Does Everyone Need to Have a Love of Reading?

Such a topic might seem surprising on a book blog. We at Pages Unbound, after all, obviously love reading. So much so that we not only started a blog to talk to other book enthusiasts about what we are reading, but also periodically write on topics such as how to normalize reading as a fun hobby, how to promote literacy, and how to support one’s local public library, so that others can continue to have access to books. But the question remains. Just because we love books, does everyone else have to? And, really, I don’t think everyone does.

Of course, the immediate response to my assertion that not everyone has to love reading with a passion is that reading has been shown to have many benefits—especially for children and students. A quick internet search of the benefits of reading indicates that studies suggest reading supports cognitive development, language skills, and future academic success. Other benefits could include stress reduction, increased empathy, and even changed behavior (such as a greater likelihood to vote, based on what story one recently read). With such positive outlooks, surely everyone should love to read so they can enjoy all these benefits! Yet, I think we need to be realistic here. Not everyone will love reading and some will find similar benefits through other hobbies—and that does not mean these people have somehow failed life.

The big push for people to become readers arguably begins in school—and we can see why from the studies above. Reading competently seems to mean that students perform better in all academic subjects, not just English class. And this makes sense. Reading is still one of the primary ways students take in information; being able to read and understand the textbook in science class or history class or math class surely will help students earn higher grades in those classes. So here the argument seems to be that encouraging a love of reading in students means that they will naturally read more. This in turn means that they will get more practice reading (and hopefully increase their vocabulary and comprehension skills) and then they can read anything with ease, meaning that they can learn about and excel in any subject.

Reading, historically, has also been understood to have a moral component, especially for children, and so tends to get prioritized as a “good” hobby for people to engage in. You can see this today in the culture wars over what is “appropriate” for school libraries and arguments that hinge on “protecting the children.” You can see it in reviews that reach conclusions such as, “But the bully didn’t get a comeuppance, so this book is not suitable for kids,” or, “The protagonist ended the book with low self-esteem and never accepted her body the way it is, so I wouldn’t give this to my children.” The idea is that books for children must impart a Good Message to the readers, so that they learn and become better people and citizens. But reading is still seen as a Moral Activity for adults, too.

The idea of reading as a morally superior hobby might be said to date back at least to the Victorian era, when Matthew Arnold published his 1869 Culture and Anarchy.  Culture, especially literature, was supposed to save Victorian society from vulgarity and moral degeneracy.  By reading and engaging with ideas, an individual could improve themselves and thus improve their society.  Arnold’s ideas continue to influence our thoughts on reading today as defenders of literature argue that it can make individuals into better critical thinkers and more empathetic people. Readers are, if you read the news or even listen to readers themselves, somehow engaging in a hobby that is often seen to be more worthwhile than other people’s hobbies.

But, of course, one thing we have to consider is that any person reading a lot is not necessarily achieving a higher literacy rate. That is, reading many books is not the same as understanding them. Reading many books that are not challenging will not result in growth for a student. Reading books too fast or mindlessly will not allow an individual to comprehend them and analyze them at a higher level. And this is where parents and educators who speak against certain popular series or book forms can be heard wishing they could hide such books from children. Because, unstated but implicitly understood, is the assumption that a love for reading will result in children doing it more—and then progressing to higher-level texts.

It is unpopular for one to say that children should not read only comics, or that that they should branch out from illustration-heavy texts like Wimpy Kid, but if the whole idea of letting kids read what they want is that they become academically successful, then getting stuck on a third-grade level book series for the rest of their lives is not actually helping them succeed. One can, of course, love comics and illustrations and also be capable of reading, comprehending, and analyzing more complex texts without illustrations. No one is denying that. But, again, the implicit argument in the “let children read what they want” movement is that they will do it so much, they will eventually, without realizing it, move on to more difficult books without noticing they are learning something. However, if we are honest with ourselves, not everyone will—not without outside motivation. Just loving reading isn’t always going to be enough for a person to understand what they are reading or to encourage them to challenge themselves with harder books. Sometimes, just having fun with a hobby isn’t enough for someone to become good at it.

