Between certain New York Times articles claiming adults shouldn’t read YA, this article on why kids should read Homer and not Walter Dean Myers and this Slow-Books Manifesto that pushes the classics, it seems like there are a lot of opinions out there about what is worthy of being read. I’m sure part of the intent for these articles was to be incendiary and get attention. But they do raise the question: should people be reading something in particular?
Fortunately, there are a few more rational voices around to address this issue. At Clear Eyes, Full Shelves, Sarah makes a lot of fantastic points. One part I liked in particular:
What you read does not make you smarter than everyone else.
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. Little aggravates me more than the assumption that people read genre fiction or YA novels because they are not intelligent enough or educated enough to comprehend highbrow literary fiction.
Amen to that. I hate discussions about books that end up being a game of literary one-upmanship. You like reading about 18th century German philosophy or experimental fiction published by independent houses? Great. Enjoy that. But it’s ridiculous to assume that reading those books automatically makes you smarter than someone who picks up a graphic novel or middle grade fantasy book. As Sarah later points out, people read for a variety of different reasons. Not all of it has to be to ponder the depths of literature.
Similarly, Stefanie at So Many Books looks at the the slow reading article and asks why this would make someone love reading. She says:
“Just as we cannot live on only broccoli and spinach, readers cannot read only broccoli and spinach. It also doesn’t inspire those who don’t read to want to read. We do not need to read in order to live or have a good life or be a good person or make a significant contribution to our community. If we surround reading with rules and turn it into work, why would anyone, after working all day at a job, want to come home and work at reading? “
I like Stefanie’s point about having a well-rounded reading diet. Lots of classics are really wonderful and engaging and touch on the human experience in a way that we can understand across centuries. But even if I love Jane Eyre, it can’t satisfying all of my reading needs. Sometimes I want a book of humorous essays; sometimes I want historical fiction; sometimes I want a retold fairy tale or contemporary family drama. Combined, these books provided a much more complete view of the worldand can keep you happier as a reader.
Both articles touch on the joy in reading. It’s great to stretch your reading limits, but shouldn’t books also provide you with a certain level of pleasure? There’s so much fun and meaning in language. Why do we need to destroy that in order to create an unsatisfactory reading experience that limits our view of the world?
In short: Read. Have fun.
0 thoughts on “Read Free or Die”
I agree with everything you said. I’ve read quite a few of the “classics” that people try to claim are the best books ever written. I can appreciate the level of craft that went into writing the books, but they just aren’t relevant anymore.
The best example I can give for this is Great Expectations by Dickens. I had to read that book my freshman year of high school. While it was well written and I can understand the literary merit, there is nothing in that book that is going to be interesting to a 14 year old kid in the early 2000’s.
A lot of people praise the classics because of the themes and ideas that are contained in them. And I agree, there are a lot of really good ideas in many of these books, but many of the same themes are explored just as well (if not better) in modern genre fiction.
If someone learns to appreciate reading by reading modern fiction, many times they will then go back and read the classic books that have been lauded for years. However, if you try to start someone on reading with books that aren’t relevant to their lives, you’re going to scare them away from reading entirely. I strongly believe that the way fiction is being taught in schools is a big part of the reason why fewer people read today.
Very much agree. And I think that just like in other genres, some classics just won’t appeal to some readers. I loved The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice, but I got through Anna Karenina and thought “Well…guess I read it.” There’s nothing morally wrong with not liking Great Expectations.
I like the well-rounded reader idea. For my job as a school librarian, I read an enormous amount of chapter and YA titles, but every month I reach a point when I feel like I NEED a challenging book intended for an adult audience – but that still won’t be what I’m reading before bed when I’m tired. Reading a variety and being informed is the larger point. And enjoying the act itself.