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October 15, 2014

One Reason to Never Read a Book

silk2

Scrolling scrolling scrolling

stop.

*reads facebook status of one of my former high school teachers (a mother in her 30s)*

“What book are you reading?” reads her status.

A simple question posed likely for the reason that she is almost finished what she is currently reading. Delicious! As a book lover, I’m drawn to statuses like this one. But I’m currently reading Destroy Me, a novella by Tahereh Mafi for her Shatter Me series, so maybe a novella in the middle of a series isn’t the best recommendation at the moment. Well, I thought, let’s at least see what others have said they’re reading!

*scrolls through the comments largely left by other 30-somethings*

A “face-book” joke (high five madam!), some non-fiction, some fiction by commonly known adult-fic authors, and some textbooks.

Scroll scroll read read. Mental note to look-up some titles on Goodreads…

stop.

“Not totally cerebral, The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling),” reads one comment.

Wha-
What.
WHAT?

silk

The culprit: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) – “Not cerebral” (Image by Dulce Rosales)

This was my thought-process that followed:

  1. YOU INSULT J.K. ROWLING HOW DARE YOU
  2. Oh I’m sorry, I was under the impression that reading takes mental capacity to achieve, thus being cerebral in nature. Please enlighten me on how you achieve this without the use of brain functions.
  3. What is a “cerebral” book?
  4. Are you discrediting your own reading choice? Why comment at all?
  5. If we classify “cerebral” books as the socially-defined high-culture book genres that often include classical fiction, political philosophies and manifestos, observations of the human condition, or non-fiction memoirs by “successful” people, then does my voice matter less because the majority of books I read do not come from these genres and categories?

The answer to that last question is of course, a resounding NO echoed far through all time and space.

However, this facebook observation led me to another question: Why do people read? You can read for a number of different reasons, but first allow me to name one major reason to never read another book.

 

Never read another book, if you’re doing it to impress others.

Why, dear friend-of-a-friend, did you decide to point out that this book you are reading is not “cerebral”? How absurd is it to read a book for adults written by an author of children’s literature? Perhaps you saw the other comments stating adult fiction and non-fiction and felt that your current read didn’t quite compare somehow. That maybe you’re not reading books similar to those already listed, but now, at least you’ve acknowledged that you’re aware that this book is “low-brow literature.” Right?

Book-elitism is an awful and terrible mindset to have. It leaves you close-minded about books (which makes no sense because books are supposed to open your mind). Not only that, but this foul elitism poisons the minds of the people who listen to the words that elitists spew. Even I read that comment about The Silkworm not being particularly cerebral, stared at my own copy of the book on my shelf, and for a moment, questioned all confidence I had in my own taste in books.

Booktuber, Ariel Bissett, recently made a video titled The Social Reader Table where she discusses the implications of reading popular literature for the only reason that it is popular. In the video she reaches the conclusion that there is no problem with reading popular books. None whatsoever. However, it gets problematic if people are reading books to impress others. I agree wholeheartedly with her, and it was merely coincidence that I was faced with a relevant example on Facebook not long after watching that video.

The idea of reading a book because it is “cerebral” so that you can appear more intelligent is baffling. Life is far too short to read books just to impress others or earn your way into a social circle of “elite” readers. In those situations, the book becomes a sort of a status symbol: The book becomes a way to validate your intelligence, or your being “cultured.” That shouldn’t be the purpose a book serves.

The badge for the "I Read YA" campaign started by Scholastic.

The badge for the “I Read YA” campaign started by Scholastic. (Image source: Scholastic Inc.)

I mainly read Young Adult fiction these days. I read a lot, a lot of YA. While I will gladly defend the Young Adult Literature category from any high-and-mighty naysayers, I also understand that it just isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, much in the way that absurdist dramas just aren’t my cup of tea. But the quality of my being a reader is not lessened because I choose to read YA. Likewise, the quality of others being readers is not increased because they choose to read Dickens or Austen or Marx. The act of reading is cerebral itself, and you don’t need the validation of others to be an intelligent reader.

This past June 2014, a Slate article made the rounds in the online book community, and particularly the YA Fiction community because it bashed the genre. The article, titled “Against YA: Adults should be embarrassed to read children’s books,” incited anger and outrage, but as a reading and writing community it also led to numerous well-written article responses (here’s one of my favourites). I bring this up because I’m having a similar reaction again (albeit to a lesser degree). You will read many books in some genres, and few in others; and you will read good books and bad books in all genres. A reader is free to choose the genres to read and enjoy, but that does not give any reader the right to dismiss the validity of other genres. You do not need to strive to elevate yourself to a place where you can read “high-culture” works; nor does reading these works does not elevate you to a higher class. If you want to read these books, you pick one up, you start at page one and read it.

