Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Yes I'm Judging You For What You Read. No I'm Not Going to Stop

One of the earliest lessons my parents taught me was that it's wrong to judge people for things they can't control. Sex and ethnicity were what they meant, but as I've grown I've added gender, age, accent (seriously, some people can't help it), and a slew of other factors to the list. I try instead to judge people based on the views they espouse, and the actions they take.

Oh, and the books they read.

So You're Just Like Those People at Slate?

We don't take kindly to that type around here.
For those of you who somehow missed the incident I'm referencing, let me bring you up to speed. About a month ago Ruth Graham wrote an editorial on Slate which you can read right here that calls out adults for reading young adult fiction. The editorial has pretty much everything you'd expect in it, and it's mostly a diatribe with all the ear marks of genre shaming without actually picking a genre to shame (since as i09 pointed out in a rebuttal right here, young adult fiction doesn't have a genre). The short version is "you can read whatever you want, but you should be embarrassed that what you're reading is a book meant for children."

I'm not agreeing with what Graham has to say regarding the shame readers should feel. I am not saying that there's only one type of book that's acceptable to read. What I am saying is that you can get a pretty good impression about who someone is on the inside by seeing what books they read, or which books they refuse to read.

A Literary Personality Test

Do you see a romantic tryst? Or a murder waiting to happen?
It's stupid to judge people on factors that don't actually tell you anything about them as individuals. Using someone's racial background, birthplace, age, etc. as a yardstick to judge who they are internally is a really inaccurate method of passing judgment. Books may not a perfect measuring tool either, but they're a much better place to start.


Because what you read says a lot about who you are as a person. It's a testament to the kinds of stories that enthrall you, and the places you escape to when you have a few spare moments of time. Your books tell me what sorts of escapism you like, and they give me an insight into the kinds of things that give you pleasure. The things you like say a lot about you, and they can be big indicators of whether or not we will get along as friends. They can also be indicators of whether or not I should politely nod and just keep on walking.

You're Still Being Judgmental, Though

Yes I am.

The court of personal opinion is now adjourned.
Since the Slate article is about the whole faux-issue of adults who read YA novels, I'll use that as an example. I don't like YA books. I didn't like them when I was in the age they were being marketed to, and I don't like them now. I feel that most of the books are simply coming-of-age stories wrapped in different packaging, and that bores me. The ability for many of the stories I've read, with Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld as a stand out example, to deliver a solid, visceral punch simply isn't there because authors can't say or do certain things while still remaining YA appropriate. Lastly, while there are quality YA books out there I also feel that many times the standards are lowered and sub-par work is allowed in because marketers have decided that young readers are stupid and will read anything.

Those are my feelings on the subject, but I'm not going to hold someone else to those standards. Why? Because expecting everyone I meet to agree with me is stupid. We're not talking about facts here; we're talking about opinions. There is no way someone can make definitive statements because we're not discussing the laws of reality; we're discussing whether someone likes to drink Coke or Pepsi. People are going to have different feelings on the subject, and those feelings will come with varying degrees of intensity. Some people will feel strongly one way, some another, and some simply won't care as long as they get something to drink.

That said if I am talking with someone who is an adult who reads nothing but YA books then that's a warning sign we might not get along. The same is true if I meet someone who thinks that all horror is torture-porn, or that gay people should be put in concentration camps; these are red flags that tell me I might want to go elsewhere for my socialization.

A Preliminary Exam

Because this is an awkward place to go for a first date.
I'm not saying I go down someone's Goodreads list with a fine-toothed comb and put red marks down for every reading choice I disapprove of. That's childish. What I do instead is listen to what a person reads, but just as importantly I listen to why they read. If someone reads horror purely for the titillation of gore, or because rape scenes give them a chubby, then even though we like the same genre we're there for entirely different reasons. On the other hand someone who prefers YA titles because they like books with female leads and diverse casts understands what they like, and they know where to get it. I might not agree with them, but that kind of self-awareness is a positive characteristic.

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. People, even those who look shallow and simple at the outset, can always surprise you if you're willing to pick up a few stones and see what's going on underneath. Books can act as a mainline that will take you straight into an individual's mind, and give you some glimpses of places even they didn't know they had. You can never be certain, but if you had to do a cold read off someone there are few better places to go than his or her bookshelf.

Unless they don't read. Fuck those people.

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1 comment:

  1. While I don't necessarily agree with all of it, let me add that if you're a writer, and you don't read, then I think you have a serious problem. Like, how can you even think that you can write if you don't read? Whether it's ego or ignorance, I'm going to have a really hard time even talking to you, because I think that you're being deliberately ignorant of your genre and literature in general.

    (You being the universal you, in this case pointed specifically at writers who choose not to read -- and all too often they have the gall to brag about it. SMH, I just don't get it.)