Written by Emily Ogden
Folks, I have been a victim of book-shaming. There are more pressing tragedies, I’m sure, but I’m not taking this too lightly—it’s actually been a pretty big deal in the book world. Are young adult novels only for young adults?; Should you outgrow your novels or make a case for them?; the argument goes on and on. As it goes on, mingling in literary circles becomes really tough. Not only are you supposed to have read all of the smart-person books, but your favorites can’t just be from an acclaimed novelist—they also need to somehow be impressively obscure, with extra points if they are impossibly cerebral. To Kill A Mockingbird? Totally not allowed since everyone’s read it and all. Something like Divergent? Are you twelve? I have seen this debate almost tear mild acquaintances and work colleagues apart.
Here I am, world! I am a twenty-year-old English major, and sometimes I pick up my summer reads from the Walmart crime or fantasy section. I love Jack Reacher, I will probably re-read Eragon at some point in my life, and I will most definitely read The Chronicles of Narnia with my kids. I first became interested in what is now my certificate in classical texts when I picked up a simple chapter book on Greek myths at ten years old. I love Orwell, but I’ve only read 1984 and Animal Farm, and those were both high school requirements. In my free time, I’m just now getting to my first ever Hemingway, and yes, it is The Sun Also Rises. I’m about halfway through, and it’s great. I’ve enjoyed myself. But I also liked the Da Vinci Code. I enjoyed that, too.
If you are reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom or Goodnight Moon, then yes, I would be concerned. But if you dust off your cover of Harry Potter every once in a while, or walk through the YA section of Barnes and Noble, there is absolutely no cause for alarm. The real problem, I believe, is far worse: most people are embarrassed not because they just read a book, but because they haven’t read at all since they were reading those books. Their favorite book is The Hunger Games not because it made them rethink life recently, but because it was the last book they read, and that was a pretty long time ago. Like I-don’t-even-remember-who-she-ended-up-with long time ago.
I think we need to spend a little less time being conscious of others’ and our own book choices, and more time just making the choice. I can promise you that there is time in this world to read, and that time spent doing it is invaluable. Beyond imagination and pleasure, books offer skills that aren’t easily acquired any other way. Could somebody peg me as a YA fan? Nope. But if I didn’t read, they would catch it in my writing from a mile away. The importance of reading is both experiential and applicable, no matter the title. Be ambitious, but realistic. It’s better to read the dang dictionary than to not read at all. It’s 2018, people. Let’s put the snobbery aside and applaud anyone who cracks open a cover in this screen-obsessed world.