No one has the right to tell you what you read. What you choose to read is your right and yours alone.
One of the things I love about reading is how much it allows me to connect with other people who also enjoy reading. But more than that, I’ve discovered the more that I read — and not just books, but blog posts, newspapers, magazines, comics — the more I’m able to think about the things I’m reading and the more I’m able to draw connections among different stories and worlds. The more I’m also able to help other people connect to the things that would give them a great reading experience.
I read with a critical eye, even when I’m reading “fluff” material. But never for one second does that mean I think everyone reads with the same level of intensity that I do nor that I can’t separate the critical portion of my brain from the part that wants to enjoy a story. I can find satisfaction in reading a story at the story’s level.
Sometimes — like right now, actually — I find myself reading through books that have made gads of lists for being poorly written, for spreading terrible messages about any number of topics I’m passionate about, for being nothing but bad books. And you know, sometimes the joy is in that exactly: dipping into what is little more than junk.
Sometimes, too, I find myself connecting to a story on a level I never expected to. Earlier in the year, I read a book that tapped into something I’d packed away a long time ago, and I found myself revisiting some pain I thought I’d never think about again. It wasn’t a book about that issue at all. It was a book about something else entirely.
I love to pick up a literary tome periodically, too. But not because I’m trying to balance out the YA reading I do or because I’m trying to make myself smarter or a better person for doing so. I pick them up because I’m interested in the reading experience.
Because I am interested in reading.
I have a huge problem with the notion of a guilty pleasure. If something brings you pleasure, there should be no guilt associated with it. The reason people find themselves talking about guilty pleasures is because someone has taken their right to enjoyment from whatever it is that they like doing. It’s because someone has asserted themselves as an authority, as a person with privilege, and cast judgment upon an activity.
No one has the right to tell you what you should or shouldn’t like.
Regardless of what your education level, your financial status, your job, your haves-and-have-nots in life, what you choose to spend your free time doing is your choice and your choice alone. But more than that, it’s your responsibility to respect that for yourself and respect that for others, too. You should never feel guilty for what you enjoy, and you should never make anyone else feel guilty for what they like, either.
We all go to reading for different reasons, be they for entertainment, for information, for understanding craft and story, for escape from the world, for connection to the world (your own, pop culture, or any other definition of world). Sometimes a book can bring all of these things at once and sometimes, a book does one and does it really well.
Let me say this because I think it’s important and essential and gets missed in many discussions of reading and the power therein: I believe there are people who don’t like reading. And I do not, even for a second, think they’re wrong. I think there might be books perfectly tailored for them, but if someone is not interested in reading, I’m not going to force them to be a reader. That puts me in a position of power and privilege, suggesting to someone that their interests and disinterests are wrong.
They’re not wrong. Their interests aren’t any less valid than mine.
They’re just different.
When someone in a position of huge trust — such as a librarian — suggests that there is a right way and a wrong way to read or that there are right things or wrong things to read, they’re exerting false authority. They’re using their opinion and their belief to belittle and shame someone else. They’re saying that it’s not okay to like what you like.
These people are abusing their power.
But more importantly, it doesn’t matter what your background is. There is never an okay time to shame someone for what they’re reading (or what they’re not reading). There’s never a need to make an argument about whether what someone is reading is good or not or whether it aids in their intellectual development. That doesn’t matter. Reading is an activity sought out because it brings something to someone. That we become obsessed with trying to define what that something is is in and of itself the problem.
This goes to a bigger issue worth touching on: we live in a world where the louder you are and the more you talk, the more perception of power you have. Where the more you produce, the more you’re valued. It’s unfair, but it’s true. We’re a world that focuses heavily on the notion of product and of end result and one that shies away from thinking about or exploring process in and of itself. We want a tangible outcome, a defined start and finish. In being this way, so much of the beauty in the act of doing something is overlooked and devalued. So often we chide ourselves if our process to do something takes a long time or requires more than we expected. Rather than allowing ourselves or others to allow the pleasure in the act of doing, we reward based on the result.
Reading is a process, not an end result.
While we can walk away with something from what we read, what matters to those who are readers is the act in and of itself. There are no better options when it comes to reading. There are only other options. There is no shame in liking what you like and there is no shame in enjoying reading for what it is: an action.