And, from the other perspective, one could argue that a love for reading is not wholly necessary for learning. One can safely assume that most students do not have a burning passion for every single subject they learn in school—but you will find many straight “A” students nonetheless. Some of them who probably don’t even like some of what they excel at. They’re just putting in the work because they understand it has some higher purpose than their current personal enjoyment. Perhaps, then, one could suggest that students can learn reading comprehension and analysis without loving literature, as long as they understand that reading well will at the very least help them with their other goals in life such as going to college or getting a job.

And the other, non-academic benefits reading offers can be found in other hobbies. Reading is supposed to help cognitive development and prevent mental decline. However, other hobbies that require focus and mental acuity probably offer the same thing. A musician or a chess player, for instance, could probably experience similar benefits. Stress reduction? What about gardening or painting or coloring? Even empathy could probably be learned from other modes of storytelling such as movies, TV shows, and even video games. People who do not read for fun are not necessarily doomed to a lifetime of stress and mental sluggishness.

Again, I love reading and I do think it is worthwhile to encourage a love of reading and increased literacy in the general population. I acknowledge that reading has many benefits, and of course I want people to excel academically and to experience stress-free lives! I even concede that children who play video games all day probably are not getting the same benefits they would if they were reading (especially if those video games have no literacy or educational component—which many do not). At the same time, however, I think the discourse over a love of reading sometimes comes across as judgmental and unwelcoming, as if anyone who does not love to read as a hobby is somehow either morally bankrupt or not intellectual. And that’s not true, especially for adults who are not in school anymore and can largely be assumed to be at least literate enough to function in society and at their jobs. They aren’t worse people just because they do not love to read, or because they choose to learn through other formats such as documentaries, videos, or podcasts.

So, I’m going to say it. I think it would be nice if everyone loved to read. I think it would even be helpful on an individual level for someone to love to read. At the same time, I can accept that not everyone loves to read, and some people probably never will, no matter how many seemingly fun or enticing books we place in their hands. It doesn’t make them bad people, though, and it doesn’t mean that people who love to read are somehow superior. That’s the kind of discourse I wish we would stop. The kind that shames people who do not like to read, and suggests that they failed at life or failed at “being smart.” That’s the kind of discourse that will, in fact, keep some people from ever trying to be part of the reading community, either because they will think they’re not capable of living up to the “intellectual” label or because they don’t want to be a part of what looks like a mean clique where readers make fun of outsiders. Instead of shaming people who do not love reading, we should simply continue modeling and explaining what makes reading fun. And hope that our enthusiasm and understanding invites more people into the community.

What do you think? Does everyone need to love reading in order to become competent at reading? Is it okay if someone loves reading but never progresses to higher-level texts in school? And is it okay if some people never become avid bookworms?

Why Do I Give Books 4 Stars Instead of 5 Stars?

This is a question I see fairly frequently from authors: Why, if someone claims to have liked my book so much, did they give the book a 4-star rating instead of a 5-star rating?

First, I’d like to point out that 4 stars isn’t even bad! It’s good! It’s the second-highest possible rating! No one is trying to insult the book by giving it 4 stars. They are genuinely saying they really liked the book, and I think it would help authors to view it that way, as a sincere compliment, as a recommendation that other people should read the book, too.

But, sure, there’s a difference between 4 and 5 stars. So what is it? I can’t speak for everyone, and I think ratings can be a little hand-wavy even for reviewers who put a lot of thought into them. It’s not an exact science. Here are some of the things I personally take into account when choosing between 4 and 5 stars, however:

5 Stars

  • These are generally books that absolutely blew me away. They’re not just good, well-written books. They stand out as being among the best books I’ve read.
  • There are little to no things I didn’t like about the books. If there are “flaws,” they are minor and, ultimately, do not impede my enjoyment of the books in any way.
  • They’re books that really had me hooked and/or made me think. I keep thinking about them even after I finish reading.
  • I can see myself rereading the books someday in the future, either because I just enjoyed them so much or they were thought-provoking and I know there’s more to discover upon a reread.

4 Stars

  • These are good books. I love them. I would recommend them to other people. They just don’t have that little something extra, the stand-out star power the 5-star books do.
  • There are a few things I didn’t like about the book or maybe one thing that had a noticeable impact on my reading experience. A lackluster ending would be one example. The rest of the book might be amazing, but if the ending is anticlimatic, that can be hard for me to get over.
  • The book might be more entertaining than thought-provoking. This is fine. I love reading for entertainment! But this might turn it into a one-time experience for me, not a book I would necessarily think to go back to again.

