(Okay, I don’t mean literally every single book.)
I have had to eat my pronouncements about What I Read and What I Will Never Read pretty frequently. Younger Me made lots of such pronouncements: I would Never Read on a Kindle (oops, I totally bought one). I would Never Become An Audiobook Reader (double-oops, it’s my main form of reading right now). I would Never Read Faulkner after that one time in college that I was forced to read him (I haven’t broken this one yet, but it’s wavering like crazy–Younger Me would be offended that I even bought The Sound and the Fury).
Younger Me would be upset that I try to diversify my reading on purpose because Younger Me didn’t understand that we do not, in fact, live in some sort of post-racism, post-sexism world. Younger Me believed that she picked books based on merit, but it was really just some bullshit sold to people like herself: the idea that books are published based solely on merit and not discriminatory preferences is a pretty lie to make people feel better about reading what is put in front of them. Younger Me did not know this and made silly pronouncements accordingly.
All of this nonsense surrounding my reading preferences was less about actually reading and more about identity. My choices were supposed to signal something about me: I was smart, educated in literature, choosy (to some, and rightfully so, elitist). My choices signaled some other things about me that I wasn’t educated enough to understand at the time: I was a traditionalist both in my author choices and my media choices (I was paper-only for a long time after options were available); I was a defender of a long-held institution (The Deciders of Literary Merit, we’ll call it) that rarely allowed for dissenting opinions; I was not thinking for myself, but allowing myself to feel good about conforming to others’ opinions about What Is Good and What Is Not Good about literature. All of these things were part of my reading identity, whether I realized it or not.
Maybe you, too, have found yourself arguing over something of literary importance and have changed your mind about it later. Or maybe you find yourself wondering if it would really be so bad to go digital or read a few books of a new genre, but you’re hesitating because that’s not who you are as a reader. Maybe you even want to (whispers) read comics, but you also have a vague but worrying impression that comics are supposed to be for kids–or, at the least, less serious somehow.
Well, friends, after years of having to eat crow over my own decisions about who I am as a reader, I have one trick to help you:
Don’t let what you read be tied to who you are. Just be a reader.
A reader can be many things. A reader is just a person who reads. A reader is allowed to enjoy literary fiction one day and read a sexy thriller the next day; a reader is allowed to read paper, audiobooks, or ebooks to their heart’s content. A reader can mix it up. A reader does not have to pledge allegiances. A reader reads comics if she wants to.
Readers can still forge common ground even without smaller, more specific identity tribes. Have we not all stood accused time and again of having our noses stuck in books? Have we not all library fines because we needed just a few more days to finish a book? Do we not all know the frustrations of poor movie adaptations? Yes, friends. We have and we do.
There might be people in your old tribe who go “hey wtf?” when you break out your new “I’m just a reader, yo” lifestyle. Don’t listen. There’s a word for people who try to bring others’ happiness down:
Just to be clear, you don’t have to change a single thing about your reading habits. You can be the reader that you want to be, which also means that you can stay the course if you’re happy in what you’re already doing. For the rest of us who may been feeling stifled in their reading identities, though, we can decide that what we read doesn’t define us. We can enjoy any type of reading because it’s all reading and reading is dope AF. The End.