I am reminded of my English teachers in university and high school who offered us opportunities to read a diverse selection of books in their courses. The required reading list for Grade 11 English included John Steinbeck, Shakespeare, and also YA novel, Feed, by M.T. Anderson, amongst others. Grade 12 saw Arthur Miller, and Canadian authors, but also Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. In first year-university, my fiction class included two classics, George Orwell’s 1984, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and two modern novels, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games. I am intensely grateful for the diverse books that I have been exposed to by my English teachers, people whom I will happily label as “cerebral.”

 

So, why read?

Read to escape. Read for pleasure. Read to live multiple lives. Read to stretch your imagination beyond the confines of reality. Read to gain new perspectives and expand your empathy. Read to understand cultures and societies from times gone by. Read to be more intelligent, not to appear more intelligent. Read because it’s something you enjoy doing. Don’t read to impress anyone but yourself.

Reading takes up nobody’s time but yours, and it will first, and foremost, have an effect on you. Even when you read a book that was recommended by others, you are still doing it to decide for yourself if this book will end up meaning as much to you as it does to the other person or people, and you’re discovering the ways in which it will matter to you. So, why (outside of academic courses) would you ever read a book for anyone but yourself?

Read that political manifesto, celebrity memoir, classical adult fiction, or young adult novel. Just pick up a book and
read.
it.
proudly.

 

What are your thoughts, and what are you proudly currently reading? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Featured Image and Image 1 belong to Dulce Rosales
Image 2 belongs to Scholastic Inc.



About the Author

Dulce Rosales
Dulce Rosales
Traversing the galaxy as a fourth-year business student at SFU, Dulce always takes a moment to stop and smell the metaphorical roses (Not real ones as she has a slight pollen allergy). She is a passionate fan of being a passionate fan of things. Feel free to geek out with her any time online and off!




  • Ben B

    The spirit of this article seems to be “People should not feel ashamed, or make other people feel ashamed, about reading books from certain genres, because reading should be something done for its own sake and not to impress people.” On this, I agree 100%.

    However, I think it is reasonable to describe some individual books as being more cerebral than others. If you don’t like the word “cerebral”, then how about “enriching” or “mind-changing” — I suspect that you get a more satisfying, lasting experience from some books than from others in (for example) the YA genre — you said yourself that there are good and bad books in all genres.

    Also, I have some issues with this: “You do not need to strive to elevate yourself to a place where you can read “high-culture” works . . . . If you want to read these books, you pick one up, you start at page one and read it.” It is not always as simple as that.

    Books do not exist in a vacuum, and in many cases they require some context to appreciate them. In many cases, this is intentional on the part of the author. To pick a deliberately extreme example, the language of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake comprises almost nothing but literary allusions and multilingual puns. This is not a book that can be easily picked up and read from beginning to end; if a person wants to get the most out of their experience of the book, it’s probably a better idea to work their way up to it over time.

    Even if we ignore James Joyce, there are a lot of books that benefit from a certain amount of context. I read a lot of textbooks for fun, and many of them explicitly say in the first chapter what the author expects the reader to know — I usually read the book even if I’m not totally familiar with the “prerequisites”, but even when I do, I know that I’m not getting the full experience. Context is also important for classic philosophy books: the reason Plato is important isn’t because he was right about everything, but because his ideas influenced everybody who came after him, for better or for worse.

    • Dulce

      Hi Ben! Thank you for your comment! I really appreciate you taking the time to write a response.

      You’re totally spot-on about the spirit of the article. My main argument was against the idea of elitism when it comes to reading. I was particularly irked by the word choice of “cerebral.” I’m not sure I would say that “cerebral” equates to “enriching” or “mind-changing,” nor would I say that “cerebral” equates to “good.” However, the understanding of that word would depend on the context in which the word is used. I guess, my point was that I don’t think people should be picking books to read merely because if they can cross it off their list, their appearance of intelligence increases. I also understand where you’re coming from about building up to read certain books. You’re right, many require context and knowledge. I hadn’t explained it very well while writing the article, but in hindsight, I was thinking about the idea of distancing yourself from books you might actually want to read because you might be looked down upon for having poor or immature tastes. I want nothing more but for people to choose to read for genuine reasons, and to read the kinds of books they are interested in, without fear of judgment.

      Let me know you’re thoughts! I hope that clears up some of my ideas!


 
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