Thursday, July 17, 2014

Discussion: When Book Lovers and Non-book Lovers Collide

During last week's Top Ten Tuesday post, I mentioned that it bugs me when people say that they wish they had more time to read.  One of my book blogger friends, Marlene, who writes at The Flyleaf Review and is one of the sweetest people around, asked for clarification.   Looking back, it's obvious to me now that my statement wasn't very clear, so I'm glad she pushed me to write a more coherent explanation.  (Thanks, Marlene!  You're the best!)  

I promptly wrote back the longest response to a comment I think I've ever written, and as I was writing (and writing, and writing, and writing... sorry, Marlene) I realized that I was talking about a bigger issue.  But before I get into that, a story:

I once was sitting with a group of people when the topic of books came up.  Like any bookworm would, I sat up a little straighter, excited to talk about something I love so much.  One person mentioned a book they had recently read, and another person mentioned another book... and so it went for a few minutes.

Then one woman, who until this point had been silent, loudly (and, maybe just a little smugly) said, "Well I would read, but I don't have the time."

It's not uncommon for people to lament over their busy schedules, but this particular comment really rubbed me the wrong way.  Implied in this comment was that reading is a luxury allowed only to those with "less important" demands on their time.  It felt like a passive-aggressive snub against readers, said in order to make herself feel better for not reading.  As I saw it, she was trying to justify her non-reading habits by using time as an excuse, while still enjoying the label of "reader" since, you know, she would if she had time.  

It was irritating.

It gnawed at me because, hey, I don't have a luxurious life either. I'm not sitting here between my pet cheetahs and sipping on Winston cocktails between chapters.  I'm not reading because I have nothing better to do. I felt like she was putting me down for reading to make herself feel better for not reading. And I don't think that's fair. 

Now don't get me wrong.  I understand that many people genuinely want to read more and genuinely can't as much as they would like.  I understand that feeling, and I'm not referring to them here.  I'm not talking about the people who wish there were more hours in the day in which to squeeze one more chapter.  

I AM talking about the people who use their schedules as an excuse not to read at all.  I'm talking about the people who don't choose to read even when they do have the time.  I'm talking about the people who pretend that they would read if only their busy life allowed them the time, so as to appear bookish without actually putting in the effort.  I'm talking about non-readers who pretend to be readers.   

But here's where the bigger issue comes in:  WHY DOES IT EVEN MATTER IF SOMEONE IS A "READER" OR NOT?

I'm honestly asking.  If you have an answer, please enlighten me. 

Looking back, that woman was probably feeling embarrassed because she couldn't contribute to the conversation.  She didn't deal with it well, but it was her coping strategy.

Me, I love books.  I really do.  Plus the general satisfaction of finishing a novel, having a strong, ongoing, positive relationship with books allows me to pat myself on the back when articles like this one and this one come along.  The benefits of reading are many and mighty.  I realize that I enjoy a certain level of cultural admiration for being fairly well-read, so I sort of get why someone would pretend to be a reader in order to enjoy the intellectual esteem that comes with the label.

But.

You know what I'm bad at?  Yoga.  Honestly.  I cannot take Yoga seriously.  Every time I've tried it I end up on the floor in a puddle of strangely-bent limbs and laughing my head off.  It just doesn't work for me.  

You know what else I'm bad at?  Chess.  I once lost a game to my six-year-old cousin.  And I was really trying, too.  I could go on about my weaknesses, but I'll spare you.

Why do these labels matter?  So you like Zumba.  Good for you!  Can't we just celebrate your Zumba-loving-self without comparing it to my own lack of Zumba love??  Can't we just appreciate the good in each other?  Can't we let all the labels, be they "nerd" or "jock" or "reader" or "liberal" or something else, just go by the wayside?  Can't we just support each other and hold hands and sing kumbaya??

I realize that this post reveals my hippie tendencies.  ("hippie," there's another label for you.)  I don't like comparing.  I don't like being put down in order to make someone else feel better.  I don't want to feel ashamed for reading.  I want us all to treat each other with courtesy and respect.

AND HERE'S THE KICKER.  

