A friend and I were talking about the upcoming summer the other day. I mentioned that I was excited for a few movies and books and she said, “I know. Summer’s the one time when I can read all those fun books and no one cares.”
Of course, I was thinking, “Who cares the rest of the year?” but I didn’t say that. Maybe there’s something wrong with me that I read what I want, when I want and don’t give a crap about the opinions of others. If anyone wants to read guilty pleasure books in January, I’m certainly not going to care.
I understood her point, though: There are some books that you’re not “supposed” to read on a regular basis. Or, heck, you’re not supposed to read them at all and if you do, for heaven’s sake, don’t admit to enjoying them. They’re the “beach reads,” the guilty pleasures. They are not the books you “must read,” or which “the right people” are reading.
Notice the use of a lot of quotes in the above sentences. Now notice my huge eye roll at the notion of certain books being considered better than others. Books are books. Some people enjoy certain types of books while others enjoy other kinds of books. Neither is right or wrong. The tastemakers who proclaim certain books to be better than others just happen to enjoy those sorts of books. Other tastemakers would choose other books.
It’s true that there are certain publications and individuals who generally choose highbrow books as the must-reads. These are the books that you should be seen with. (If you care about what others think of your reading habits.) But it’s also like saying I should be seen with a certain type of person (rich, well to do, educated at the right school, whatever). But if I don’t like that person, why would I want to hang out with him/her? Exactly. I’ll be much happier hanging out with someone I click with, even if that person comes from the wrong side of the tracks.
So it is with books. Sure, the tastemakers say I should be reading the latest literary masterpiece or the prize-winning tome. But I don’t generally care for literary fiction. I’m a genre girl, through and through. I’m not about to waste my time with a book I don’t like, just like I won’t waste my time with a person I don’t like. Give me a book from the wrong side of the tracks that I love any day over the latest literary hotness that bores me silly.
This literary elitism is so unnecessary. There’s something wrong if people feel like reading is something to be ashamed of, or that you can only get away with reading certain books at certain times of the year. Reading should be fun. Full stop. (Unless it’s for school or work.) And since what everyone finds fun differs, there should be no shame or blame in reading anything. It should all be joy.
There’s joy in reading a rollicking story that grips you to the chair from beginning to end. So what if the prose isn’t lyrical and the characters a bit cliched? Who cares if the plot’s a little thin and it’s yet another riff on vampires (or dragons, or magicians, or…). There’s nothing wrong with loving books that entertain you, even if others think they’re trashy, simple, or formulaic. If you enjoy it, go for it. There’s plenty of stuff on TV and in the theaters that’s formulaic, simple and cliched and people love it. Witness the endless reboots, sequels, and prequels. Books shouldn’t be any different. You like what you like. The good news is that it’s a huge marketplace. There’s something for everyone.
I think this categorizing of books as good and bad goes back to our school days. Teachers reprimanded you for reading below your grade level, or reading something during free reading that they didn’t consider appropriately educational. They gave you a hard time if you were seen reading too much romance or fantasy, or if you chose to report on genre books when given a choice. Parents, too, often got in on the act, dictating that you read the classics or stomping on your fun in the library. The fun books were the ones you read under the covers late at night when no one could give you grief about them.
We internalized these lessons and carried them into adulthood. Genre books = bad, classics and literary works = good. Plus, there’s the whole status thing. Somewhere along the line (I blame Oprah) books became accessories, like handbags and shoes. You must carry the right things, the “on trend” items. Carrying a genre title or something from an unknown author isn’t cool. It doesn’t paint you in the right light. So everyone feels compelled to read whatever the celebrity du jour is reading.
Social media doesn’t help. Instagram and the others are about showing others how cool you are. See how I fit in? I’m reading the latest recommended book! It’s not nearly as affirming to say, “Hey, I’m reading genre fiction and loving it!” It may be more authentic, but it doesn’t project the right image. That other stuff you want to read? Hold onto it until summer when you’re permitted to indulge. Come summer, you can photograph your trashy books next to the beach or by a lake and get away with it. Until then, keep ’em secret. (The very notion makes me want to barf.)
Read what you want, when you want. Don’t hold onto all the “fun” books until summer. Who knows? You might not make it to summer. How much would that suck? On your deathbed you’ll regret not finishing that sci-fi series you love because you instead dragged yourself through the “right” books.” Don’t give in to the pressure to read something if you don’t want to. I’d much rather be friends with someone who reads romance, sci-fi, or westerns and is enthusiastic about it than the person who carries the latest Oprah pick around for show but never cracks the cover.
Show others your authentic reader self, not the person you think they want to see. I predict that you’ll not only find more joy in your reading, but also in your life overall.
(Photo courtesy of Brun-nO)