The Reading Police Aren’t Coming for You

Reading Police

I know I shouldn’t laugh, but I can’t help it when I logon to reading-related social media and see posts from people who seem convinced that the reading police are coming for them. They ask questions like:

  • “Is it okay to quit a book?”
  • “Is it okay to read slowly? (Or what if I read too fast?)”
  • “Is it okay not to like the classics?”
  • “Do audiobooks count as reading?”
  • “Is it okay to read two books at once? (Or what if I can only read one book at once?)”
  • “Is it okay to read genre fiction/graphic novels over more substantive material?”
  • “How many books should I read per year?”
  • “Am I considered a real reader if I do X, Y, or Z?”
  • “Should I drink tea or coffee when I read?”
  • And more…

It’s like there’s this fear that they’re committing some reading felony (or more than one, in some cases) and the police are going to come throw them in reading jail if they do it wrong. It makes for some funny reading, but I can’t help but feel like there’s some massive insecurity here that needs to be addressed.

First, there is no reading police. Once you’re out of school (and beyond anything you have to read for work), no one cares what you read. Or how fast, how often, what format you choose, or how many books you juggle at a time, etc. No. One. Cares. At all. They’re all too busy worrying about their own lives, kids, jobs, etc.

Even if they “like” your social media posts, I can just about guarantee that it’s not because they “care” at some deep level, or because they approve/disapprove of whatever you’re doing. It’s because it’s what’s expected on social media, or because they’re stuck in auto-like mode, zombie-liking everything they see while watching TV. It’s not an indictment against you, or any form of encouragement. Like most things on the internet, it’s just noise.

Second, you can’t really get meaningful answers about these questions from strangers on the internet. Whatever they may say in response to your questioning posts, they can’t really help you. Everything about reading is about personal preference, ability, and time. It’s personal, and there are no set standards. It’s not like asking questions about health or finance, where there are some accepted “best practices” that will help most people.

Your reading habits are tied to the time you have available, your reading ability, and your preferences. If you have six kids and two jobs and someone says, “You should absolutely read five books a month,” in response to your, “How much should I read?” question, they might as well tell you to grow wings while you’re at it. Similarly, if you ask “Is it okay to read slowly?” and someone says, “Absolutely not. You need to pound through those books,” but your reading ability doesn’t allow for hyper speed, you’re going to feel demoralized before you even start. And the person who loves biography telling you to stop reading genre fiction has no value whatsoever, either. And so on. No one can speak for your personal circumstances, thus any reading “standards” they set forth will be pretty useless.

I feel like this is something people should intuitively know, but I see these concerns pop up often enough that I realize it’s not. Either that or there’s something fundamentally wrong in the world when such common sense is uncommon enough to make people feel so insecure.

Because I think that’s what’s at the root of such questions. It’s not that people really feel like they’re doing something wrong. They know no one is coming for them for reading wrong. Rather, they feel like they’re going to be judged and found wanting for whatever their reading preferences might be. And that speaks to the larger problems with social media.

I never felt the need for validation of my reading habits, probably because I was fortunate enough to grow up before social media. My reading habits were never on view for the world at large. Sure, I’ve chronicled a few things here, but I’ve never needed the validation of others. Social media fosters that need for external validation, and thus has created the “reading police.” (It’s also created the clothing police, the TV and movie watching police, and police for every hobby and thing under the sun. Everything requires external validation these days, from what car you buy to what games you play.)

Living in fear of judgment is exhausting. Especially when it’s over something as trivial as your reading habits. So stop worrying about it, and stop looking for validation on social media. Posting your reading worries is really a waste of time. Instead, direct your time to the actual act of reading whatever you like and however you best enjoy it. I guarantee it’s a better use of your time, and will make you happier in the long run.

(Note: If you really think you have a problem that is impacting your reading like dyslexia, vision issues, depression, or ADHD, absolutely see a doctor and ask a qualified medical professional for help. Don’t ask the “doctors” on the internet. They can’t help you with medical problems any more than they can help you find validation.)

(Photo by geralt)

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