I realize that my social media feeds probably look very different than most people’s, dear readers. I subscribe to a lot of book review sites, book lover’s sites, library sites, reader’s advisory sites…to be brief, there’s a lot of book talk going on. Today, when I logged in, two links were posted back-to-back that got me thinking.
The first was a page that presented a list of books that an “educated, literate” person “would never admit to reading”. This list, bizarrely, ran the gamut from the Twilight Saga to The Protocols of Zion (a terrifying work of anti-Semitism that was celebrated by the American Nazi Party), from John Grisham’s earlier works to the Scarsdale Diet Manual (a fad diet from the 1970’s that contributed more to heart disease than it did to weight loss).
That a list would run such an enormous gamut without comment or critique was in itself…odd to me. A lot of the books there were ones I had read in history and literature classes in college (The Valley of the Dolls was on more than one syllabus, actually). There were a lot of books written by wom
en, or written for a primarily female audience (romance novels, etc). A lot of them were just old. And there’s nothing wrong with reading old books. They may be a little anachronistic, but…so is The Fall of the House of Usher. But I haven’t heard anyone try and use that against it.
The second link was to a list of “Great Books” that the author had lied about reading (they had told people they had read these books even though they didn’t). And you know what? I hadn’t read any of those books, either!
And it got me to thinking…why on earth do we attach so much shame and emotion baggage to the books we’ve read, or the books we haven’t read? Maybe it speaks to the cultural power of books (or, at least some books) that we feel like we aren’t ‘whole’ people without having experienced it? But I never finished War and Peace, and I’m still here. I’ve also read Anna Karenina in the original Russian, and am no better off, either.
And why are we embarrassed to admit that we have read something? I ask this as someone who routinely advocates the Choose Your Own Adventure novels for grown-ups, so clearly, this is a genuine question on my part. I can understand being disappointed by a book. There have been plenty of times where I am bummed that I spent so much time on a book that wasn’t worth it. There are times I am embarrassed that I didn’t finish a book on time. But the implications with these lists is that our self worth is (or should be) attached to our literary choices in a way that is pretty damaging to our psyche…
These kind of lists make me worry. I worry because there are people out there who don’t read because they don’t know what is “cool” or “right” to read. Or they don’t read because they don’t have anyone to discuss books with them, or feed their interests. I worry that people don’t read because other people have made fun of their reading choices.
So let me be very clear here:
At the Library, you can read whatever you want. And no one has the right to make you feel badly about what you read, or what you don’t read. Not even you yourself.
If it interests you, if you want to learn something, if you want to try something new, or if you want to re-discover something you loved, we are here for you, and are more than happy to help you find them. And if you don’t like it, if you didn’t learn anything stunning, if you still want to try something new, or go back to something familiar, that’s is absolutely, 100% ok. But if you never try, or if you spend your time worrying about someone judging you for what you’re reading (or not reading), or, even worse, judging yourself, then you are never, ever, going to get something meaningful out of the book.
So let’s put all these lists about what we “should” read, or what we “shouldn’t” read, and, instead, focus on reading more: Reading outside our boundaries. Reading to learn. Reading to live. Reading to make connections. Reading to grow. And not feeling bad about any of it.