You Are What You Read

My husband and I have very different tastes in books. He’s pretty solidly a Sci-Fi fan, though he enjoys Stephen King’s horrors as well. He likes books with a lot of detail so he can fully explore that world and what could be. He loves series because he finds that he doesn’t want to leave the world when a book is done, he wants to stick around and learn more about what that author has created.

I like to bounce around. I love historical fiction, but I cannot stay in that universe forever because a lot of those stories are pretty heavy. I like chick-lit and YA, but I can’t stay there either because then every story starts to sound the same. I can’t stand books where the story keeps getting interrupted for 20 pages worth of description about a chocolate cake or the weather or some other mundane detail. And I’m really not a fan of series. At best I can do trilogies but really, after about 500 pages, I’m ready to explore a different universe.

My husband and I have had many conversations about our book tastes because he’d really like it if I could enjoy just one book that he has enjoyed. I’ve basically accepted that’s not going to happen and that’s okay. Recently, we were discussing the evolution of my reading tastes. When I’m stressed out or have just read something dense, I need something light and funny, which is where chick-lit or YA come into play.

I asked my husband if he generally looked down on people who read books without any so-called depth? It’s a valid questions because how many times did we snicker at the adults gobbling up the Twilight series? How many times did we roll our eyes at the buzz of the 50 Shades of Grey series? How many times have we seen someone reading only Amish fiction and wondered what the appeal was? How many times have we seen on Reddit someone claiming to read only classics and you assume they’re lying to impress the Internet. We judge people based on what they read all the time.

My husband is a voracious reader when he wants to be. He read a lot when he was a child, and he typically reads a lot in the summer, when we’re enjoying time up north. He’s a much faster reader than I am (I might not like series, but when I commit to a book, I don’t want to miss anything because I read too quickly, if that makes sense). He read many of the classics in high school (my high school didn’t require it so now I’m playing catch up). But he’s a dude, so chick-lit isn’t going to appeal to him anyway.

When I posed the question to him, I happened to be reading My Not-So-Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella, an author whose books I really enjoy. He noticed I was zooming through the book and asked if it was that good or just an easy read. I had just finished All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, so I needed something light before I started my next heavy story.

So I posed the question and my husband said, “No, not really. I guess if that’s all you’re reading, I might wonder if you’re just doing it for the book count.”

I said, “I find that because I don’t watch TV, reading is my form of escapism. Obviously I do enjoy the historical fiction and classics and literature, but sometimes I just need to read something light and funny that doesn’t require a lot of thinking. Especially when I’ve just finished something that was long and dense.”

He said, “It’s like watching a rom-com?”

I said, “Basically.”

He said, “I can understand that.”

A lot of librarians say that all that matters is that people are reading. But inwardly, we don’t actually believe that. We don’t appreciate the role urban fiction has in the community. We gripe about having to use our limited budgets to replace 50 Shades of Grey FOR THE FIFTH TIME. We get annoyed when we have to do a shelf shift because James Patterson had 15 books come out on the same day again. We look at the waiting list for Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steel or Nora Roberts and think why? We see a self-published book and assume it’s total crap. We see someone checking out only Austen or Tolkein or Hugo and think about how pretentious that person must be. We judge people for what they read all the time. Maybe because we want to feel secure that our choices are superior. Maybe because we believe that genre isn’t high quality. Maybe because we think the author doesn’t deserve the success he/she has received.

But reading anything has a number of benefits. According Lifehack, some of those benefits include mental stimulation, vocabulary expansion, memory improvement, and better writing skills. Every book has something to offer. I might not care much for the Sci-Fi world, but these books aren’t being published for just my husband. And chick-lit is not being published just for me. These books are being written, not just because the publisher wants a profit, but because 1. The author believes he/she has something valuable to add to society by telling this story, and 2. The readers learn something about themselves and the world around them from reading that book.

I won’t pretend that some books aren’t better than others because something is always going to be better than something else. But we shouldn’t be looking down on what others are reading either. What if that book opened the door to a life-long love of reading for that teen? What if that book helped a person recognize that he/she needs to make changers in his/her life? What if that person would rather read a silly book than watch a silly movie? What if that person had a loved one who was a police officer and now he/she lives vicariously through crime novels because it helps him/her understand the loved one more? If anything, we should try to understand why a person likes a certain book/series/genre, and try to understand the value that has in enriching a community.

Unless that person is claiming on Reddit that he’s read Infinite Jest 654 times, because that person is a lying liar who lies.

My husband doesn’t have to like chick-lit, but I appreciate him trying to understand why I do.

Since I went on about how I enjoy chick-lit, if you’re also a chick-lit fan, here are some of my favorites in no particular order:

1. One Day by David Nicholls
2. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
3. Can You Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella
4. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
5. Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

Happy reading!