Guilty Pleasures and Book (Reading) Snobbery

It’s like comparing apples to oranges! ~ indignant reading snob

I’m trying to decide why this particular topic drives me crazy whenever it comes up. It just seems to me that reading, no matter what the genre or format, is…well…reading. There are some genres or forms that I tend to prefer, but I don’t think less of others whose preferences are different from my own. I guess I feel those who believe reading a romance novel, graphic novel, or even YA novel versus a piece of classic literature as a “guilty pleasure” hold a somewhat elitist view. I find it irksome that anyone would be condescending towards another over their choice of reading material. In my stream of conscious mind it looks more like this:

Oh, person X is reading! That’s awesome! Yay for reading! I wonder what X is reading? It looks like it might be interesting; I’ll have to remember to ask X if he/she enjoyed reading that…

I think I prefer to keep an open mind because there are times when I’ve picked up something and been surprised that I’ve enjoyed it, not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because it didn’t seem like something I’d get into reading. If I weren’t adventurous enough to try something new, I’d never have discovered the treasure within. It has opened up new realms of reading for me and given me an opportunity to explore new ideas and topics.

I have often heard teachers, English/Reading teachers, in particular, criticize the reading preferences of their students. Criticisms like this make me sad because I know so many students who start out in school enjoying the act of reading and, end up no longer enjoying it. They say things like:

“I don’t read. If I have an assignment that requires reading, I do the bare minimum to get by.”

“I hate reading.”

“I used to read all the time, but I don’t like being forced to read things I’m not interested in.”

I currently teach 9th-grade students. I cringe when I hear them say things like this because in my mind these comments are indicative of something wrong in the education system. My philosophy is one that values reading for the sake of reading, for the purpose of learning, for the goal of self-enrichment and broadening one’s horizons. To me, it doesn’t matter what young people read, as long as they do. I’m not saying that students should never be assigned to read a specific novel or text, but I don’t think we should belittle their own personal choices in reading materials either. If a child enjoys reading a book below their reading level for personal enjoyment, then so be it. If a child wishes to read a book well above their reading level, all the more power to that child. Sure, they may not understand everything they read, but just maybe they’ll get something out of that book despite not “getting” it all. I know I read several books before I was likely old enough/a strong enough reader to fully comprehend when I was young. In fact, my favorite example of this is The Color Purple. Go ahead, guess how old I was when I first read that novel. I was 10! I hid it under my pillow so no one would know I was reading it. Did I understand everything I was reading at the time? No, definitely not. Have I revisited that novel since then? Absolutely – several times.

When you see a child or anyone, for that matter, reading –  be happy. Be encouraging. Be glad they’re reading because no matter what it is they’re reading, they’re opening themselves to new worlds, new experiences, new ideas and that is always a worthwhile pursuit.