Hi everybody, and welcome to a new discussion post! (I know, I know, it’s been a while. Sorry about that!). Today I wanted to talk to you all about book shaming, which is making someone feel bad about their reading habits and/or preferences. It’s something that is just everywhere, and we’ve all either been a victim of it ourselves or have knowingly or unknowingly done it to other people. So let’s talk about it!
What prompted this post?
Well, you could also ask “What DIDN’T prompt this post?” because, unfortunately, book shaming is EVERYWHERE. Even within our very own bookish community, which should be filled with book lovers who don’t judge, right? Nope, not even the bookish community is above book shaming and chances are you’ve had some book shaming thoughts yourself. I know I’ve had.
Actually, this post was prompted by a conversation between my husband and I. And, more specifically, my reaction to it.
Now, before you bring out the torches and pitchforks, let me just say that my husband really does support my bookish obsessions. He’s the best and I mean that. But he also loves jokingly needling me, just to get a reaction from me. And he knows me well, so he knows what to say to get the biggest reactions out of me. So no, he didn’t really mean what he said, but how I reacted to his joking was definitely genuine.
Basically, we were talking about my book shelves. At the moment, they are in our bedroom, but since I’ve always dreamed about having my own little reading corner, I’d really love moving them into our living room and then add a cozy reading chair, a lamp, a blanket and just all that good stuff needed to make the best reading corner ever. So I once again tried to convince him this was an awesome idea (even though we don’t actually have the space but you know, details) and I asked him “Why don’t you want to have my book shelves in our living room?” And his answer was “Look, I am not gonna put CHILDREN’S BOOKS in our living room for everyone to see.”
So my first reaction was pretty shocked and outraged.
But then (and this is the reason for this post), I started justifying myself. Like “Hey, I may read some YA, but it’s only a percentage of my overall reading”. And like “Hey, I do read a lot of adult books too”. “Have you read any Sarah J. Maas? Not YA dude”. And “YA just represents the age of the main character, it in no way says anything about the quality of the writing, plot or character development”. But really, I was justifying my reading choices. Meaning, I was feeling shamed. When I should not have felt that way.
Because, even if I read only middle grade and young adult books and whatever books constitute as ‘children’s books’, I would still be a reader, and those books would still look AMAZING in my living room!
And that should have been my actual reaction. Not shame because someone else might think of them as ‘not-real-books’. But pride that I am a reader and found books I love so much.
Book shaming, it’s everywhere
So, while this is just one example (and I repeat, that was said jokingly), the real book shaming is something that happens ALL THE TIME. Sometimes it even feels like it’s better to hide the fact that you like books, because if you speak about it, someone out there will judge you.
Haven’t we all heard one of the below things said to us at one point or another? Or perhaps even thought them ourselves?
“Aren’t you 28 years old? Why are you still reading Young Adult fiction?”
“Graphic novels? Aren’t they for kids?”
“Audiobooks don’t count as real books.”
“You’ve read 10 books this year? That’s not a lot, I’ve read 100!”
“You’ve read 100 books? Wow, you must not have a life!”
“You only read smutty romance, that’s not reading.”
“Have you read [insert classic book here]? No? Then how can you call yourself a reader?”
And so on, and so on.
But you know what? That’s book shaming. And it’s not okay.
If you just go online, chances are you will find a discussion going on about this somewhere. Twitter pretty much tells me my reading is ‘not real reading’ on a weekly basis. There are always articles out there tearing down young adult fiction, tearing down audiobooks, tearing down romance books or whatever.
There’s a real stigma out there, and even some books that seem like they are stored in our collective ‘okay to hate on’ memory files. And it’s easy to get carried away with this. I myself have joked about Twilight. But you know what? That’s not really okay. While it’s okay to not like a book, to have outgrown it personally, or to express your honest opinions about said book, IT’S NOT OKAY TO SHAME PEOPLE WHO DO LIKE THEM. I love Sarah J. Maas books, but I feel like I can’t really admit this in the bookish community, because it seems cool and hip to shame Sarah J. Maas readers. (Sure, these books have their flaws, but I can still like them, okay? See, here’s my justifying what I like, AGAIN!)
It’s also kind of my problem with the term ‘guilty pleasure’. I think this term comes directly from book shaming and these so called collective ‘okay to hate on’ memory files. Why should we feel guilty about what we like to read? You’re right, we shouldn’t. So let’s scratch this term, shall we?
Why would anyone shame anyone else for reading?
While I wish I could just say that people shame other people because they’re simply judgy, arrogant and douchey people, unfortunately it’s not always so straightforward.
After all, haven’t we all thought book-shaming thoughts at one point or another? At ourselves or at someone else? And surely we’re not all judgy, arrogant, and douchey people, right?
So no, it’s not as simple as that. Then what could be some reasons?
The collective ‘okay to hate on’ memory files
Like I said, some books are just so used to being hated on, laughed at or mocked, that we sort of become peer pressured into hating them. How many people mock Twilight, without ever having read them? Just because a lot of people mock something, doesn’t make it ‘okay to hate on’. And maybe you shouldn’t judge people for reading something you haven’t even read yourself. Read it, and then you can express your opinion, but WITHOUT SHAMING people.
Why should middle grade books only be read by middle grade kids, young adult books by young adults and adult fiction by adults? Why should graphic novels and comic books only be read by kids? This is some serious box thinking, when in fact we are human and we don’t neatly fit into a box.
Teens can read adult fiction. Adults can read YA fiction. Adult or YA, or Graphic vs Fiction, it doesn’t represent a difference in quality. The themes can be equally deep and life-changing in whatever type of reading you do.
Just like some books are labeled ‘okay to hate on’ in our subconscious minds, some books are labeled ‘reading this will make me cool’. But spoiler alert, it doesn’t. For example, if you like reading classics, that’s great, they are amazing books that challenge you to think and they are called classics for a reason. But reading one doesn’t make you superior to people who haven’t read it. And judging others is not cool.
You can read both Jane Austen and Sarah J. Maas. You can read both adult and young adult fantasy. You can read both non-fiction and fiction. Contemporary and Romance. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. The cool or the uncool one.
Also, just because a book has a shirtless guy on the cover, doesn’t mean it’s just meaningless fluff and smut. It can also have deep themes that can impact a person. So what it comes down to is: don’t judge a book by its’ cover.
You can call yourself a book lover, no matter what you read, how you read, or how much you read. The only criterium for being a book lover? You need to LOVE BOOKS. That’s all.
Do you love reading YA, even if you’re not technically YA anymore? Go you!
Do you only read smutty romances? Go you!
Do you only listen to audiobooks? Go you!
Have you only read one book this year? Go you!
Have you read all the classics? Go you!
Only read non-fiction? Go you!
We’re not here for judging what people read. And I have to admit, I do it too sometimes. We’re all only human and book shaming has been ingrained into us since childhood. But we can do our best to push aside any judgy thoughts we may have before they have a chance to fully develop.
Have you ever been book-shamed before?
What is your reaction when it happens?
And do you believe in the term ‘guilty pleasure’?
PS: I’m (still) having some technical difficulties with my comments. I apologize for the inconvenience but I could really use your help in the next few weeks, especially if your comments are not coming through. Check this post for more info: https://www.lindseyh.be/2020/09/technical-difficulties-i-need-your-help-with-my-commenting-issues-please