Sorry, sorry–I got the title slightly wrong. What I meant to say is that nobody whose opinion matters cares what you read.
I read this article at HuffPo telling people to “stop lying” about books they were listing for a Facebook meme. First, the post author declared this, against all reason:
“Sure, we’re calling this [meme] ‘books that changed the way I think’ but really it’s just meant to be your favorite books.”
Right, because when someone gives me specific criteria for a list, I usually just start rattling off things that I really like instead of attempting to meet the criteria.
Then she proceeded to tell us that our favorite books list would invariably be mostly Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Fifty Shades. She didn’t even bother to try to pick out the best Harry Potter books for her “realistic” list, contenting herself to list the first three, in order. You know, just like any passionate Harry Potter fan (cough). Because people don’t really read those hard books, they just talk about reading them for show, 100% of the time.
The amount of shade Ms. Kleinman threw at people who listed “hard” books suggests to me that she might not be feeling totally secure about her own reading habits. And let’s be real–there are plenty of people who read “hard” books who only do so to battle that same feeling of inferiority, so that they can look at their bookshelves with smug satisfaction. Those are the people who would lie in a Facebook meme to make themselves seem smart. That’s not, however, every single person who has ever read The Sound and the Fury or One Hundred Years of Solitude and found themselves transformed by those works or similar ones. That’s not even most people who have.
Reading insecurity seems to happen along all points of the reading spectrum; it often leads to a diatribe about what “real readers” read or an impassioned defense of the merit of a particular genre while, subtly or not, suggesting that the opposite genres have little merit.
“Literature is BORING. ZZZZZZ. Only try-hards wade through Faulkner.”
“Real readers don’t read living authors.”
“Most classics are crap, snobs just won’t admit it.” (actually saw this one recently)
“Popular fiction is DESTROYING LITERATURE and it MUST STOP.” (forever)
So. Much. Posturing.
Granted, I can see why non-literary readers would feel less secure, since the bookish establishment fawns over literary fiction and doesn’t let you forget that it is The Establishment. Professors and teachers rarely push non-literary fiction into your hands as an example of excellent writing. Popular fiction is, well, popular, but has less Official Authority behind it.
People on both ends of the reading spectrum need to deal with reading insecurity, though, because this is getting damned old. We all need to stop judging what others read for pleasure. We only have to worry about the words that we are putting into our own eyeballs. A porny book series will not bring down the end of literary culture. You can put a boring book down if you aren’t that into it; no harm will befall you. The people who care about you won’t be ashamed that I . . . I mean, uh, you never made it through War and Peace.
We live in a magical world where you can have a book instantly transmitted from space to your home (that’s how internet works, right?). This is our time. Live it up, no matter what you like to read. Nobody cares what you read, really–and if they do, that’s their problem, not yours.