In my everyday life, I never experience book-shaming or reader-shaming firsthand. Of the few times that coworkers or friends have ventured to bring up the topic of books, they speak unabashedly about Stephen King, John Green, and Mary Higgins Clark. Quite frankly, no one around me seems particularly ashamed to be seen reading genre fiction or YA novels. And why should they?
But hop on the web, and it seems that everyone feels the need to defend their decision to read purely for pleasure. No one wants to be seen reading Twilight on the subway or Fifty Shades of Grey at Starbucks. And what’s more, we feel ashamed for the books we haven’t read (Moby-Dick, anyone?).
I live in a fairly rural area with a lacking literary community, work at a public utility, and have friends with minimal-interests in books. So it’s not exactly surprising that I’m not accustomed to seeing anyone shamed for reading a David Baldacci novel… because quite frankly, I never really see anyone reading at all. But even when I was studying English and Poetry at a fairly large public university, it seemed that my peers were far from ashamed of toting around Dune and talking widely of their passion for fan-fiction. So where is all the negativity coming from?
I’m not denying that book-shaming is a real issue. It most certainly is, and I will admit openly that you’ll never find me reading a YA novel on my lunch hour. But the idea of “guilty pleasure” is relative. I’ve just recently discovered how enjoyable comic books are, and I find a sense of pride in reading them despite the notion that they aren’t for “serious reading.” No doubt, I read comic books solely for the enjoyment of the fast-paced, action-packed plot, and enticing artwork. But I also know an individual who studies comic books. When he picks up a copy of Saga, he isn’t merely reading along; he’s studying the plot, analyzing the characters, and thinking critically about its place in society. That doesn’t sound like a guilty pleasure to me.
And what about individuals who read Victorian classics solely for pleasure? What about readers who naturally favor the work of some of the dead, white, male authors that make up the majority of the Western literary canon? Are these readers somehow better than the mystery junkie or harlequin collector? I say absolutely not.
Guilty pleasures are defined differently for everyone. My guilty pleasure may not be your guilty pleasure, and yours probably isn’t mine. Those of us who read do so for different reasons. And even if you spend all of your reading time on Stephen King and Dean Koontz, who’s to say that’s a bad thing?
In a world where so few adults are even bothering to read for pleasure at all, shouldn’t we just read and let read?
What are some of your favorite guilty pleasure reads?
Looking for some additional reading on the topic? Check out this excellent article on Electric Literature: There’s No Such Thing as a Fake Reader by Lincoln Michel