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’?
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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
Great post, I see so much of this online, ugh just let people enjoy things
Indeed, I don’t understand why people bother tearing down other people’s likes and tastes, why can’t they just mind their own business and do their own things…
Absolutely fantastic post! I see this happening so much, and have gotten some of the reactions mentioned (online but also offline). Let everyone read what they want, how they want, how much they want, and let them get their books wherever they want.
Thanks! Yes, it’s frustrating that it even happens, and even more frustrating that it happens ALL THE TIME…
It’s so sad to see book shaming. There are books that I love but am afraid to post about anymore because of what people do to those who like them. It’d me nice if we could just read what we want to read without comment but I guess that’s not how it works.
I know, it’s so sad when we’re just hesitant to talk of books we like in fear of being shamed for reading them.
Great post! I’ve never been book shamed online, unless you count a long email from a Christian dude who was upset about me reviewing LGBT+ books. He tried to shame me into not reading them. It didn’t work. I did get book shamed by my professors when I was an undergrad. They mostly shamed me for reading Stephen King and genre fiction. I read serious literary stuff too! I have eclectic book tastes.
Oh no, that’s guy that shamed you about reviewing LGBT+ books sounds awful! But professors book shaming their students is almost worse – they should be encouraging reading, not shaming students for reading something that falls outside of standard literary fiction! Eclectic book tastes should be celebrated, not shamed.
I love this. I don’t agree with book shaming at ALL. My philosophy is that if you’re reading, that’s awesome. I don’t care what you’re reading or how much you read or how you read (e-book, audio, etc.). Just reading is something that so many people DON’T do, so we should be happy for anyone who somehow picks up a book.
I know I use the term guilty pleasure, but I don’t really believe in it. You shouldn’t feel guilty for the things that you enjoy. I have a friend who really got into reading more after she read the 50 Shades books. I haven’t read them, and I don’t ever plan to, but I thought it was great that she WAS reading, and like I said, it led to other books, so that’s awesome.
There are so many books and genres that I love, and it’s okay; I’ll keep reading them and everyone should read what they want too.
“My philosophy is that if you’re reading, that’s awesome.” –> EXACTLY!
I love your story about your friend who read 50 Shades of Grey! I read them too, and I’m not a fan, but if someone likes them, then that is great! We can still talk about the books and explain why we didn’t like them if that’s the case, but we can do that while still being happy someone read them and not by shaming them! And if any book gets someone into reading more, then that is indeed awesome!
Yes I have been with All the Ugly and Wondeful Things but I just ignored it as answering back never jelps! That’s the perk or being 50 you grew a thick skin LOL. But I agree with you. Shaming someone would mean our taste is the only good taste! How presumptuous!
You’re right, answering back never helps because some people are just so stuck in their ways, so a thick skin is probably the best way too handle it 🙂
Brilliant! I find myself qualifying my knowledge and extensive reading of YA all the time and I need to stop it.
Exactly, we should just read what we enjoy and enjoy what we’re reading without shaming ourselves 🙂
Oh my goodness THIS! I just can’t handle people who don’t accept that you can learn so much from anything, whether it’s the ‘easy reading’ of MG or ‘sophisticated reading’ (aka needlessly hard to understand) of so-called classics. I think you’re absolutely right that we put different types of books in this hierarchy and it really isn’t okay. I know I definitely shy away from telling IRL people what types of books I review because I know they’re going to be like “oh that’s just a silly little hobby like playing with your childhood dolls.” It’s so difficult to convince people that there are meaningful things to be gained from reading all types of books! I admit, I used to be this way about comic books, in thinking that they weren’t ‘real’ books and they were useless time-wasters but after reading some, that viewpoint couldn’t be further from the truth. So I guess if people feel the need to shame someone, they should take a minute and try that type of book for themselves. Great post, Lindsey!
Exactly! It’s so easy to judge people for reading something that you’ve never even read yourself, so the best way is to give it a try and see if it changes your mind. I felt that way about urban fantasy, but then I tried one that I ended up loving and now I’m trying more! Some I like and some I don’t, but I’d never judge someone else for reading them. And I’m not gonna be shamed about reading them either 🙂
I absolutely love this post! I’ve been really lucky that I’ve never been book shamed, but I’ve definitely felt the pressure to *not* talk about S.J. Maas books or to not be as enthusiastic about ‘Carry On’ as I want to be.
Those ‘graphic novels are for kids’ and ‘audiobooks aren’t real books’ things aggravate me SO much. The author creates a story. You find a way to be immersed in that story. Why should the way that you do it matter that much?
I used to call ‘The Selection’ my guilty pleasure…because it’s often hated on…but despite its flaws I really did enjoy it and got very attached to the characters! So maybe I’ll drop the ‘guilty’ before ‘pleasure’. ‘Guilty pleasure’ also seems to connote fat-shaming about eating choices…yet another hyper-judgemental arena.
Thanks so much for writing this post 😀
Yes, I feel the same way about SJM books or Carry On! People like shaming them so much and that’s not okay. I get that some books have issues and I believe there should be conversations about them, but that doesn’t mean shaming people for enjoying them is ever okay. I feel like it’s just people thinking of themselves as ‘better’ than people who do enjoy them, and that is such a faulty way of thinking!
Oh, I used to love The Selection as well! Though it’s been a while since I read it, but I’d love to re-read it some day. And I’ll definitely be watching the adaptation once it’s here!
I hate that people within the book community are often guilty of book shaming! It seems so ridiculous – we all have something in common, our love of books, so why can’t we focus on that?
Yes that’s so true! You’d think that we all love the same thing, and yet there is still so much shaming happening… it’s indeed just ridiculous.
Excellent article! I’m very lucky in that I haven’t noticed any explicit book shaming on my site – but then, I write and read Science Fiction and Fantasy and include a fair number of children’s books, too. I have ALWAYS strongly believed that everyone is entitled to read what they want. I don’t read Horror or Romance – not because I think they aren’t ‘good enough’ but because I’m too much of a wuss to cope with gory or creepy stuff and I’m more drawn to action and adventure than the dance between a man and a woman, these days.
But I’m very aware it goes on – I’ve only got to see the justification on a number of book bloggers’ sites to know they feel awkward about reviewing or supporting certain books.
Thanks for you comment! It’s indeed so jarring to see so many book bloggers feel the need to justify their reading and reviewing habits because of book shaming. I definitely agree that everyone should be entitled to read what they want!
Oh, absolutely! I have no shame in admitting that I read all sorts of children’s books – which I love. In fact I keep nagging other people to give them a go on the grounds that many of my favourites are too good to leave to the children…
I love this! I used to be ashamed of my YA love but now I just don’t care. I will say I still don’t really share that I like dark romance though hahah
Haha, I’m secretly happy that I can read my romance books on Kindle so people don’t gawk at the covers and start judging, but I will still be very upset if people try to shame me for reading them 🙂
For sake of discussion, I wonder if it’s book shaming when I mention a book I loved as a child and am now told it is problematic because it’s a metaphor for something and how did I not see that and how can i still like it. I guess I just didn’t try to over-analyze it and just enjoyed the story. Am I the only one that happens to?
That’s definitely a great discussion point! Personally, I think we can still love and enjoy books that are problematic, as long as we acknowledge their issues. I don’t think you should be book shamed at all for a series you loved as a child that now turns out to be problematic. For example, I still think fondly of the Harry Potter series, and I don’t think it’s okay to shame people for still loving that world. But I also think it’s important to acknowledge the problems behind it (and especially JK) and KINDLY point them out (and not promote harmful books and authors on our platforms). But it’s definitely something worth discussing!