I come across a link to a discussion on the New York Times' web page about the rise in popularity of young adult fiction, even with people who aren't young adults. Specifically, the link lead to Joel Stein's piece, "Adults Should Read Adult Books".
I suppose someone had to play the contrarian. Everyone else is talking about why they think young adult fiction has become so popular, or what its strengths are. Stein really didn't address the topic, preferring instead to sneer at people who enjoy fiction he considers beneath him. I love the line about how he'll read The Hunger Games when he finishes the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults. A truly impressive air of smugness conveyed solely through written word. One can picture him in a study straight out of Masterpiece Theater, slippers, smoking jacket, and pipe, reading Gilgamesh in Sumerian, pausing occasionally to look out his window at scoff at those dim people with the sparkly vampires, CSIs, and Playstations.
I'm honestly perplexed at what he was driving at. He wants people to read, OK fine. I quite enjoy reading, as you may have guessed from the "books" label. But he's going about supporting literacy in completely the wrong way. For starters, I don't think mocking people for their choice of reading material is a good idea. A better idea might be to talk with them about what they, learn what they enjoy about it. Then maybe you can suggest something else you think is more appropriate. Maybe they take you up on it, maybe not, but at least they are likely to be receptive. Humiliating them - he says seeing a guy reading young adult fiction is more embarrassing than seeing them looking at porn - is only going to make them feel the need to hide their interests. It's going to prompt defensiveness, and they probably won't listen to you (and if you are an arrogant jackass like Joel Stein, they shouldn't).
To a second point, Stein argues books are 'one of our few chances to learn'. I think that's a gross oversimplification. I've learned quite a bit from reading books, this is true, but I've also learned from watching movies or TV, talking to others, working, talking walks, on and on. Beyond that, my guess is most people read to be entertained. If they are also educated, fine, but that isn't the primary goal. Once he begins talking about learning, it sounds like being back in school doing book reports.
I generally hated being forced to read books in school. The only two I remember being assigned in high school I actually enjoyed were The Old Man and the Sea, and Crime and Punishment. Things like Jane Eyre and As I Lay Dying never had a chance, because it wasn't my decision to read them (this was also true of The Three Musketeers when I read that in 6th grade). This was true of my friends as well, and we all normally liked reading. We just didn't like being told what to read.
People have a better chance of engaging with a work if they come to it by choice. If they read a book simply to match some societal definition of "adult tastes", regardless of whether it interests them or not, they'll treat it as a chore, and not get much out of it. They might end up enjoying it quite a lot; like I said, there were books I was assigned I wound up loving, but it stacks the deck. Reading is something people do in their free time; why spend that on a book they aren't even interested in? There's not enough time, and there's too much else to read, to waste time with that nonsense.