That’s it. So . . . maybe still a little hand wavy. But 5-stars books are pretty close to “perfect” for me, while 4-star books might have a few flaws I got stuck on that keep me from pushing the book to a 5.

How do you rate books?


I’m Not Convinced Book Bloggers Need AI

I'm Not Convinced Book Bloggers Need AI

Suddenly, AI seems to be everywhere. Headlines are filled with schools grappling with the issue of how to detect AI-generated essays. Literary magazines are being deluged with stories generated by AI. Amazon is selling hundreds of books with AI credited as an author or co-author. Many people see benefits in this new technology–businesses who want to generate free or cheap content instead of paying people to write it, instructors who see a teachable moment, or individuals who want to generate ideas for their writing projects.

Others, of course, see the negatives. There are the questionable ethics involved, such as AI being trained on copyrighted material without the consent or knowledge of the copyright holder, or AI scraping images meant to be private (one individual found AI had been trained using her private medical photos). And there is the possibility that AI-generated content itself can’t be copyrighted without proving human creative input. So publishing AI content does not seem like a business-savvy move; one cannot stand out if everyone else can use the same content.

There is also the reality that AI (right now) just isn’t as good as one would think. For instance, the writing generated has been criticized as being poor or generic. And it is not entirely accurate, having been found to make up fake citations such as fake newspaper articles. Currently, AI is not being recommended for those writing research papers or summaries since it relies on the internet for its information, without vetting for credible sources. One researcher even determined that ChatGPT stated it does not have access to articles behind paywalls, but instead uses only the article abstracts. In other words, even those who use AI to generate content or ideas still, at this moment, have to rewrite the content to clean it up and check its accuracy and sources. (One suspects it might ultimately have saved time for a real person to do the work the right way in the first place.)

But what does all this mean for book bloggers? Is there a place for AI in writing blogs, should the ethical questions be resolved and should this technology evolve to have greater fluidity, originality, and accuracy? Or could book bloggers use AI in other ways, such as generating ideas for content or maybe for readers’ advisory, as some school librarians have suggested? Right now, I think no.

Those seeking to use AI to write content for them currently either seem to be businesses who want to save money by not paying an actual person, or individuals who feel a bit shaky about their writing and want a boost. Book bloggers are typically neither (even if some bloggers sometimes worry about the quality of their writing). Rather, book bloggers tend to be individuals who presumably enjoy writing to some degree (hence starting a book blog instead of a BookTube channel or a Bookstagram, for instance) and who are using writing to make a personal connection with others. And that, in turn is what others respond to–the personal aspect of writing. When a person reads something, they want to think that someone on the other end has thought about the topic a lot, is interested in it, and is somehow speaking to them across the pages, or even the ages. When I think of writing, I think of Roald Dahl’s quote from Matilda:

“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

Roald Dahl

Reading an article generated by AI feels wrong to people, I suspect, because they want to believe that someone real is reaching out to them from the other end. Knowing that an algorithm or a robot generated the content ruins the feeling of a relationship with the writer. But book blogging is all about reaching out and forming relationships with people who share similar interests. So it doesn’t make sense for bloggers to use AI to generate content. The point, after all, is not simply to post something, anything for the views. The point is to enjoy the process of thinking about what one has read, using writing to organize those thoughts, and then sharing those thoughts to get a conversation going. The process is the point more than the product.

Of course, one might suggest that bloggers could at least use AI simply to generate content ideas or even reading suggestions. I suppose so, but at this time that seems to me like AI is just being used the same way one might use Google, except that Google currently seems better at searching. And one might note that this researcher says that ChatGPT was trained on data that cut off in 2021, meaning that they searched for a recent book and ChatGPT couldn’t find it. Cindy Mayes in School Library Journal, meanwhile, was unimpressed with using ChatGPT for readers’ advisory, saying that it kept recommending the same few titles; she concluded even using Goodreads was better. Mayes also notes that ChatGPT will not be able to recommend books written after 2021 until its script is updated. I do not see the point of using ChatGPT as a search engine at a time when it is still making up false citations and can’t pull from recent sources.

