Keeping up with the (Literary) Jones’
A few days ago I read a post on Book Riot titled The Bookish Internet Killed My Reading Life. Last night my friend, Tyler, told me they were having trouble reconciling their reading habits with what was going on in the book community. Who knew there was so much pressure to read? And to read a certain way? But here we are. So, let’s talk about this.
Both Storygraph and Goodreads offer a place to keep track of your reading goals. The idea of reading goals was to challenge the reader to read more. Now it’s become kind of a competition to see who can read the most books in a year. Or for bragging rights over a certain number.
I can not imagine being stressed out because I did not read enough. I honestly do not record everything I read on either site. I’m better at keeping up with Storygraph than I am Goodreads, but Storygraph does not always allow me to enter ARCs. There are also university books I do not record because they might be an actual textbook (that feels weird recording for some reason) or a book that we didn’t read all the chapters of. I also do not record a lot of stand alone short stories I am given to read in class. I don’t think either site allows for the recording of essays. Then there are the books I just forget to record for whatever reason. My online reading log is really an incomplete picture of what I have read.
Reading is not a competition. The book community needs to stop making it one. No one is going to get an Olympic medal for it.
If the book community has any kind of peer pressure, this is it. There is this expectation that everyone must read all the popular books. And like them. Nothing annoys me more than walking into Barnes and Noble and looking at the BookTok tables and seeing the books haven’t changed, sometimes for months.
I have the Crescent City books sitting on my bookshelf and I’m afraid to read them because of the Sarah J. Maas hype. The last time I read something to see what all the hype was about it was The Twilight Saga. I still want that weekend of my life back. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t bad. What it was, was a total let down. It was nowhere as good as everyone was making it out to be.
I don’t care if someone roasts me for not liking their favorite book. What I care about is spending my time reading something that doesn’t live up to the hype when I could have been reading something that I would have enjoyed more. This seems to be a trap that a lot of people fall into. The need to read what everyone else is reading. Or what their favourite YouTuber/TikToker/Instagrammer is reading.This mindset of, “All the cool kids are reading Sarah J. Maas and Colleen Hoover, so I must too,” is counterproductive. I know that everyone just wants to be accepted and fit in. It’s human nature. We also want everyone to read our favourite book and love it as much as we do. It doesn’t always work like that and reading whatever is popular just because it is popular means you aren’t reading what you really want to read.
I do not get this. Not really. Well, maybe I do to an extent. I mean, I have to plan how I read things for university. If Did You Hear About the Girl Who… is due before Giovanni’s Room, and DraculaI have to read it first, even if I would rather read one of the others. Then I have to squeeze in whatever it is I want to read for fun. I also understand contentent creators needing to read things in some kind of order because their commitments demand it.
What I really do not understand is having a stack of books for pleasure reading in a specific order to read. The books I bought this week were Strange the Dreamer, Muse of NIghtmares, The Weight of Blood, If We Were Villians, She Who Became the Sun, and Reading Lolita in Iran. Strange the Dreamer I listened to as an audiobook and wanted a physical copy. The sequal, Muse of Nightmares, I checked out of the library as an audiobook and it’s pissing me off because the library app does not sync bookmarks across platforms (phone/computer/tablet). I’ve picked up in the book where I stopped in the audiobook because of this. I also wanted it because it’s just as amazing as Strange the Dreamer. Now, as for the other books, I have no idea what order I am going to read them in, or when I will even get to them. There are other books here I have not read. I am hoping to read Krampus by Brom today and tomorrow. I have Lavender House sitting on my desk to read, but planning what I am going to read next before I finish what I am reading, rarely works for me.
Making a TBR list of what is going to be read each week or month and the order those books are going to be read in may work for some. Some people are systematic like that. For the rest of us that means reading a contemporary romance when we would rather being reading fantasy, which means we don’t enjoy the book as much. It also gives a sense of failure when one deviates from the list. What works for one person is not going to work for everyone. Just because someone is an infulancer doesn’t mean they are right.
Again, there is this feeling of need to conform. People make lists of what they are going to read and in what order so others start to feel if they don’t do that, they are reading wrong. You can’t read wrong. Well, you can. I mean, if anyone claims that Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss is about a kaiju invasion, we need to have a talk.
Problematic Books and Authors.
I have a lot of thoughts on this and it probably deserves it’s own blog post. With well over a million books published a year, it’s hard to keep up with who is doing what. It could quickly turn into a full time job. Internet cancel culture has a way of shaming people for enjoing a book that is problematic. One can enjoy the work of a racist author and not agree with the author. This happens in acedemia all the time. Students are often assigned problematic works or problematic authors and we have to talk about and write about these works. There is something there to be taken away from them. These books are where the conversations happen.
That is the problem. No one wants to talk about the problems in books. These problems cover everything from racism to abusive relationships. Reviews turn into rants and a bunch of “don’t read this, it is ____.” There is at least one human being claiming Babel is a racist manifesto. I haven’t read it, yet, so I can’t comment. However, this is not what others have taken away from it. We all take different things away from what we read based on our life experience.
More than 1.600 books were challenged this year – meaning someone somewhere wanted them banned. Book banning is a form of cancel culture but what we call ‘book banning’ is bad, while trying to cancel something because it’s racist or transphobic is seen as good. This is really quite hypocritical at the end of the day and what it really means is that people on both sides want only those things – in this case books – in the world they agree with. The world doesn’t work this way. Instead of condeming and canceling and shaming people for reading something, we need to be conversing.
Everything I have listed here, and probably things I have forgotten, make it difficult for readers to read. The idea of a community is to bring people together over a shared thing. Instead of bringing people together, it’s stressing people out and creating a desire to conform. I prefer sciene fiction and fantasy over romance, and romance books are the popular thing. Does this mean there isn’t a place for me? I know, from experience, it means I get fewer likes and engagement when I post. Do I care? Not really. I’m going to read what I am going to read. This might be something popular, something just released, something recommended to me, or some weird thing I pulled out of a little free library. I’m also going to read it when I want to.
This is what reading is. It is supposed to be enjoyable. If it’s starting to feel a bit like work or you are loosing your love of reading, evaluate why this is happening. My guess is social media has something to do with it.