I will reblog this. :)

  15. In my opinion, labels should only be used when they will give one a purely beneficial caliber to fulfill. Loved your post!

    If you would like to, please visit my blog on the philosophical interpretations of literature we all know and love at Thanks!

  16. I am a writer who is Jewish, and a writer who has made - and eaten! - bacon ice cream.

    This post is great!

  17. I'm a middle-aged white male reader who loves YA lit, especially dystopian novels.

  18. I am a writer who is white as a girl could be, and a writer who loves to have Ellie Goulding dance parties while making cookies."

  19. This is a great topic and a fun exercise!

    I am a writer who is Asian American, and a writer who loves Revolution-era US History.

  20. I am a reader who is a university graduate and a reader who loves to cross stitch almost as much as reading.

    I've heard that most YA authors don't intentionally write for teens they just write the story in their mind then it's the editors that pick which genre.

    I definitely felt that with the book Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan. The title makes it sound like a paranormal romance but I felt that was a secondary and not very significant part of the book the main theme was personal growth. The emotional growth of the main character resonated with me as an adult - probably more than if I had read it as a teen. Not to mention that the the main character, as an immortal, was hundreds of years old and looked anywhere between 18 - 21. Doesn't seem like it was written for a teen audience.


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