I am sure AI has plenty of uses that make sense, but to me, it does not make sense to use AI to generate writing. Writing is how we process our thoughts, demonstrate that we understand a concept, express our passion for a topic, debate preferences and opinions, and communicate to form relationships. Using (an ethically dubious) program to generate an end product bypasses all the aspects that make writing a worthwhile activity and strips it of the interest it has for readers, who want to make real connections with actual people. Writing has been famously described by Kenneth Burke as an unending conversation. But you cannot have a meaningful conversation with a robot.

Other Book Bloggers on AI

Do You Have Book Blogger Imposter Syndrome? (Let’s Talk Bookish)

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme that was created and hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and then cohosted with Dani @ Literary Lion. It is currently hosted by Aria @ Book Nook Bits. The meme encourages participants to discuss a new topic each week and visit each other’s posts to keep the conversation going.

Prompt: How long have you been blogging? Do you feel like you’ve ‘figured out’ blogging, or do you ever doubt yourself? Do you feel you ever have book blogger’s imposter syndrome? How do you find confidence with your blogging and writing?

Star Divider

Briana and I started Pages Unbound in 2011 and, while it seems like I ought to be able to say that I have felt book blogger imposter syndrome at one point in over ten years of blogging…I can’t say that I have. Reading everyone else’s responses to this question makes it seem like feeling imposter syndrome is standard, and maybe I am missing some reason why I ought to have it, too. I have felt imposter syndrome in other areas in my life. Just not in blogging. And I think that’s because I don’t believe there is any “right” way to blog.

Imposter syndrome, to me, means feeling that I do not belong and that I am not as successful and intelligent as everyone around me. It means fearing that others will eventually figure out I have been faking it all this time. That feeling makes more sense to me in school or in a career, but not so much in book blogging. I can see it happening in other hobbies, where people get really intense, and if you do not have all the latest (most expensive) gear, or do not commit “enough” time to improve, people judge you (not subtly). However, book blogging tends to be pretty chill. People are really friendly. And the consensus seems to be that a book blog is your personal writing space where you can write what you want, how you want, whenever you want. There’s no way to be more or less successful as long as you feel happy with where you are at and what you are doing.

In the past, yes, I saw much more competition among bloggers over ARCs, and there was a sense that everyone ought to be reviewing the latest releases, in order to keep up. The idea was generally that to be “successful,” one had to have high stats, which would enable one to receive ARCs, and thus generate even higher stats. (It is a cyclical process with no clear way to “win” since it is an endless process.) Bloggers who did not receive many ARCs sometimes felt bad. But, even then, there were still many, many bloggers who did not request ARCs, nor care about them. There were bloggers who focused only on backlist titles, or classics, or indie releases, or obscure books almost no one had heard of but that they enjoyed. They still had fun blogging and they still found their audience.

As most of the “big” book bloggers stopped blogging, and many other bloggers left for other platforms (though I don’t believe blogging is dead yet, as some would say), I think book bloggers felt a lot more freedom from these types of pressures, though. Publishers seem to have moved on to working with influencers on BookTok, BookTube, and Bookstagram instead of with book bloggers. And while that is, of course, not ideal for book bloggers who want to review ARCs or maybe even get paid for blogging one day, it does mean that the tenor of book blogging seems to have changed. It feels like even more people are blogging for themselves, and to make connections with other readers, and not to try to appeal to publishing professionals. And so there is even less reason to compare one’s blog with another’s or to worry that somehow someone else is taking a slice of the ARC pie, leaving less for others.

So, really, I don’t think anyone can be a book blogging imposter. (Well, I guess if the whole blog were plagiarized or written by a bot or something–but aside from that.) As long as one book blogs, one is a real and legitimate book blogger. There is no wrong way to blog. And that’s the fun of it!

Should Public Libraries Be LOUD?

Ah, the age-old question. (Or, at least, the decades-old question.) Should public libraries continue to be a safe haven for readers and students who long for quiet? Or should the public embrace what many libraries are currently striving for–a building where the community gathers, babies and children and teens engage in educational activities, and sometimes it gets a bit loud? Personally, I love a loud library. It feels vibrant and full of life to me, and it gives me hope to think that people looking for educational activities and resources can still find them there, free of cost. But Karen MacPherson’s article “It’s Okay for Libraries to Be Loud! Take It from Me, a Librarian” generated many comments that were less accepting of noise in the library. And I could not help but wonder if some comments were missing the point, or if some of the complainers had been in a library recently.

