Opinion

Pages Ain’t Nothing But a Number (or, Let’s All Stop Judging People by How Much They Read)

January is a month for jumping into hopeful new horizons, while still contemplating the year that’s suddenly, surreally, behind us. And for book nerds, a good chunk of both things involve reading milestones, particularly now with the easy gauge of ye old Goodreads Reading Goal. I actually think there’s a lot of good in setting goals and pushing yourself to read more, and read wider. For instance, along with many other Rioters, I’m going to make a point of reading more writers of color this year, and I can hardly wait to dive in. I find the list of 2014 Reading Challenges fellow Rioter Tasha rounded up the other day exciting and wonderful. These are good things.

Yet, back around New Year’s, I happened upon this string of tweets, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since.

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I’ve been trying to figure out why this bothered me so much. Maybe it’s because Wil Wheaton is such a clearly good guy–I mean, one of his life goals is to get people to play more board games, for goodness sakes–that I don’t understand why people would insult his excitement over his freaking Goodreads goal, of all things. But clearly Wil himself wasn’t that bothered by it; he soon returned to tweeting about burritos, as he should.

I guess the thing is, after being submerged in the bookternet for a while, I think what bothered me most is that that last tweet didn’t surprise me at all. I have gotten used to the fact that sometimes book nerds can be jerks. But while I may have gotten used to it, it still feels wrong, like an equation that doesn’t balance out. People who read books should just naturally be good people. I know that sounds stupid and naive, but I still choose to believe it anyway. It’s a gut feeling type of thing.

And maybe people were jerks to Wil Wheaton because anyone with over two million Twitter followers can be criticized by anonymous jerks of the Internet for literally anything. (Which is another issue unto itself.) So perhaps it was just the Stupid Internet Being Mean, instead of Book Nerds Being Mean. But either way, let’s talk about this.

Because 20 books in a year? It’s a good goal. 100 books in a year? Good goal. 5 books? Good. 200? Why not.

You can literally read any amount of books you want to and still be a good reader.

While I didn’t read all of the replies to Wil’s tweets, I did see several that also asked things like, “Do graphic novels count? Because you can read those real fast!” Yes! Graphic novels count because graphic novels are books! Picture books count! Fifty Shades of Grey counts! All books count!

If someone reads fewer books than you do, it does not make them less intelligent than you. It does not even make them a worse reader. If someone reads different types of books than you do, it doesn’t make them a bad reader, either. It just means they are a different human being than you.

Yet even as I preach from my rather soapy box about not judging others for their reading statistics, I know I judge myself, too. Sometimes relatives and friends consult me for book recommendations because they know I “read a lot,” but instead of gushing forth with book titles straight away, my first instinct is always to shake my head violently and yell, “No! No! I do not read ENOUGH!” while neurotically wringing my hair. What’s up with that, self? Stop worrying about what “a lot” actually means. Just talk about books.

So as we plunge into 2014, let’s all make a pact to just be better, as book nerds and as people. Let’s assume that every single book another person reads might actually signify a huge accomplishment for them. When we see someone on the train reading a book that we think is trashy, let’s assume that maybe they have a massively complex and maybe painful life, and that this book is providing a good escape for them right now, and effing good for them. And if we decide to partake in a reading challenge and fall off the wagon by February, let’s remind ourselves that that’s fine. And if we don’t make our Goodreads Reading Goal when December 2014 rolls around? Fuck it. We’re all drinking champagne anyway.

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