Judgy McJudgerson

9th February 2012

 

I don’t often read the posts on Book Riot, but today I noticed Amanda from Dead White Guys had a new post up on Book Riot titled “Confessions of a Newbie Independent Bookseller.”

The article discusses quirks of working in such a specialized place and the types of books people come in requesting. She shares one particular confession I loved:

I Don’t Judge Your Taste in Books
When I get a customer who wants a recommendation, I usually ask what the last book was that they loved so I can see what they’re looking for in a book. Sometimes there’s a pause, an embarrassed shifty-eyed gaze to the floor. A mumble of, “well, I read a lot of teen books, like, Hunger Games and stuff…” Independent bookstores can have a reputation for being snobby places where the books are “curated” out the ass- where you won’t find a best seller anywhere, but where you can definitely find the collected works of David Foster Wallace. I’m sorry if you’ve had that experience at other indies, but honestly- I don’t care what you read. If you want to add to your collection of mermaid erotica, I’ll help you. You want to read the next Twilight? I’ll help you. Looking for a how-to on building your own yurt? You’re the coolest! Let’s do this. There’s no judgment.

However, one person in the comments talks about how he or she does judge a person by what he or she reads. Unfortunately, this type of book shaming is not confined to bookstores. Frankly, I experience this all the time, and I’m sure it’s partially because I am so plugged in to the bookish world and bookish people. More often than not, this judgment comes from someone without a literature degree, someone who is very serious about serious literature.

Please understand I am not saying that an individual without a literature degree cannot criticize books. What I am saying is I do have those qualifications, and I still don’t feel the need/desire to lecture people about their reading choices. I have two degrees in English, one undergrad, one grad. I’ve read most of the big guns. I know literary terms many people do not. This does not make me cool; in fact, it puts me in a very low wage-earning category. I can talk a book to death if I want or need. But here’s the truth: that ain’t fun. I know I’m playing fast and loose, using “ain’t” and cliches and telling you this, but come on: Reading should be the least judged thing we do. We’re reading. In 2009, I remember reading that the average American reads one book a year. If you’re here, you’ve probably already hit that number this year. Whether that one book is a Harlequin romance novel, Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, or James Patterson’s newest, it’s better than no books read this year.

I’ll level with you: I read, no, I devoured the Twilight series. Granted, I knew they weren’t quality writing, but I didn’t care. The story drew me in, no matter how ludicrous parts of it were. I mention this because this is the most criticized reading choice for many. You may not like it, but guess what? Those books enticed people who had never read an entire book for fun to read several – several long books, no less.

My best friend reads at least 80% paranormal romance. We were talking about Goodreads the other night, and every single time she mentioned what she had been reading, she explained her choices away. This is an intelligent teacher and mother of three. The fact that she does read with all that going on is impressive to me. I know she isn’t a big fan of mysteries just like I’m not a big fan of paranormal romance. When we do read the same book, it’s that much more fun. We are diversifying our book stock, making us more interesting.

My reading list includes classics, contemporary literary fiction, an occasional chick lit, and tons of mysteries. I love mysteries, and sometimes even if I know it’s not the best mystery I’ll ever read, I keep reading. Why? Because it’s still enjoyable. The act of sitting down with a book is pleasurable and calming to me.

Maybe part of my ire has built up because I have seen non-readers turned into readers using books others might discount. Most of the students who have entered my classroom have told me they hate reading. They don’t dislike it or find it boring. No, they tell me they hate it. I make it my mission to turn at least one of them on to reading. How do I hit that target? I find out what they enjoy, and I give them a book that aligns well with those interests. Nine times out of ten it works, and I love being part of that person’s life in some small way. If that means putting The Hunger Games in the hands of one student and Madame Bovary in the hands of another, I’m perfectly ok with that. For those of us who truly love books and reading, why would we have it any other way?

So my big question is, have you ever felt judged for your reading choices? And WHY are we allowing others to guilt us? I won’t be had. Come look at my bookshelves and judge away. I dare you.

 

  • Anonymous

    I’m with you! I don’t care what they are reading so long as people are reading. My brother reads Stars Wars Novels. That’s it. When I’m in a store with a good selection, I call him to ask which ones he has already. My sister reads self-pubbed stuff, and she loves it! I’ve even given a few a try based on her recommendation. They weren’t me, but I could see why she likes them so much. These reading habits are ones that they didn’t acquire until they were in their mid-twenties. Before that ‘book’ was a dirty word. I’m so proud of the progress they’ve made, that I’ll gladly walk into any bookstore and pick up something that I think they’ll like, and I dare someone to judge me for it.