Certainly I have heard a fair number of library patrons complain about noise and even witnessed a patron shushing the librarians (a story MacPherson also shares, which some commenters believed to have been fabricated). The idea seems to be that these individuals had grown up with a quiet library where the workers literally did, “Shush!” patrons, and so that is the way the library must always remain. The comments in the article, however, go farther, opining generally about the decline of society, how the library is not free babysitting, how children must be taught to be silent in social situations, and how nobody wants to see or hear misbehaving children. But…that’s not what MacPherson’s article talks about.

MacPherson’s celebration of noise in the library specifically discusses story time, early literacy initiatives, and other children’s learning programs. If it gets loud in these sessions, that is assuredly either because well, there are a lot of children there, and it’s not actually that easy to tell a baby or a toddler to just stop crying already because the patron over there is giving you dirty looks. Or because learning currently is all about actively engaging the learners in the process through hands-on activities and multi-sensory activities. Story time is not what I have seen in movies–a librarian intoning a book for ten minutes while children listen breathlessly. It’s all about getting the children to respond to questions, getting them engaged with music and movement, and maybe ending with a series of stations with hands-on learning activities. Something like that is going to “loud” even if everyone is “well behaved” because a few people talking at the same time (even in low tones) naturally generates noise.

To me, people gathered in a public area for a shared activity is not the same as randomly generated noise–which is what many advocates of the quiet library seem to equate it with. The sound of people engaged in a book discussion, children answering questions, or teens making friends while they make a craft or attempt a STEM activity, to me, hardly seems nefarious or like the end of society. It’s certainly not poor behavior. It is, to me, welcome noise, a sign that, at the very least, some of these children and teens have found a safe space to meet afterschool, a place where they can engage in constructive activities and build positive relationships with their peers.

And, indeed, noise from these programs in most cases should not be as large an issue as one might suppose. Most libraries today have separate meeting rooms for such programs, so those not participating do not need to see or hear it at all. Those buildings that do not–perhaps smaller one-room libraries–at the very least separate the room into children’s and teen sections, so adults who want to read in quiet can sit farther away. And that’s why I wonder how many of those longing for the days of shushing have, well, actually been in a library recently. Most libraries really are trying to do their best to have different spaces for different needs.

Even a bunch of kids talking or (heaven forbid!) some pre-teens and teens hanging out is hardly the nadir of civilization, however. I think sometimes children and especially teens are viewed negatively by a certain segment of the adult population and normal behavior for those age groups is seen as rule breaking. But there is surely a difference between a group of teens actively wreaking havoc and a group of friends who sometimes get a bit loud because they are having fun together. I have heard librarians complain that teens were laughing in the library. Somehow this seems to have been viewed as more transgressive than the adults who take loud phone calls or get into arguments. The librarians will, as far as I can tell, intervene more often when teens get a bit loud than they will when adults get loud–which says more about their attitude towards teens than it says about any actual library policy on noise.

None of this is to say that I do not value libraries as quiet spaces. I do. And I think that libraries should continue to designate quiet areas and to set aside rooms that patrons can book for quiet studying. However, since the role of the public library has changed so much over the years, especially in that children, teens, and babies are now welcomed as patrons, I do think we as patrons have to adapt a bit, as well. Children being children and babies crying is just how things work. And normal behavior by children and babies should not be misconstrued as “bad behavior” that apparently has to be punished with denial of entrance to the library until they are grown enough to realize some adults would prefer they be seen and not heard. If someone really, truly does not want to hear any children at all at any time, they could perhaps try studying in an academic library (if available), where the purpose of the building is still mostly for reference and quiet reading–as it was decades ago–and children do not typically enter (since the building serves mostly adult students). But the public library today serves a different audience and a different function. And it has for years.

