Scene from my therapist’s office the other day:
Me: So when I think about my career and all the genres I write in, like YA contemporary and YA romance and romance in general--
Her: Wait, you write romance?
Me: Uh, yeah. (P.S. I write lots of different things under different names and I ghostwrite stuff…FYI I am super crazy talented.)
Her: *Laughs nervously* I guess I’m just surprised…you don’t seem the type. Those books are so…I mean, I can’t believe you write things like that! Oh, stable boy, stable boy!
Me: *Trying to wrap my head around the fact that my therapist just mocked my career* Um, I’ve never written about a stable boy…? I like writing romance. And reading it. All kinds of it.
Her: Wow. I just can’t imagine you writing anything that shallow.
Other people reading this might be shocked that this conversation occurred. I was not. When you write in the genres I tend to write across—young adult, young adult romance, middle grade, adult romance—you get used to people telling you that your work is somehow lesser-than all the stuff piling up in the “Literature & Fiction” section at Barnes and Noble. I remember one of my friends in college mocking me for reading Holes by Louis Sachar, the critically-acclaimed middle grade novel. “Why do you read all that junk anyway?” he asked. (Here I could go into a long rant about the unfair reasons why we judge certain genres of reading more harshly than others, but many other people have written on that topic far better than I ever will. I think I’ll just hold this rant to being annoyed by book snobbery in general.)
There’s a reason e-readers took over the world, and that reason is book snobbery. Romance novels hit sales high points after the Kindle came out, and this wasn’t an accident: people were finally able to read whatever they wanted without anyone judging their covers. I’ve gotten so used to book-judging permeating the corners of my life that I just accept it these days. Honestly, I probably won’t even drop my therapist. She’s helped me make some important breakthroughs regarding my teeth grinding habit and also I already know where her office is. The process of Google mapping another therapist just sounds exhausting. Plus it’s not like what she said hasn’t already been said by at least five other people I still eat dinner with on a regular basis.
Still, a message out there to all of you who think your books are better than the ones I choose to read and write: you’re ruining reading for the rest of us. Not for me, actually—I’ll keep reading whatever I like to read, thanks. I have no problem going between that MG novel on my bookshelf and the new title from the literature bestseller list and also a book filled with people who dare to fall in love and have a pre-determined happy ending (gasp). I have a Kindle to handle the likes of all of you. The real problem here is that you’re ruining reading for the people who need to read the most: CHILDREN.
Book snobbery is no less pervasive in K-12 schools and the homes of children and teens than my therapist’s office. Actually, it’s ten times worse. “You let your students read graphic novels? But those aren’t real books, are they?” “My kid reads a lot, but mostly just Diary of a Wimpy Kid, so I’m worried.” “I hope my kid’s teacher starts teaching some real books next year. You know, classics. Maybe Dickens.” I hope no one tells Person #3 that Dickens wrote most of his stuff in serial form. Stephen King does that too, you know!
For years we’ve been telling kids what not to read. What’s not hard enough or important enough or “smart” enough. Then we turn around and get angry when they don’t want to read at all and would rather play Minecraft or whatever game I am currently too uncool to know about. It’s a mixed message that’s definitely not doing us any favors. I don’t love to read today because someone handed me a steady diet of Truman Capote when I was seven. I love to read because someone gave me a Baby-Sitters Club book once and I didn’t stop until I’d read all of them. Then I just kept going.
Basically, what I’m trying to say here is this: if you’re a book-judger, you crush my soul. But more importantly, you are probably crushing the soul of a smaller human out there who just wants to read their comic book without being treated like they have leprosy. Nobody owns reading, except possibly Hachette, and even they know that people’s reading tastes are wide and varied and should never be limited by what someone else seems to be “the right reading.” In fact, they’ve made about a bazillion dollars off the idea that people like to read different things. No one in that publishing house is afraid of a stable boy or five.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write a scene where some people kiss. And possibly find a new therapist.