When I was a teen I had to deal with judgment in a lot of areas in my life. My hair was a little frizzy (okay, so it was a lot frizzy) and I had a gap between my two front teeth. I didn't have the money to dress like the popular girls, so there was always the worry that my second hand clothes were going to draw some ugly words and judgmental stares. I drove a car that my friends nicknamed the Deathmobile and I lived in a trailer. There were lots of reasons for me to feel self conscious, but there was one area that none of this applied. Books. Books were something else for me. They were an escape.
When I went to the library, no one batted an eye lash at the titles I picked. Whether the pages were filled with blood sucking vampires that sparkled, hitchhiking serial killers (damn Christopher Pike for always making me fall in love with the bad guy), or a simple contemporary about a girl not much different than me. Hobbits or hobo's. Werewolves or witches. No one judged. Huddled over my book while other people passed notes in class. Hunkered down by the lockers in the hall. On the bus. At the dinner table. No one rolled their eyes and made me hide my book in shame.
When I got to college my reading tastes didn’t really change, but they did evolve. I read and enjoyed the classics and poetry, but I also devoured romance novels. They were stories filled with the kind of love that I didn't know anything about yet. Something a little deeper and let's face it, a whole lot sexier than the coming of age stuff I'd cut my teeth on. But again...no one cared. I wasn't accused of reading "mommy porn". I wasn't a "lonely housewife" because I read a book with a seriously hot guy on the cover and a few sex scenes between the covers.
When I cashed in my adult card and decided to throw my two cents into the literary pool, I decided to attend my very first writer’s workshop. This is the place where I encountered the dreaded "book shame" for the first time. Only this time is wasn't only what I loved to read, but what I loved to write. Young adult fiction? Grim reapers falling in love with humans? Surrounded by a room full of writers and a teacher that thrived on classic literary fiction, I was picked apart.
So, here is my question. The one that keeps me up at night and ruffles my feathers every time I see a mean comment online, or the you-must-be-crazy look I get when people get a glimpse of my bookshelf or ask me what kind of books I write.
When did reading become something to be ashamed of? When did it stop being celebrated?
As an adult, in a place that's filled with faceless online communication, I've been introduced to this whole new world of criticism as a reader. A world where you are somehow deemed less intelligent for choosing to read a book about sparkly vampires. A world where you are suddenly classified as a "bored and lonely housewife" who gets her thrills reading "mommy porn" because you decide to pick up a romance novel. A world where the book snob is alive and well.
Here is my advice. Let's stop judging each other, put an end to the book snobbery, and READ. Read often. Read what you love. And under no circumstances be ashamed. Go all Dead Poets Society on the world and shout out your love for the books hidden on your Kindle or shoved to the back of your bookshelves. You know, the one you've hidden behind the full works of William Shakespeare. Stand on a desk if you have to. Or your kitchen table, provided it's strong enough. I mean, safety first people, come on. But above all else, be proud that in a world of instant, mindless entertainment that you chose to use your imagination and brain. Let's stop calling the books we love guilty pleasures. Let’s call them what they deserve to be called. Art.
Now you guys are in the hot seat! What are the books have you worn out the covers too? What characters made you fall in love? Shout it out in the comments below!