In the book blogosphere, we tend to hear about how people feel shamed for reading YA. Interestingly, however, YA books are the one group that I can feel pretty comfortable admitting to reading. After all, its huge expansion in recent years is a testament to how popular–and how financially successful–it is as an age range. Thus, when I meet a new person and they ask what I am reading, I can typically assume that, if I choose one book from the five I am currently immersed in, the YA book will, statistically, give me a better chance of making a connection or at least make me look kind of “normal.” True, there are those who will mock me for reading YA or those who also read YA, but hurriedly add that it’s “just for fun” or “a guilty pleasure” or that they need “some mindless entertainment to relax,” but “they’re also reading some Foucault right now, too.” But, by and large, YA seems to be more accepted than many other types of books.
The strange thing is, I’ve noticed that, no matter what I say I am reading, I almost always end up feeling like I admitted to reading the “wrong” type of book. Sometimes it’s just because the other person has more specific interests than I do (for instance, only reading fantasy and nothing else) and I sadly chose to tell them that I was reading Charles Dickens rather than J. R. R. Tolkien. Other times, I end up feeling shamed for reasons I sometimes can’t articulate to myself–because the person didn’t say anything outright. They just made a “joke” or kind of gave me a weird look or paused too long before responding. I have to admit that the “What are you reading?” question actually makes me panic a little now. In my head, the possible consequences for saying I read each type of book look something like t his:
Admitting I Read Classics
Now the person thinks I am stuck up, showing off, or suggesting that I am more intellectual/somehow better than they are. They might now feel inferior or defensive based on their own reading choices.
Admitting I Read Fantasy
They now think I am a nerd. They’re wondering if I dress up in costumes and if I can speak Elvish–and not because they think those are fun things to do.
Admitting I Read Middle Grade
They can’t figure out why I’m reading such “juvenile” books as an adult and consequently now think I’m weird, unintelligent, or unable to leave my childhood behind in a proper way.
Admitting I Read Picture Books
They’re going to ask if I teach or have some sort of “project” and when I say I think picture books are valid pieces of art for adults to read for themselves, they’re just going to stare at me.
Admitting I Read Graphic Novels
I’ll get the same reaction I’ll get if I admit I read MG.
Admitting I Read Nonfiction
They think I’m super serious and super boring. They possibly also think I’m setting myself up as intellectually superior.
Ultimately, answering the question “What do you read?” feels like a no-win situation in a way that answering a question like “What is the last movie you saw?” does not. Perhaps it’s because there are only a limited number of films in theatres and I can assume that anything I name will have been something the other person has also seen or at least heard of–making it less weird. I, in essence, look far more mainstream, more like the “average” person. But when it comes to books, there are so many published that it seems almost impossible to make a connection with a new acquaintance based on naming a book. The conversation becomes too fraught and somehow they always seem to be making sweeping judgments based on my moral character and identity as a person just because I said I’m currently reading the Keeper of the Lost Cities series.
I don’t let others change my reading habits just because they don’t like what I do or are critical of my book choices. Still, I sometimes wish that it were easier to discuss books with people. I wish that having literary conversations could be a positive experience where I learn about new books and can share excitement with another book lover–even if we’re excited about different genres. But, somehow, I’ve never really had that experience in-person. And I’m wondering why.
Do you experience judgment when admitting to reading or liking certain books?