The public library is, by definition, open to the public–and that means when one walks in, one is likely to see a number of people from different walks of life, many of whom might not be people one normally sees or even chooses to interact with. And I think that means giving other people grace. I see and hear plenty of comments all the time by people who think certain groups should not be allowed in the library, either because they do not like those groups or because somehow those groups make them feel uncomfortable. But that is not the road I think we should tread. Denying access to the library, to free resources and educational opportunities, because of one’s demographic sounds rather alarming, when put that way, doesn’t it? We shouldn’t bar people from a public building just because some think that babies are tiresome or children loud or teens annoying or people experiencing homelessness somehow give off the wrong vibe for their evening study. The point of the public library is quite literally that it is open to all, so that people have a greater chance at the same sorts of educational opportunities.

So should the library be loud? If by “loud” we mean the community coming together to learn, make friends, and have fun, then absolutely. That is a good type of noise, and one I wish I heard more often. It is not the same as people misbehaving or callously interrupting one’s quiet time just for the joy of making other people miserable. The public library is a shared space. And that means finding a way to co-exist as different people use it for different purposes. Let’s have more loud libraries.

My Parents Never “Discussed” Books with Me

The topic of “age appropriateness” of books for children and teens appears frequently in the blogosphere (and the broader culture). Sometimes it appears as discussions whether telling a child they shouldn’t read erotica or graphic horror novels or [insert type of book] counts as “good parenting” or as “censorship.” Most recently, the topic has appeared as a discussion over whether publishers should revise books such as those by Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, and Agatha Christie to remove “outdated” or potentially offensive language. There’s a lot to tackle in these discussions, but that’s not really this post is about.

Here, I want to talk about a comment I frequently seen made in these discussions: that children should be allowed to read anything and that nothing in books should be revised because “parents should discuss the topics in the books with their children.”

This is absolutely a great idea in theory. A child reads something disturbing, or they read about one character judging another character for being “fat,” or they see a character using sexist language, and they and their parent “talk about it.” The parent, I suppose, gives a nice informational speech about the topic, helping the child process the disturbing scene or teaching them that fatphobia and sexism are wrong. Perhaps they even talk about how these things were more widely accepted in the past than they are today, and that’s why they’re in the book but we don’t approve of these things today and we don’t emulate this behavior.

However . . . this absolutely never happened to me when I was a child, and I can’t see a lot of parents engaging in this almost helicopter-parent behavior of monitoring every book their child is reading and vetting it for any topic or offhand comment that ought to be “discussed.” My parents paid no attention to what I was reading at all as a child. If they did notice what I was reading, they almost certainly had no idea what the book was about. And if the book was specifically a children’s book (though I did read a lot of adult classics as a child, if not adult contemporary literature), like Dahl’s books, I cannot imagine what would have inspired them to read the books themselves and see if there was anything in them that we ought to “talk about.” They probably would have assumed that if it was a children’s book, there shouldn’t be anything wild in there to be discussed.

But did I ever read anything in a book that I wanted to talk about with my parents, where I initiated the conversation? No. There may be families out there where this is more likely to happen than in mine, but I cannot imagine reading about some of the things that were changed in Dahl’s books and feeling as if I should start a conversation about them with my parents. Even if I read something actually disturbing in a book, perhaps a book that was geared toward adults, I would never have mentioned it to my parents because we didn’t really have that kind of relationship.

Which is all just to say that I never find the “leave books as they are and let children read whatever they want because parents should just discuss the topics with their kids” a particularly useful argument.

There are two different topics here, of course, and I’m on different sides of the arguments for them. For the first point, I think it’s fine to tell kids not to read, for example, explicit sexual content. I don’t think that’s censorship. For the second point, I don’t believe in rewriting authors’ works after their death, without their knowledge or permission. Would the authors agree to rewriters if they were still alive? Possibly, but we have no way of knowing.

However, if we are worried about what kids might encounter in books that are outdated and include language or beliefs that aren’t accepted today, I just don’t think we can rely on the “kids can discuss it with their parents” line of thinking. Instead, I think it makes more sense to raise kids well in general. If we raise kids to not judge others by their appearance or to know that girls are as capable as boys or to realize that housework is not simply a task for women and never men, they should recognize it themselves when they encounter a character (or narrative voice) in a book who is racist or sexist or fatphobic, etc. Waiting for kids to read something in a book that we can turn into a teachable moment sounds much less effective than simply teaching them all the time.