    • Exactly. I love that most of my family reads, even though our tastes vary. That’s what makes life interesting. Plus, there are always moments where we share books and urge the other to read, even if it’s outside our reading zone. Some of my favorite books have been because of those recommendations.

  • Slkeeth

    All the time. I’m a PhD student in English lit, so yeah, if you want to talk about Big Important Books, I’m your gal. But I love reading supernatural, sci-fi, YA dystopia, and historical romance, as well as any goofy Jane Austen fanfic I can find, in my spare time. Two of my profs have confessed to be huge mystery addicts. My bookshelves are wildly unorganized, and I’m sure it entertains people to find Twilight next to Foucault, or Rushdie next to Outlander. I say, read what you enjoy, but sometimes try something you’re not familiar with.
    And despite being able to name-drop Big Important Books, I don’t judge others by what they read. I’m not a fan of the blood-and-gore crime paperbacks some people love, but so what? I don’t have to read them. Just read SOMETHING.

    • Sara – I know, for me, I had to have an outlet from those BIG books I read for all my classes. I think most in the field do. I wasn’t tired of reading. I was just tired of reading feminist texts or literary theory. Mysteries have been my book of choice since I first cracked a Nancy Drew as a child. They’re my comfort reads. 🙂

  • Amy

    Amen.

    No one should be discouraged from reading. There is a long proud tradition of “trash” in literature! I wrote an article about just that not too long ago.

    Personally, I work for a respected, international book award AND an indie bookstore (for fun! How nerdy is that?), but I have no shame finishing a Paul Auster novel and jumping into, say, Amanda Quick.

    • Amy- I’d love a link to the article if you don’t mind.

      And I love that you “amen’d” my post. 🙂

      • Amy

        My article was mostly about romances specifically:
        http://someofmybestfriends.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/in-praise-of-smut

        We would all do well to remember that the likes of Doyle, Dickens, and Dumas all wrote much of what they published to appear in magazines. Tales to keep the public coming back every issue. Certainly not what most would think of as a “respectable” or “literary” medium in principle.

        • So true. I think there are a lot of authors out there who have also forgotten this. Certain authors are so pretentious it seeps into their writing. Elitism. Ugh.
          Thanks for the link! I’ll add it tomorrow.

          • Amy

            Funny you say that! The owner of the indie where I work just shared a story of meeting a certain, very prolific author (with the help of many ghost writers) who, funnily enough, copped that attitude!

          • I’m not surprised. There are a lot of things I will excuse. Pretension and elitism are inexcusable to me, particularly in a writer.

  • Great, great post. I was so disappointed when I hit the end of Amanda’s article and saw that someone felt the need to comment on why she DOES judge people. There have been so many independent record stores and bookstores that I have visited one time and then vowed never to revisit, because there is so much judgement from behind the counter. Like you say, who is anyone to judge another person’s reading habits? Why do we even care about that? Why should we put anyone in a position where they feel they need to justify their reading habits? I like to think (or, I like to hope) that one way to end this is to simply stop buying into the whole idea that anyone is allowed to judge our reading; but I still catch myself, at times, trying to justify my own reading. You know, by backing up the fact that I’ve got books by John Grisham and Emily Giffin going by saying, “but that’s just to take a break from Ismail Kadare’s stuff.”

    Anyway – the one thing I still like about the Book Riot piece and comments is that Amanda comes off so much better than the bookseller who commented to explain why she judges all of her customers. I came away from the piece thinking that I would LOVE to buy a book from Amanda, and that if I could get the name of the store where that other woman works, I’ll be careful to never visit it.

    • Right. It is easy to say – nope, not gonna affect me, but it does. Sometimes I feel like people judge me more harshly because of my background – like I SHOULD be reading a specific type of book. Thankfully, I honestly don’t care, but I hate that anyone does. I don’t have an indie near me, but I cannot imagine someone loving self-righteousness more than books. Especially when you work with books.

