Reading is a funny thing.
You’d think we know what we meant when we said reading — but, not really. People approach reading with different definitions and expectations, that then shape dialogue and actions, and even then what a person means by “reading” may change mid-conversation.
For instance — is reading just a skill to be taught, with the only concern being mastering vocabulary, grammar, styles, figures of speech, etc.?
Does reading have to be productive? Does it have to teach a skill set to be viewed as valuable? Is its only point to teach the reader something, whether it’s business organization or finance or management? Or, for those who champion fiction and literature, is its point to teach empathy and knowledge and to make one a “better person,” whatever that means?
If a novel doesn’t help you get a job or contain lessons for keeping and succeeding in that job, is it not important? Or do novels only matter to make sure a person is “well read” with a knowledge of the “classics” so that people share a common set of stories?
Or is reading “just” something people do for fun, no more, no less, no matter how it gets dressed up?
My answer is simple, of course, and complex. (Oh, how pretentious that sounds!)
It’s simple in that reading is what the reader wants it to be. The needs of readers (heck, the needs of people) are various and fluctuate according to so many different factors. What I sought out as a reader when I was working 70-odd-hour workweeks (work which included much reading and analysis) was different than what I read at other times in my life. At times I have read for escape; at times, for understanding; sometimes to seek answers, sometimes to confirm beliefs.
But, honestly, most of the time I read for the very simple reason that I enjoy reading. It gives me pleasure; it makes me happy.
What I don’t like? People “shoulding” on my reading, whether it’s my reading choices (you know, it’s trash, it’s not literary, it’s teen, etc) or that I read.
I think the reading choices is pretty self-explanatory: there are people who believe that since they read for x reason, all people should read for x reason, so since my reading doesn’t reflect that, it’s wrong, wrong, wrong. We’ve all seen variations of that argument around, most recently centering around 50 Shades of Grey.
How dare people — how dare women — read this trash when there are classics just waiting to make them better people!
Don’t you love the hubris of people, who assume they know so much about a person from their reading choices? And believe they can then loudly judge that person on those choices? Judgment: an easy way to feel better about myself is to judge another to be less than me. They don’t dress like me, listen to good music, wear the right clothes, have the right hair, read the right books. With a nice side of knowing nothing about the entirety of that person’s life, yet having this one window — this one book read — be the cause for dismissing the reader and their choices.
The “that I read” is a bit less obvious, and, I think, more tied to the belief (at least in this country) that people must be productive and show something for that productivity. Reading is viewed as “just” consuming a book because while I’m reading I’m just . . . reading. I’m not writing the next great novel, or mowing the lawn, or dusting; I’m not preparing a seminar, or revising an article, or arranging outreach visits. I’m not creating art. I’m not writing computer programs. I’m – just – reading.
“What a beautiful weekend, what did you do?” “Read a book.” Readers will smile and say, me, too, great reading weather. But others will look sideways, with the “so you wasted a great weather weekend reading” look. Thanks to the Internet, I have plenty of friends who “get it”, and think of the fun in things like Reading Alone Together. But, sadly, there are still plenty of people who give “the look,” the “didn’t you have something to do” look, the “must be nice to have so much free time” look.
The next time you see someone reading, and wonder, why aren’t they doing something — they are.
Updated to add:
Stop Telling Me What To Read, Please! at Clear Eyes, Full Shelves: “Just as how the books you read don’t define who you are as a human, the books you choose to read likewise do not make you more or less intelligent than the next person.”
You Can Like What You Like at Stacked: “I have a huge problem with the notion of a guilty pleasure. If something brings you pleasure, there should be no guilt associated with it. The reason people find themselves talking about guilty pleasures is because someone has taken their right to enjoyment from whatever it is that they like doing. It’s because someone has asserted themselves as an authority, as a person with privilege, and cast judgment upon an activity. No one has the right to tell you what you should or shouldn’t like.”