Ban Reading Shame

There are certain genres of books that people just don’t want to admit that they like, usually because of the people they’re around or their own crippling self-doubt and anxiety about being liked (ahem, go read my post about this here on my other blog). It ties in with the concept of the ‘guilty pleasure’, the books/music/films that you have to label as something you’re not proud of, often due to the fact that others don’t deem it as high brow or intellectual enough to worthy being acceptable pieces of content to enjoy.

I, for one, admit that I have often lied, or more often haven’t admitted, what it is that I really like to read – in the real world, at least. And it varies depending on where I am. For the most part in university, I felt ashamed to admit that I could never really get into the ‘classics’ canon like Dickens or Bronte, so usually I’d just smile and nod. Almost everyone uses the line ‘But you’re an English student, how can you not like ___’ and let me tell you, it pisses me off every single time. Just because my degree is Classics with English does not mean that in my free time I read War and Peace for fun, or during parties I debate the use of pathetic fallacy within Little Dorrit. The stigma that is attached to certain books is sometimes just too high, and it’s a lot of pressure to be under. I am happy to admit with no trace of lie or sarcasm that there are a few ‘classics’ that I have enjoyed, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I’m currently listening to Bleak House on audible to change up how I receive these types of texts, and I’m hoping to slowly plug away at them – but not because other people think I should read them, and instead only because I have an interest to. It seems the more you feel like you have to read a book, be it for school/work/social pressures, the more likely you won’t enjoy it as much.

The same thing happened to me at work when I first started as a bookseller. I felt the need to say that I read popular literary fiction, and all the upcoming ‘high brow’ titles some customers would ask for with their cuttings from the Sunday Times. Though for some reason, and it’s only just come to me, nobody really cares – or, at least, nobody that matters at least. Especially in an environment like a bookshop, it’s so important to have people who are passionate about all kinds of books. Sure, one colleague could be a huge fan of reading biographies and the other devours one thriller after the next, but if a customer comes in asking for something romantic that includes people turning into animals, they’re going to be a bit stumped. The same as I am when someone comes in asking for a certain poet’s work, when I don’t really have a clue about poetry in the slightest (something I’m trying to change). Whilst I want to be a bookseller who reads diversely, which is what I’m aiming to do with my reading challenge that includes reading from genres I don’t normally pick up, it’s important to embrace what I enjoy reading – and it will come to no surprise to you if you’ve read this blog before, that I am a hardcore fantasy fanatic. Add in a dragon, and it’ll be tricky for you to make me dislike it.

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I love pure escapism, and fantasy is the genre that delivers that to me every single time. In between studying and work, I want to consume something completely different, and if it’s got wizards or dragons or flying purple squirrels what should it matter? There’s a stigma attached to genres like fantasy, dictating who should enjoy them and who should be ashamed about enjoying them, and there’s a similar attitude with genres such as Young Adult. Some seem to think that you can only be a certain age to be allowed to read YA, and that age is usually confined to teenagers not yet out of school, despite the fact that YA is usually aimed generally at 16-25 year olds, but is more than happy to appeal to everyone. So what if you find pleasure in reading something that isn’t specifically within your ‘age range’? Reading is about enjoyment, and if you don’t find it in one genre then you might as well go find it in another. Don’t let others stop you from doing what you love and, hey, you’re reading. You’re already a lot better off than most people.

So, just enjoy what you love and don’t think about everyone else. You do you, that’s all any of us can really do. Whether you love romances that are so cheesy you almost feel cheesed out, or whether you like to read children’s books because they’re fun. After all, Harry Potter is technically classed as 5-8, yet hundreds of thousands of people read it all the time – often there’s more shame if you haven’t read them. So don’t worry about what everyone else thinks, and just go forth and read whatever you damn please.

You win some, you lose some

I made a post earlier about shaming, in particular classics shaming – for those of you who haven’t read it, I’m essentially talking about those few individuals who feel it’s their duty to ‘shame’ other people for not having read certain books. For example, what are considered ‘classics’, or the canon etc etc. We’re talking Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, and so on.

As a Classical Studies with English student, I feel ridiculously guilty for not having read some books. Which is stupid, because there are millions of books and who the hell can read every single one? Anyway, I decided that I’d gradually make my way through (and by gradually, I mean gradually) a few certain books deemed ‘classic’. I started with Wuthering Heights and, thanks to a well-timed university module, I’ve just finished Frankenstein. Neither were what I expected.

I’m a sucker for a good romance. Don’t you deny it, a little mush is good for the soul (and the heart, surprise, surprise). So I chose to start with Wuthering Heights, knowing very little other than the fact that Heathcliff is a hunk and there is a fantastic Kate Bush song (and let’s not forget the dance).

What I read was not this. I did not read about a gallant male lead who was wonderful, attractive and who incites me to say ‘Oh, I love you, Heathcliff‘. No. I read about an abusive arse of a man who is shown to actually beat a girl. Beat. And he also beats a boy. Beats. He locks Cathy’s daughter in a room and refuses to let her leave until she does what he wants. He is horrible, abusive and, I’m sorry, but just plain awful. WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE THIS GUY? This isn’t romantic! This is barely friendship! When is a man who beats people romantic? No, I’m sorry, but this is one classic that I just couldn’t enjoy for that sole reason. I went in expecting a love story, and left with a tale of abuse. The writing is beautiful, I can’t deny that, but Heathcliff is not.

I approached the next classic with trepidation. Frankenstein. Oh boy. I know the stereotype images of a square headed monster coloured green all stitched together. Once again, I had no clue what to expect. Once again, how I felt at the end was the exact opposite of my expectations. Wuthering Heights wasn’t a good time for me. Frankenstein was one of the best. I adored every page. The writing, the story, the later analysis I did in class on the relation to the myth of Prometheus. It was pure class and I wish I had read it sooner so I could have gushed about it sooner. Frankenstein and his monster, his creature, were so complex and interesting and just so different. They had motives that I could understand; the wish to create, to discover, to find love, to find a place to belong (cue music from the Disney Hercules soundtrack). It was just perfect.

So, you win some and you lose some with classics. You might feel like you’re obligated to like them, but I’ve discovered first hand that this isn’t the case. Wuthering Heights wasn’t really up my street, so what? Frankenstein is one of my favourite reads of this year – and not just because it meant that when I read Vicious by V.E Schwab I understood references to it.

Moral of the story (/stories), try something different and you might find that you like it – or hate it, but then you can write a blog about it and get out all those pesky feelings.