  • Anonymous

    I was really surprised by that one response to my post, the bookseller with “20 years” of experience who DOES judge people. Our biggest competition- Amazon- is a heartless computer screen that lets you click and buy with NO COMMENT. Maybe that’s one of the reasons some (not all) indies are failing- people are tired of being given snide looks for wanting to read James Patterson.

    *side story- the owner of the store recently told me about how, when she bought the store, she had to fire and replace ALL THE STAFF because she caught ALL OF THEM being judgy to the customers. Who DOES that?

    • I’m not at all surprised, honestly. I’ve come across too many people very quick to judge my own reading choices. I can imagine that’s a huge reason why Amazon is so successful. No personal interaction. No judgment.

      Wow. That says a lot about book shaming as a pretty common practice.

  • Anonymous

    I fear that if one gets deep enough into any artistic venture, the snobs always come out. Like, there are certainly music snobs and movie snobs, and I just think the same element is maybe not so obvious there because a) I’m not really part of those communities; and b) watching movies and listening to music is much more widespread and popular than reading, so I think more people feel solidarity in their “low-brow” choices.

    Like you, whenever I talk to someone who isn’t as epic a reader as I am (and that’s most people, let’s be honest) I always try to home in on what they enjoy reading so that I can suggest other titles that they might enjoy as well. I think it’s much easier for someone who reads 10 books a year to decide they want to read more and to broaden their reading horizons than someone who reads no books at all. And even if someone chooses to just read Harlequins or James Patterson novels, all I can do is think about how much enjoyment and enrichment I get from reading ANYTHING and I just feel glad they’ve discovered how awesome books can be!

    • That’s such a good point about movies. As you say, there most definitely are music/movie snobs, but movie watching is a much more democratic choice. Look at the numbers of people attending new movies each weekend. Plus, watching TV/movies is a more accepted way to spend free time. Interesting.

      And what you say about your enjoyment of reading is exactly how I feel. I don’t brook any criticism of my choices, so I most certainly don’t plan on criticizing someone else.

  • Eep! This made me realize that I need to quit being somewhat of a jerk to my mother, whose library consists of self-help books and biographies of famous actresses. Lesson learned. I loved this article (as well as Amanda’s) and the responses. I will do better!

    • You snobby snob. 😉

      I think it’s easy to fall into, but I’ve read so much and such varied books since I was itty bitty, I think I just grew up not thinking any type of book was “shameful.” I even read Harlequins once upon a time.

  • I’m judged sometimes – usually by non-readers and adults who don’t read a lot. But it doesn’t really bother me. I feel FANTASTIC when I’m able to recommend books to my step-son and he goes ahead and gets the book because he trusts my recommendations. So yay for reading young adult books.

    • Yea! Good books are good books. I also love it when I can recommend something and really know the person will enjoy it.

      Good for you!

  • As usual, I love every single word here. Brava! Here in Boston, many of the local bookstores employs kids from Harvard and other illustrious universities — and getting help from them can be super humiliating. And I consider myself a pretty educated reader! It’s so disappointing that there is judgment/shaming in reading.

    • Thanks, Audra. That is never a good feeling, and yes, I’d say you’re a very educated reader. You, like me, read a very wide variety of books.

  • I do not judge people for reading what they like to read. I have been judged for reading romance novels because no matter how many “smart” books I read, nobody catches me reading them. I’ve always said there is a book for everyone and school does a great disservice for kids in not letting them read what will appeal to them in addition to exposing them to classics.

    I do, however, reserve the right to judge the books themselves.

    • I agree with every bit of this. I love the classics, but not everyone is ready to read them at 14. I think that reading curriculum had remained the same for a long time, and those decisions unfortunately affect many kids who would otherwise really enjoy reading.

      And – heck yeah, I reserve the right to judge some books. 🙂

      • Worse, those of us who are ready to read the classics or serious literature at fourteen grow up to be the people in charge of the curriculum. Nerds are awesome, but sometimes we just don’t get not everyone is as nerdy as we are.

        • Ding ding ding! You win! 🙂 It’s so true. I was one of them, but there were also classics I couldn’t stand, and if they had been the only ones assigned…well, I’d still read because I’ve always been a reader. But I can imagine shutting down to it if I hadn’t been such an avid reader.

          • *nods* Don’t even get me started on William Faulkner. I loathed As I Lay Dying, but I read it to the very last word as as assigned my sophomore year.

