Ignore All of the Recommendations: Read What You Want

This Summer, I hope you will read what you want to…not what you feel you should be.

Years ago, I was alone in my doctor’s waiting room when I spotted a tabloid with an intriguing headline. I picked up the magazine and started thumbing through it. When the nurse came to lead me to the exam room, embarrassed, I sheepishly set the magazine down.

“Everyone comes here for those!” she said in a gentle tone that led me to believe she assuages guilt several times a day. That made me feel better.

That interaction reminded me of the online discussion sparked by Slate writer Ruth Graham, which criticized adults who read young adult (YA) fiction. She wrote, “… you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.” Graham was trying to make the point that not all books are created equal and that we should try books that challenge and stretch us.

She intended to spark a debate, and she did. Critics argued that Graham 1) ignored the high-quality YA literature that exists; and 2) was being snobbish and overstepped by telling people what they should and shouldn’t read.

Not to sound overly diplomatic, but the arguments on each side are good ones.

Thank goodness that…

  • We have a variety of books covering a vast array of topics and for all ages;
  • Books open our minds to new people, places and ideas;
  • There are YA books so good that adults want to read them; and
  • Finally, thank goodness for guilty pleasures.

My dad once told me he didn’t like it when people who came over scanned the titles on his bookshelves. He felt books provide an intimate view of their owner’s mind, so it is rude to browse someone’s books without first asking permission. This assumes, of course, that we all read what we want to.

And, there are many reasons that compel us to read. One of my favorite author’s, Min Jin Lee wrote a stunning essay about how she returns to certain books when life is difficult:

In this digital age it’s easy to exchange opinions about reading. That can help people decide what to read next. But is making others feel shame or guilt necessary? I don’t think so.

In fact, I created Stacy’s Book Notes with the idea that you don’t have to read the books unless you want to. You can get the main takeaways and then move on to what you want to read. The last thing I want you to feel is guilt.

What does concern me is that children and teens are spending less time reading. But let’s not feel guilty about that, either. Rather, if you would like your children to read more, check out this article on what not to do. Then, show your children how much you enjoy reading. If you read to them (including kids who already know how), get a little closer–hold them if they’ll let you. Help them find things they’ll enjoy reading. Remember that graphic novels are books too! Try not to judge what they enjoy. (As I write, my teens are into true crime. I just don’t get it and have a hard time holding my tongue.)

Time is limited. Why waste it arguing or feeling ashamed? Why not just spend the time reading? Read for pleasure or to learn. Grab your Kindle or listen to audiobooks.

Read your heart. Figure out what it needs, then feed it.

Make reading your “guilty pleasure” — just skip the guilt. Read what you want to.

An older version of this article first appeared on June 23, 2014.

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