We readers like to talk about reading. A lot. We like to talk about books we’re reading, what we’re into, the books we didn’t like, the genres we feel drawn to and why. The possibilities for conversation is endless. Sometimes, though, these conversations turn into talking about what other people are reading—and judging them for it.
If you really love judging what other people are reading, you can probably find a job as a columnist at an online magazine. There are people who write articles judging those who read YA, those who read romance, those who read science fiction, those who read genres of any kind, books written before or after a certain date. . . you get the picture. And it’s not just a handful of people online. I hear reader shaming all around me all the time. I’ve heard someone judging people who don’t read classics, and I’ve also overheard a person judging someone who never reads contemporary literary fiction.
As humans, we tend to like boxes. We put things in the “worthwhile” or “not” column and go from there. When we’re young, most of that is imposed on us by others—teachers, parents, peers. When you’re an adult, though, those boxes go away, and if you want them you have to make your own.
Personally, I don’t like the boxes. I don’t see how they contribute anything to the greater force of humanity in general. But some people really love those boxes. And those people very often become the hobby police. I see this with hobbies in general—some hobbies are viewed as more valuable than others—but I see it most often in fan culture.
There are always people who want to be the gatekeepers. They have no real authority; it’s all self-appointed. And for some reason, we tend to give those people a voice. If you’re in a fandom of any kind, involved in even the smallest way, you’re probably familiar with this, at least subconsciously. Think about it—you’ve probably heard someone start a sentence by saying “A real fan would know _____” or “She’s obviously not a real fan”.
If we’re being honest, we’re probably all been guilty of thinking something along those lines at least once. But what’s the purpose behind our judgement? Do we really think those we’re judging care about our opinion? Most likely, unless they know us personally, they don’t(and even then that is a very weak “maybe”). In the end, it’s not really about them—it’s about the boxes we’ve drawn for ourselves.
The reading community is sadly, not excluded from the phenomenon of want-to-be gatekeepers. Many months ago, Book Riot published a fabulous post dealing with some of this called There’s No Such Thing as a Real Reader, and out of all the Book Riot post I’ve read, this one has stuck with me the most.
Here’s the thing: I don’t get to decide the criteria for a “real reader”. My list of checkmarks and boxes means nothing to those who are happy to go about their day, unaware of my opinions of their reading choices, and who will instead just read. The same goes for everybody else.
The reading police might be self-appointed. But they do not exist in any meaningful way. Unless you’re in school and have assigned reading or are a minor who has parents/guardians that have set rules, no one can police what you read (and even then, your instructors shouldn’t be policing what you read in your own time. . . unless of course you’re choosing something over assigned reading!).
People who don’t have better things to do(or to read) might write articles on the internet about what you should read. But they are not going to pop over your shoulder when you sink into Twilight for the twentieth time and beat you with a copy of Infinite Jest or Crime and Punishment or The Goldfinch or whatever has been deemed “acceptable” literature. . You don’t have to call the books you love “guilty pleasures” or “trashy” or anything that diminishes them and shows that deep down you agree about their inherit lack of worth just because of the content or the genre or any reason people come up with. You don’t have to be bashful about checking books out of the library because the books you’re carrying are marketed towards people younger than you.
You don’t have to defend yourself to the reading police. If you want to, go right ahead, of course. If you want to write about why you read YA or why you love romance, please do so! Those posts and tweets, even if they never reach the reading police, can still be educational and give way to great discussion. But never feel like you have to. The reading police only have authority in as much as we give it to them. The only “exist” in the fact that they are real people holding these opinions, but their opinions hold not a drop of truth or authority unless you give it to them. Reading is personal, and people read for so many reasons—
To expand their horizons.
To reach new worlds.
To have fun.
To learn about new things.
To challenge themselves.
Just because they want to.
Because they don’t want to but they think they want to be the type of person who loves reading.
Because they love romance.
Because they want to be a writer.
To find out what all the hype is about.
To connect with something outside themselves.
Those are just a few of the reasons I know of that people read—and more often than not, a reader reads for more than a singular reason. How could the reading police ever hope to quench that spirit of reading, so large and diverse?
Or, as Ron Weasley said it:
Don’t let the muggles get you down.
Keep on reading however and whatever you want, friends. Read that western or Harlequin romance or long literary work. I(and Ron Weasley, obviously) support you in your wonderful bookish adventures.