  • The only time I judge is when people DON’T read. After all, my site’s name indicates I’m into popular culture. If I wanted to be a snob, I would’ve named it Elitist Nerd.

    • Ha! So true. I don’t get judgmental when people don’t read, but I certainly try to sway them. 😉 I’m a book pusher.

  • Anonymous

    Totally agree that it’s silly to judge other people for their reading choices. One thing I always try to remember when I do feel myself getting judgy (because it happens, especially with random people I see on the subway) is that any book I see a person reading is just *one* book. The person reading the latest teen vampire novel may be taking a break from Joyce! And reading choices are just one slice of a no doubt multifaceted life. The person who reads nothing but Harlequins might use reading to relax her brain from her day job as a rocket scientist!

    Plus, people read for all sorts of reasons. Some read for intellectual stimulation, others for mindless entertainment, and some for a mix of both. None of those reasons are *wrong.* Would I love to see more people reading the kinds of books I enjoy? Sure! I’m always in favor of knowing people who share my tastes. But does it bother me that not everyone does. No, not especially. The world would be boring if everyone were the same.

    • Teresa – This is such a great point as well. And I can see how sitting on the subway, watching people, would increase this sense of “this person reads this book so he/she must be [insert answer here.]”

      I’ve known people who only read history or nonfiction. I can’t really understand that but only because I love fiction so much. I’ll read the other, but it’s not my bread and butter. However, as you say, not everyone reads for the reasons I do.

  • Rickeydidio

    Let’s talk about your best friend. We both know saying “paranormal romance” is just a fancy way of saying she reads vampire books with tons of neck biting, blood dripping sex lol.

    • Ew, ew. I have to say, though, she has passed books on to me that I was unsure of, but I usually enjoy whatever it’s been. And I don’t recall blood-dripping sex. And just for the records, ew. 🙂

  • Another amusing element to this is how many “literary” read and enjoyed pulp themselves.

    As far as the paranormal romance goes, does your friend read Marjorie Liu? She’s one of the best people I’ve ever seen about engaging with her fans.

    • I think that’s a running theme here. A lot of lit people read a lot of pulp. It’s enjoyable.

      And I’m not sure, but I’ll definitely ask her. She’s always finding new authors and really gets into their series when she does. Thanks for the tip!

  • Great post here, Jenn! I’ve never felt judged really (if someone did judge me, I must have been too thick to spot it, which is kinda true), but then I don’t know many people in real life who read. They are shocked enough to see my bookshelf. I rarely ask someone in person for book recommendation but online, I do that all the time. But then, I think some genres are more victimized than others. If I say I read lit fiction, I probably get that raised eyebrow and that man-what-a-deep-nerd expression. I take it as a compliment. But I’m sure if I said erotica or vampires, I’m going to get that sly grin or shifty look. Actually, I was judged once – I remember – by my cousin, when I was reading a romance book during those years when I devoured them. I think I just smiled and kept reading.

    • Yes – that “what a nerd” expression just amuses me.

      And I love that you own your reading and don’t feel judged – or at least don’t care about being judged. The problem is that not everyone so easily does that. Jennifer from Lit Housewife and I had a great Twitter conversation about this. The problem is not an individual or individuals; it’s a collective someone, through articles, attitudes, etc. that make people feel this way.

      • I agree with you somewhat. I was just replying to your question about whether I have felt judged. I do understand that many people do. I also have to say that there are other non-book fields where I have felt judged.

        I will however not say that it is a problem when an individual judges someone. It is a right we have – the right to personal opinion and freedom of speech, just as it is someone’s right to react however they please, so long as no one is crossing any legal lines in hurting others. Personal opinion is something no one can stop, we can only control how we react to it. Because, if we took offense to someone’s judging, then Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses should never have been published, just like a ton other books; the internet should be censored because of the amount of inflammatory messages around, and so on. I should make it clear that I am by no means supporting someone who makes an obscene comment. I just think he/she has a right to it so long as it doesn’t amount of verbal harassment (very thin line, yes), I can just choose to call him/her an idiot and move on. At the same time, we need posts like yours and Amanda’s to let people know that it is impolite to judge someone and make them feel bad. Not just in reading, but in every single field. (Loving the discussion in this post, btw!)

        • Oh my goodness, yes. You are so right.

