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Reading Comics Is Not Cheating

Dana Staves

Staff Writer

Going through life with an apron tied on and a pen in her hand, Dana Staves writes about books and food. She also writes a little fiction. She lives in Maryland with her wife, their son, and their cat.

A friend recently broached the subject of my Goodreads Reading Challenge. I’ve had many such discussions in the past – what I’m reading, how often, under what circumstances. There was much understanding when my reading slowed considerably during the first trimester of pregnancy. And now, thankfully, the bar is very low as I trudge through life with an infant.

So how, my friend wanted to know, had I already read 13 books this year? Of my 20-book challenge goal? How?

“Oh,” I said with a laugh. “I cheat.”

I explained that I went on a bit of a comics bender, plowing through trades of my favorite comics, devouring both Paper Girls, dipping into Lucy Knisley’s latest graphic memoir.

She nodded. “Ah, okay.” That made sense. Image-heavy, less text, fewer pages.

And that was the end of it. But as the conversation moved on, something bothered me. Why did I choose the word “cheat”?

The Goodreads Challenge is a metric of quantity. We set a goal of a number of books to read. There are no qualifiers here. If it’s a book, it counts, regardless of content, page count, or format. A book is a book is a book. Did I read it? Then it counts. Add it to the pile.

I’ve been writing about books for a good while now, and I’ve been immersed in the world of books and reading, in one way or another, for years. I 100% believe in equality across genres, media, content. And yet, “I cheat”?

The internalized insecurity here is what really bubbled to the surface. My reading isn’t good enough. Not legitimate enough. My reading life has changed so much over the past two years – slumps, books I abandon because I’m too exhausted to power through them, books I can’t get through because the content is just too raw for my smushy, sentimental mama heart. I’ve changed as a reader, and that leaves me feeling untethered, unproductive, somehow failing.

And so my apology for seeking out other forms, for reading so much less than I used to, so differently – my apology for changing who I am as a reader and a person – was that I cheat. But reading comics is not cheating, the same way that reading audiobooks or cookbooks is not cheating.

A book is a book is a book. And a reader is a person who is given to change. And that’s all okay. That all manifests in our reading lives. It’s a lesson that I didn’t realize I needed to learn again.