If I want others to respect my decision to prioritize books and reading in my life, I need to respect their reading decisions as well, regardless of whether it involves high-brow Pulitzer winning Literature or middle grade books or sci-fi or harlequin romances.  Regardless of whether it means they read a lot of books, or only a few books, or none at all.  Very few "readers" defend the right of others to choose not to read.  I will tout the benefits of reading forever, but from now on I pledge to defend the reading choices of others, even if I personally disagree with them.  Then maybe I can help our culture be more accepting.  Maybe I can, in some small way, enable change.  And maybe, someday, when I'm in a group of people that includes a non-reader (whether it's because they genuinely don't have the time or because they would just rather do something else) they won't feel embarrassment at their reading choices, and won't need to lie to cover it up.

All of this is to say, let's all treat each others' reading choices with a little more respect.  This world needs all types.  Even you.  Even me.  Let's make it a nice world.

10 comments:

  1. Awesome post. This could apply to so many life choices and situations, I love it. Part of what I like about it is I've felt like the woman who said she didn't have time before, lots of times really. Let's all get past that and have rainbows and unicorns forever!

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    1. Thanks Janelle! I totally second what you say: RAINBOWS AND UNICORNS FOREVER!!! :)

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  2. I meant to add-- I have had a lot of people say something similar to me about my sewing, and it always stings a little bit because I feel like I make so many sacrifices to make time to do it.

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    1. Exactly! It's so frustrating to be treated that way. Forget the nay-sayers, and keep on sewing!!

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  3. I've been out of town and am catching up. I have things to say. (Obvi)

    I was reading a novel once when a roommate came in the room and asked what it was about. I told her about it, she said, "that's interesting," and I told her she could borrow it if she wanted to. She said, "Oh, I don't really have time to read those kinds of books. When I have time, I prefer to read things that are more worthwhile, like church books." She might as well have slapped my face and called me stupid. It stung big time. I've mulled over that experience for years.

    I think one of the reasons I protect and value my "reader" status might be because I've identified myself as a reader my entire life. My parents marveled at my love for it as a child and growing up I discovered I wasn't so good at sports, wasn't so good at piano, wasn't so good at math, but dang it I could read. And I loved to read. It gave me confidence to feel competent in a skill that people saw as academic and important. This is honestly why I became an English major and why I still make an effort to read today. Whenever someone asks me what my hobbies or interests are, I'm pretty sure I always say "books" first. Maybe that's why those of us that identify as readers feel so protective of it, because its part of our identity. I think anytime anyone dismisses or belittles something that is at our core, we feel hurt and defensive. That could be sports for some or math for others.

    In conclusion, I agree with you and I'm going to be better about high-fiving the world for all of the ways they self-identify and if I feel insecure in some area, I won't get all passive agressive-y.

    Furthermore, I truly wish you had a pair of pet cheetahs to sit betwixt.

    Also I hate yoga. It's hard and I can't breathe right and I sort of think it is ridiculous. But more power to the yoga-lovers. I'll namaste the heck out of them if it makes them that happy.

    And I love that you make time for reading because this blog is the best of all the blogs. Amen. One peace.

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    1. Thanks for sharing. Te more I talk to other people, the more I hear about these kinds of stories. It's super annoying, but I think the only way to combat it is to start being more accepting myself.

      PS, I wish I had pet cheetahs too. Amen and one peace back at you.

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  4. Also please write a book someday. I'll read it until the cover falls off and review it to death and buy copies for all my friends and also strangers and maybe I'll even get copies for the people I'm not super fond of.

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    1. Ha! If that's not a good reason to write a book I don't know what is.

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  5. I'm here! *enters room err... blog post* I totally wish we could be in the same room together. Then I'd really make an entrance. I'd be all flail-y! haha. Anyway... :)

    Melissa, this is such a well thought-out and eloquently written blog post, and I'm so happy my comment stirred up conversation. You're absolutely right. As a society, we have to learn to be more accepting of others, and acceptance starts with respect. Interests vary from one person to the next, but that doesn't mean one interest is better than the other. This is where respect comes in. Respect for different priorities. Respect for different modes of expression. Respect for different identities. The world would certainly be a better place if we just respected everyone for their interests and individual talents. Granted, I'm speaking of interests that don't bring harm to anyone or anything. Respect would mean living a happier life -- a life without destruction or bullying or feelings of superiority. I'm not sure if I added anything new to the conversation, but I do agree with everything you have written. :)

    Fantastic post!

    Marlene @ The Flyleaf Review

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    1. Thanks, Marlene! You hit the nail on the head: respect breeds happiness, which is a pretty dang good reason to do it! Thanks again for inspiring the post, I owe you!

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