          I guess as for the latter part, I’m just confused as to how our conversation leads to that sort of censorship. I may just being a bit dunderheaded, but I want to understand what you’re saying. I most definitely stand by each person’s right to speak his or her mind. And Satanic Verses is on my bookshelf. Granted, I haven’t finished it yet, but it is there. 🙂

          • I’m hoping to read Satanic Verses too this year! Let’s see how it goes.

            (Btw, you are no dunderhead!)

          • I have a whole shelf of books I’ve left off (hm. can’t believe I just admitted that). I will totally finish them…one day.

      • Btw, I gave you a shout out at my blog!

  • Brilliant piece, Jenn. Reading it, then the comments, made me own up to a fairly uncomfortable home truth: wow, have I *ever* been a book snob. I suppose the obvious (and shameful, as in, shame on me) case in point is the Twilight saga. There is a great deal that discomfits and distresses me about the writing and intent of those books, but I should never, ever have cried foul on anyone for liking and appreciating what they have to offer. So what if Stephenie Meyer became ludicrously wealthy for portraying the scintillating details of intimacy between a couple that seemed, at points, grossly inappropriate? “Serious” authors in “classical” fiction have been doing this for ages, and have been receiving praise and fanfare for it. Tsk tsk. I am literally shaking my head at myself, in this moment. Thank you for the wake-up call.

    There should always be a distinction between criticizing a book, and criticizing the entirety of the person who reads it. I’m going to stick that up next to my bookshelves tonight. 🙂

    • Shivanee – I agree. There is a lot about the Twilight books that my inner feminist wants to yell at. Really? Bella can’t walk AGAIN? You really need to carry her?

      BUT as I said, that stuff annoyed me, but I read on with relish. And again you’re right that other authors have done this for generations.

      Your last quote should go at the top of this post. It’s exactly what I was getting at.

  • jenn o.

    Great post! I confess, I’ve talked a lot of smack about Twilight, but the day I read the first of the series, you couldn’t have pried that paperback from my death grip.but lately I’ve found myself feeling guilty about some of my lighter, chick-lit reads. Ashamed. What’s worse is when you’re already feeling guilty for reading a certain genre, and then the book is a total fail. I’ve got cycles of self loathing going on here!

    • Ha! Don’t we all. That’s what I meant earlier in a comment to Aths about there being collective guilt. I’m sure we’ve all done it. And we’ve read articles and posts that condescend a bit about reading choices. It adds up. No shame, jenn. No shame. 🙂

  • Andi (Estella’s Revenge)

    Great post, Jenn. I’m also of the “shall not judge” category despite my years of time done for two English degrees. I don’t give a crap what people read it if makes them happy and they’re reading. I also can really go for a good story whether there’s a lot of literary terms that can be applied or not.

    Unfortunately, I have felt judged. Not for specific reading choices so much but for reading AT ALL. When I worked in a public library I came out of a book sale tickled to have found a haul of 14 books I was excited about. A CO-WORKER of mine from the library said, “Wow, you must not have a life.”

    REALLY?!

    • When I hear these types of stories, I really just have to shake my head. I just don’t understand. The other one I get is… Well I just don’t have the time to read. Like I’m the most lazy person on earth, which granted, I can be, but I also reserve my reading time because it’s important to me.

  • Samantha 1020

    I loved this post….just loved it! Nicely said!

    • Thanks so much, Samantha – both for stopping by and commenting!

  • Nicola_jeffrey

    I have never snobbed or been snobbed because I have never admitted to reading a lot of Harlequin in my early adulthood, to loving Nora Roberts, Maive Binchy, Daniel Steel and the like
    I do love Jane Austen, and Chaucer, Shakespeare, John Milton, John Donne and I often include what I have read from the latter in conversations and excluded my sappy romance fetish, lol, especially since I write a lot of sappy romance myself and have been challenging myself as of late to think “outside the box”

    • Ah, but see that’s the inherent desire not to be judged at play. Wave your Maive Binchy proudly. 🙂

  • I make no secret about some of the books that I dislike but at the same time I don’t care what other people read. I complain to all get out that I hate book censorship so I don’t see the point in getting all judgey when people read books that I don’t like.

    I have felt judged before though reading books with rather girly covers in public. I hate that.

    • Same here. If I don’t like a book, you better believe I want to talk about that. However, I also know and love that someone else out there may love the book. Opinions differ. Tastes change. It’s interesting to me and partly why I enjoy negative reviews.

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