Are Wild Adaptations of Your Work a Sign You’ve “Made It” As an Author?

I meant to write this post back in Summer 2022, when Netflix was teasing their adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion to very mixed results. People felt the dialogue was too modern, too far away from Austen’s vision. The whole thing must be a travesty. I haven’t watched the movie even though it’s been out a while (I don’t subscribe to Netflix), so I have no idea if it’s terrible or not. But the ordeal got me thinking. Wild and far-fetched adaptations of many books and plays exist, and while the adaptations themselves may or may not be good, the fact that creators feel free to deviate strongly from the source text is often a good sign that shows the text is popular and entrenched in public consciousness.

The most obvious example of this is Shakespeare. His more popular plays, like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, The Tempest, etc. have been adapted numerous times, and it seems no change is off-limits. Adaptations can change the setting, the time period, the characters’ genders, even the end of the story. No one would be surprised to see their local theater put on an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet that takes place on Mars and features all the characters as aliens. And while some people might be annoyed by this interpretation, a lot of other people would be excited to go see it!

These wild changes are possible because Shakespeare is well-known and well-loved, and a number of interpretations of his work already exist. In an ideal world, when creators make changes to Shakespeare (or any other text they are adapting), they are making those changes thoughtfully and trying to send a message about something on comment on a theme present in the original text. However, there are so many versions of Shakespeare’s plays that it wouldn’t be unimaginable that sometimes ~interesting~ adaptations are made simply because the adapters are trying to think of what they can do differently to make people show up. When people have seen 10 versions of Romeo and Juliet, and probably have a favorite, how can you make them watch yours?

The freedom to change things about a source text does not exist for most authors who are not as established as Shakespeare and Austen. Books can be incredibly popular and well-known even by people who haven’t read them (Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, for example), but fans still expect any film adaptations to be faithful to the book. The adaptation will be judged as successful or not, by many people, based primarily on how closely it mirrors the book. And this makes a lot of sense when there is only one adaptation. Creators can make changes, but audiences are likely to hate them (think the Ella Enchanted movie.)

So whether Netflix’s Persuasion is good or bad, it’s still a compliment to Austen that creators feel free to play with her characters and her texts. If I were an author, I admit I would probably be annoyed if people made wild changes to my work, but in the end, I’d have to see it for what it was: a sign that I was hugely successful.

What do you think?


Have Book Bloggers Been “Deinfluencers” All Along?

I recently have discovered the term “deinfluencing” thanks to a Buzzfeed article. According to Amanda Hetler on,

“Deinfluencing is the newest Instagram, TikTok and YouTube trend where influencers tell their followers why they should not buy a product. This trend started with the beauty and lifestyle categories but has since moved to other areas and popular products. Influencers discuss products they think are overhyped, and they may provide alternatives to their followers.”

Apparently there is now a trend because influencers feel they have been too much associated with recommending people buy products (especially pricey ones?), and it makes them look honest or relatable to talk about products that aren’t great or are fine but not worth their high price tag.

This is very funny to me because . . . isn’t this what book bloggers (and bookish influencers on other platforms) have been doing all along? Although some creators do choose to focus their platforms only on uplifting the books they actually enjoyed and would recommend to others, negative reviews are a staple of the bookish community. We have always been telling each other when we didn’t like a book and/or thought other people might not like it either (with the caveat that opinions vary on books).

And as for the expense of books, the bookish community also has a very long tradition of championing libraries and the free access to books, movies, and other materials they provide (to those people who have a public library, obviously). While criticisms arise from time to time about consumerism in the community, particularly on visual platforms like Instagram, there has always been a recognition that not everyone can afford to buy dozens of the newest books or to shell out for special editions, and bloggers are generous in sharing resources they know about for accessing books, whether it’s free e-books, access to ARCs, or something else.

So while the rest of social media is apparently applauding themselves for talking about products they don’t like or think are overhyped, perhaps the bookish community can congratulate ourselves for having been ahead of the trend. Maybe we can claim we started it!


Censorship in the U.S. Has a New Look. It’s Highly Organized (Often by Lawmakers) and Both School and Public Libraries Are Being Targeted.

