Scrolling scrolling scrolling
*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…
“Not totally cerebral, The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling),” reads one comment.
This was my thought-process that followed:
- YOU INSULT J.K. ROWLING HOW DARE YOU
- 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.
- What is a “cerebral” book?
- Are you discrediting your own reading choice? Why comment at all?
- 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.
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
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.