I think of myself as an ageless reader. I love classical children’s books, as well as some of the books written strictly for adults. In fact, in these brackets, age labels always throw me off. I would not consciously pick up a book that is marked “young adult”, and I don’t browse in those sections of the bookstores, yet whenever I accidentally get my hands on one of such books, I usually like them.
Through all these experiences I’ve grown to dislike the age labels. I am perfectly capable of picking up a book and deciding for myself if it is written for my age level or not. I also am the reader who has devoured Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy at the age of fourteen and enjoyed Harry Potter books at the age of thirty. Age boundaries are very personal, and for me they are not necessary at all.
So, why do publishers always market books in an age-specific way? I understand the need to categorize, directing the readers to the appropriate shelves (I guess I should just face it and go to the young adult section more often). I also understand the fact that some books, while suitable for a range of ages in terms of the story and the writing style, may have too much gore and sex to fit onto the young adult shelf. However, I tend to feel that such books rarely become the all-time classics, even if they do sometimes enjoy a period of commercial success. I do read those books from time to time, but I cannot help wondering if it would be better to have a separate shelf for those gory books (just like those shelves reserved for sexy books), and put the rest of the books into the same section marked as “books for all ages”? By the way, even the level of gore and sex appropriate for each age is a very personal decision, and I have seen ranges in those books as well, which makes such placement even more difficult.
For my own books, I feel that I am walking a fine boundary in terms of age-appropriate contents. I sometimes see reviewers comment on my books as young adult that have misleadingly sneaked into the adult marketing scheme. Obviously, these are isolated opinions, given the fact that by now three different publishers have chosen to publish and market my books as adult. But these comments keep me thinking: what makes us create this distinction? Is it the writing style? The level of emotional problems? Or perhaps the detail in which the author is willing to venture into the sex and gory themes?
I still don’t have the best answer, this is why my post contains so many question marks. Yes, there are emotional problems, and the complexity of politics, that probably would not be interesting to a young reader. However, in my observation, this level of complexity loses many adult readers too. And yes, there is a level of gore–and sex that I would not want a child in the early teens to read day to day. But, to me, none of these things seem defining enough. Many adults enjoy “Harry Potter”, and many young teenagers secretly devour “Fifty Shades of Grey”. Among these smeared boundaries, I cannot stop thinking that targeting books to age groups is a relic that was created for the convenience of advertising, and is bound to disappear sooner or later in our digital age.
So, in my virtual bookstore, books would be divided by themes rather than age levels. And everyone would be able to come in and make their own call.