Adult Readers in the Kids’ Section

Josie Leavitt -- April 22nd, 2009

There’s a really good trend happening in our store right now. Adults are reading kids’ books. Not picture books, but novels written for young adults.  Slowly the awkwardness, the need to almost apologize for buying a kids’ book for themselves is dissipating.  Instead, it’s something the adults seem to be reveling in.  And really, isn’t it about time that adults realized the young adult section was chock full of riches, new and old, to read and enjoy?

There are several books this past year that seem to have spurred this trend. The first is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak — while not a new title, it continues to be an excellent seller for us to adults. At last count, five adult book groups have read The Book Thief. Several women have called me immediately upon finishing to say how much they just loved the book. There is still an occasional adult reader who resists even holding a kids’ book in their hands, as if something horrible will happen if they read the back cover.  I’ve actually had to place it in a customer’s hand with a declaration. “You will love this book. Just read it. Trust me.”

Elizabeth had the best handselling moment I’ve seen, ever.  Two women had overheard me talking about The Book Thief and they were resistant to buy the copy I placed before them. They looked to Elizabeth for a second opinion, and all she did was arch her eyebrows with eyes bright and alert and that said it all. They bought two. 

Grown women are marching straight up the counter and asking for “that book.” Admittedly, they are a little sheepish about buying the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer. But I don’t think it’s because it’s written for young adults. It’s because they love it so much. They can’t wait to read more about Edward and Jacob, who they are more than happy to talk about, at great length with other women in the store. One thing I particularly enjoy about these Twilight women is they tend to buy the whole series at one time. Sure, they tell daughters to wait, space out their purchases, save some money, and maybe even borrow from a friend. There’s none of that with the adults. No borrowing, no waiting for the book at the library, no, they need it, they need it now and they’re going to pay for their immediate gratification. And I love them for it.

Another book that has adults happily clutching it is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  A real page-turner of a dystopian adventure set in a future society that deals with larger themes that adults are really sinking their teeth into.  This is a challenging book to book talk, as on the surface it deals with kids killing kids at the behest of the government. Adults look askance when I say that, but then I put the book in their hands and say, “Read it. It’s so much more than that.” Again, adults are proving to be less patient than kids. I had a woman who was actually whining about the release date of the sequel. “I’ve got to wait until September?!"

Lastly, there is an anecdote I must share. One of my favorite customers comes in every Monday to get her books for the week. Jill is the most vital, active, and vibrant 78-year-old I’ve ever met. She is a well-rounded reader with eclectic tastes. Last week she was struggling to choose a book when she went to the young adult section. There she saw I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. She had read the book when she was 19 and remembered loving it. Well, she took it with her last weekend and was still beaming when she came in Monday to tell me about reading it again. She sat in the sun in an Adirondack chair with Beethoven on in the background and a glass of Merlot nearby. She read the book she first loved 60 years ago. “It was just marvelous. Marvelous.”

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