Being a Serious Reader


You all have figured out you’re in for cute kitten pics for quite a while, right?

Last week, there was quite a bit of discussion regarding a blog post from a librarian. It was kind of an odd post, with a number of internal conflicts. Basically she said people should stop criticizing readers of Fifty Shades of Grey, because people should be able to read what they want to read. Then, in the next breath, she declared that serious readers never read Harlequin romances. Other librarians, bloggers and reviewers passed the link around, straining their brains to understand how she could believe both things. And, of course, it all prompted declarations that they were not serious readers. (It was generally agreed that serious readers frown a lot.)  I believe there may be a t-shirt in the works.

The thing is, I don’t think her opinions can be parsed, because she’s really just declaring her own preferences. She liked Fifty Shades. She doesn’t like Harlequins. Okay. What’s salient is that preferences aren’t really arguable. In fact, they’re mainly affectations.

When we’re young, we establish likes and dislikes as a way of defining ourselves. You know – “I like purple. Unicorns are my favorite animal. I hate broccoli.” In fact, if you ask an adult what their favorite color is, I bet most will reflexively tell you the color they picked as a child. If you press them, most will say that they like lots of colors now. It’s no longer so important to have One Favorite Color because, as a mature adult, you’re more complex than that. You’re about far more than a favorite animal and most hated vegetable.

I think this is why it gets so much more difficult later in life to reel off the favorite author, book, song, movie, etc. If you’ve led a full life, you have long lists of these things. The book I loved when I was 16 is not the book I loved when I was 21 and is not the book I love today. For a long time, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” was my favorite song. I still like it, but it doesn’t hold the resonance it once did, back when I was in my early 20s. Things change. I’ve changed.

To me, this is where stuff like “serious readers don’t…” comes from. The person saying it wants to define herself in a particular way, so she makes a list of what she does and doesn’t like. But, really, reading should be about what she gets out of it – not what other people think about her. It’s like the people who make a big point about declaring that they hate something very popular. I saw a writer the other day declare that she would never lower herself to read Harry Potter. Now, I read the first couple books and I freely admit that I didn’t love them. Certainly not the way so many others did. They just didn’t sing to me. But this gal wanted us to know that she is a free-thinking individual, evidenced by her refusal to read something popular. She also seemed to think Harry Potter started the fantasy genre, which was mind-boggling to me, but that’s neither here nor there.

What I’m saying is, the fact that I never really got into Harry Potter doesn’t say anything interesting about who I am. I enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey, I still think Ann Patchett is an amazing writer, though I didn’t love her last book. None of this makes me more or less serious about reading than anyone else.

I just love to read. Period. And that, I think, says something about who I am.

But, if there is a t-shirt? I totally want one.

8 Replies to “Being a Serious Reader”

  1. Nice blog post! Lately I’ve been trying to read books I normally wouldn’t, because I think we can learn from them all. We can file away the knowledge we’ve gained or toss it. I don’t think personal taste defines who is a “serious reader” and who isn’t. Reading does.

  2. I’m with Kari. I seem to remember that the essay I had to write for my Advanced Placement English rating was some kind of arguement about whether WHAT you read mattered more than simply reading. Maybe I’m proving Jeffe’s point about likes being laid down in childhood, but I thought then as I do now – it’s the reading that’s important. The what is secondary. Do I have any specific reasons? Uhm…only that isn’t it more important to have fun and discover something by opening a book or a newspaper or a comicbook than to open a book or a newspaper because it’ll build character?

    1. It seems there are So Many opportunities to build character – do we really need to sacrifice every bit of fun to it?

  3. Great post, Jeffe.

    I read what interests me. Just because I have no interest in reading 50 Shades doesn’t make it a bad book, and it doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t read it. P’shaw. I read an alternate history/urban fantasy yesterday that blew me away. People with mindsets like that librarian wouldn’t bother to pick up a book like Hard Magic by Larry Correia (shameless plug for a guy I don’t know but now worship a little). It’s probably got too much blood and gore and magic. :shrug: Their loss. That book’s got teeth.

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