Anna Todd's After is Bad...But That's Why It's Good
The success of After has created a horde of angry writers and readers decrying it as a threat to the future of literature. Here's why they're missing the point...
The other day I stumbled across an article on SheKnows called "We admit: Anna Todd’s After is pretty bad—here’s why". The writer of the article goes on a rather extreme rant suggesting that After is not just a bad book, but may actually signify the dumbing down of society, the decay of quality literature, and possibly the end of the world. (Yes...She really says these things.)
Articles like these are pretty common these days, calling After everything from "sloppy fanfic" to "the worst thing to happen to books since 50 Shades of Grey". Posting a scathing review of After has become the book-blogger equivalent of a viral Tik Tok challenge.
But these writers fail to ask the big question: If After is so bad, then why is it so popular? The answer, in short, is that it's not actually bad—it's being measured by the wrong standards.
The first problem is that people are comparing this book to traditional literature. Anna Todd famously wrote After on her phone, in a serialized fashion. She wasn't a professional writer, she was a fan and an enthusiast writing something that brought her joy.
Todd's lack of formal writing education was, without a doubt, detrimental to the readability of the book. After was littered with grammatical errors, plot holes, and cringy dialogue that would grate at the average writer.
But along with Todd's inexperience came an incredibly original approach to writing. She didn't feel the need to follow the rules because she didn't know them. The piece is back-to-back one drama after another, the characters' actions often make no sense, and characters will appear in a scene seemingly for no reason. It's weird, it's jarring, and it's surprisingly refreshing.
Todd approached the book with a clean slate. She lacked a lot of the fundamentals, but she also hadn't built any bad habits or bogged herself down with limitations. She just wrote the kind of story she wanted to read, and her audience responded to that.
After's audience is likely the second reason that the book faces such extreme scrutiny. Unfortunately, our society loves to hate things that appeal to young girls: Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Barbie, Twilight, selfies, etc. We label anything that young girls like as superficial, low-quality, and shameful.
The controversy reminds me—ironically—of a Harry Styles quote when he was asked about having young female fans.
“Who's to say that young girls who like pop music...have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy? That's not up to you to say. Music is something that's always changing. There's no goal posts. Young girls like the Beatles. You gonna tell me they're not serious? ...
How can you say young girls don't get it? They're our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going.”
Young women know what they like, yet society is always scrutinizing them.
The truth is, quality content is whatever we define it to be. Art is subjective. Judging what is "good" or "bad" won't change the truth: a lot of people like After. Maybe its fast-paced drama appeals to readers who don't have a lot of time on their hands. Maybe the serial format is made for mobile-focused culture. Maybe people just like reading about drama and sex. All of that is okay.
Is After a well-written book? Not really, no. But that doesn't mean people can't—or shouldn't—like it. Anna Todd has managed to create a series that has resonated with millions of fans, and reader-shaming won't make that go away.
Have you read After? What did you think? Let us know in the comments...