We need to talk about censorship. It is a topic that comes up frequently in the book blogosphere and we have covered it over the years here at Pages Unbound. But, for many years, censorship was seen as an isolated–if dangerous–problem. The typical book challenge might involve, for instance, a single parent at a single school demanding that a book be removed from the school library or the school curriculum. Many of these cases might not even make the news. (The ALA believes 82-97% of book challenges go unreported.) If these cases did receive media coverage, people would often express outrage, but then suggest that students rebel by going to the public library to read the book instead. Times have changed.

Book challenges and book bans are no longer isolated cases. They have risen dramatically in recent years, and they are often organized by groups dedicated to creating lists of books to be removed not only from school libraries, but also from public libraries. Cases are now so common, you can read frequent round-ups of book censorship news on sites like Book Riot and Publishers Weekly, which cover everything from proposed bills to ban books across various state to bills that could criminalize the loaning of certain materials to bills that could pull funding from libraries deemed to be providing access to “inappropriate” books. Readers can no longer rely on just going somewhere else to find and read a book, if the book could be pulled from the entire state, or if librarians fear facing criminal charges for lending books.

Often these books bans come under the guise of “protecting children” and proposed legislation might suggest that the bans are just enforcing reasonable guidelines about what is “appropriate.” The trouble is that these proposed guidelines are often being proposed by individuals with no background in child development or literacy, and they are oftentimes overly vague. And they are usually focused specifically on removing books that focus on racism, LGBTQ+ characters or themes, and social justice issues. It is worth looking into where you live and what sorts of legislation is being proposed. Are books being removed from the library? Moved to different sections? Are the guidelines so vague that everything from nonfiction books about puberty to adult fiction romances could conceivably be considered illegal to have in a public library? And is it really necessary for outside organizations or lawmakers to propose new guidelines for “appropriate” reads over the expertise of educations, librarians, and publishing professionals? Guidelines that could remove access to books from everyone, instead of allowing individuals to make their own informed choices about what to read?

The potential for these organized attempts to remove potentially hundreds of books from both school and public libraries is very real and should not be understated. If you can, consider researching any book challenges or bans happening near you. And then speak up! Write to your lawmakers. Attend a library board meeting. Let your representatives know that you stand against censorship.

Do Three Star Ratings Count as Negative Ratings?

I have written previously that I do not give star ratings much significance. While I may look at the aggregate star ratings on Goodreads for a quick assessment of how people have responded to a book, I generally do not attach a lot of importance to a single reviewer’s rating. Yes, a one-star rating might intrigue me and encourage me to read more. But that’s the thing. I always want to read more. Star ratings are highly personal and subjective and, on their own, they do signify much to me. The review is what tells me what the reader actually thought of the book, and why. The review is necessary to explain the star rating.

Still, many people, especially seemingly authors, attach a great deal of important to star ratings. One Tweet I saw a few weeks ago lumped three stars in with negative ratings, calling for readers to be “required” to explain any ratings of three stars and lower. The implication was that three stars is “bad” and the reader either needs to justify rating a book low, or is somehow obligated to provide authors with critical feedback so they can improve their craft. (I believe reviews are for readers and not authors, and authors should, for the sake of their own happiness, not read reviews of their books. But that is a topic for another day.) But I was perplexed. I personally do not see three stars as negative at all.

Three stars is, to me, an average rating–and that is not a bad thing. It is in the middle of five stars, after all, so, intuitively, I think of one and two stars as more negative and four and five as more positive. Three is potentially neutral, meaning the book is not a standout but it’s not terrible, either. And that’s not bad! It’s not bad to be average! But I could go even farther. Goodreads, a site many avid readers and book bloggers use, indicates that three stars means a reader “liked” a book. “Liking” is not negative. It’s positive!

As much as we might hate to admit it, most things are average. That is what average means. I probably rate most of the books I read around a three because, statistically, most things should be average. It is rare when I find a book that stands out from the rest. One that feels wholly original and exciting. One that might change my life. It is also rare that I find a book I absolutely cannot stand. But things being typical? That I expect!

Personally, I see three stars as either neutral or leaning on the slightly positive side, if we go by the Goodreads ranking. But it seems that many reviewers and authors disagree. And, that, at least means I will keep on reading reviews to discern the significance of any star ratings.

What do you think? Does three stars count as a negative rating?