A few months back, I was working at my job and the new COO of the company came over to our department to introduce herself to the employees. I was so excited to meet this woman because she’s a C-level executive at a huge company and made it there with the grit and hard work of any other human being. It’s so awe-inspiring to see a woman who worked so hard to get where she was.
She made her rounds across the office and came over to my desk. The first thing she sees is the book I was reading at the time (some YA fantasy novel). She asked me what it was about.
“It’s about fantasy stuff,” I mentioned. I was a little bit more detailed than that, but I don’t remember what I said.
All I remember is that once I told her what the book was about and that I was into fantasy novels and fiction, she pursed her lips and walked away. This was her introduction to me. Pursed lips and then walk away.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt a deeper sense of embarrassment for reading what I was reading. A woman that I admired and was going to work closely with just pursed her lips at me and judged me so hard on what I was reading. That was the moment I realized that I was book shamed.
Book shaming. It’s a bad habit that everyone gets into and it’s not your fault. It’s the impassioned reader in us that delays our empathy when someone says they didn’t like the book you loved. It’s just something we should recognize in each other. It’s a trait we can’t avoid because we have different tastes and thoughts when it comes to reading. However, it can be curbed or reconsidered with a little bit of thought and a whole lot of empathy.
If you’re not aware of what this is, it’s the person who gives you sh*t for reading what you like to read. Because it’s not high brow. Because it’s not David Foster Wallace. Because it’s not changing the scope of our political views. It’s because you’re not reading “intellectual” books. It’s because you’re a fan of Nicholas Sparks and people snub their nose at you because you are.
I’ve been book shamed pretty much my entire adult life. It was worse in college when I was a Journalism major and some of the people I was hanging out with were Comparative Literature majors. Apparently my books were just not good enough to be trifled by those people and that really ground my gears. I’m sorry that I’ve never read Faulkner, but here’s the truth: I’ll never read Faulkner.
Faulkner just isn’t my jam. His books and other books like him aren’t in a genre I care much about so I’m not going to read it. And if you’re not into Faulkner or Tolstoy or any of the Jonathans (Safran Foer, Franzen, Ames, Lethem), then don’t read them.
I strongly encourage reading of any sort. If you love romance novels, go for it. If you only read Louise Penny, read it. I’m not here to dictate to you what’s right and what’s wrong because I don’t know. I like what I like and you should be able to like what you like as well.
There are millions of books in the world in varying tastes and genres. You can pretty much find a book on every subject ever thought of that’s how many books exist. And yet, when you’re not reading what another person is reading then you’re the bad guy.
The worst part about book shaming is how negative it is. In a culture where reading is a pastime people tend to forget exists, you’d think book people would be much more supportive of each other. You’d think that because you’re not reading the intricacies of White House politics it doesn’t matter, but it does. The simple act of reading was used to oppress minorities. It’s a privileged act to read, so why not read what you want?
I’m not saying that any of the books I mentioned are not good reading. I honestly want to try and read War and Peace one day, but do I want to read it because I’m supposed to read it? No. Do I want to read it because people will look at my funny if I don’t? No.
We need to take pride in our reading. We should be proud to have the kind of education and lifestyle that affords us the opportunity to read. Not because we’re snobs and think that reading is better, but because reading enriches our life. It makes us less ignorant. It helps us escape. It makes us better and more empathetic and honestly, that sounds like a better world to me.