Reading: It Can Never Be Wrong

Earlier today, I read an interview with debut author Jess Rothenberg over at Mermaid Vision Books, in which she talks about a teacher she had years ago who thought Rothenberg should be reading more “sophisticated” books. Rothenberg states in her interview: “When I was ten or eleven, a teacher saw my summer reading list—packed with things like Sweet Valley High, The Babysitters Club, and plenty of classic stories by writers like Lois Lowry, Jean Craighead George, and Scott O’Dell—and made me promise I’d stop reading “those kinds of books.” I was pretty devastated, but did my best to put them aside in favor of more “sophisticated” (as she put it) reading.” (You can read the full interview here.)

It immediately reminded me of a similar incident from my childhood. When I was ten our class was asked to place on our desks the books that we were reading. I remember proudly pulling out my book to put on the corner of my desk. It didn’t matter to me that the girl who sat next to me had pulled out a book ten times the size of mine. At least, not until our teacher came around and compared the two books for the class. My friend S. was reading the right kind of book. I wasn’t.

Want to know what the books were? S. was reading Watership Down at the time. But mine was The Truth about Stacey, the third book in The Babysitter’s Club series.

I was hurt. And angry. Really, really angry. I can remember thinking, hey, at least I read. Which was more than I could say for a lot of the kids in my class at the time. And what really made me angry, though there was no way that I could have articulated the feeling at the time, was that I was being judged for what I chose to read, instead of being praised and encouraged for reading at all, outside of what I had to for school. My teacher wasn’t taking into account what else I may or may not be reading at home (which was a wide variety of things which included, but was not limited to, the Anne of Green Gables series, and the Goosebumps series). The assumption was that I should be reading something “better”.

But I refused to let Mr R.’s opinion sway me. I continued to read whatever I wanted to read, whether it was long or short, and regardless of whether it was considered to be “better” than other books. Less than two years later I jumped straight from The Babysitter’s Club to Jane Austen, not because Austen’s novels were considered to be “sophisticated” or “real literature”, but because I simply saw a book in a bookshop with a story in it that appealed to me as a reader.

In many ways I feel like I’m still facing the same issues now. I love YA. It’s probably my favourite area (at the moment anyway) to play around in. But being almost twenty-four years old, and an English major to boot, people in general think I should be reading something more “high-brow” than YA. Children’s fiction in general, and YA in particular, aren’t seen as being good enough. If you’re not a teenager anymore it’s expected that you should have moved onto books that are “better” and “more worthy”, simply because they’re written for adults. And this doesn’t just apply to YA either. The same can be said for people that enjoy romance novels and chick lit. If you’re not reading “proper literature”, then you’re not good enough.

But personally, I think it’s all just bull. Just like when I was ten, I still refuse to let other people’s opinions sway me when it comes to my reading choices.

So go ahead and read what you want to read, whether that be Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction as an adult, or tackling nineteenth-century literature at the age of twelve. Because reading, no matter what it is you’re reading, will never be wrong. And if someone tells you otherwise? Ignore them.

 

What about you? Have you ever been judged by what you chose to read, or experienced something similar? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

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9 Comments

  1. I actually read adult novels from a very young age. I preferred horror, but also read classics.

    It was when my mom forbade me from reading the Sweet Valley books that I became intrigued what make them worth such a stern warning. I read and loved those books, which love played a direct role in my desire to write. (I wanted to grow up to be Elizabeth Wakefield and/or a superhero.)

    The more I jumped between adult literature and YA literature, the more it became clear there was a level of pretension in the adult side of things that was, refreshingly, missing from the YA novels I was reading. I love being able to dive into a good story told well without being told pompously. The narrators tend to feel much closer, and there tends to be a sense of possibility in the YA novels I read that’s missing from many of the non-YA ones.

    It’s hard to articulate well in a short comment, but I read almost exclusively YA these days and I love it. I figure the folks who look down their noses at me are likely the same folks who can’t imagine why someone would go to law school and not practice law. After a certain amount of time, it becomes so boring and redundant trying to explain to an already closed mind that I don’t bother to have the conversation!

    I do love talking about why I love YA, though. That works for me. 😉

    Reply
    • I wanted to be Elizabeth Wakefield too! I loved her character.

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when it comes to adult fiction. It can be very pretentious. This is why I enjoy chick lit as well, rather than literary adult works.

      Oh, I love talking about YA too. One of my favourite things to do. 😉

      Reply
  2. I can’t believe there are teachers out there that would discourage reading. That was a ridiculous thing for your teacher to do because it puts one student on the spot. You NEVER compare students like that. UGH! I am full of so much rage right now!

    Reply
    • I know, it was such a stupid thing. I think he was trying to encourage reading in general, but he was doing it in the worst way possible, by comparing one book to another (and as a result, one student to another). He was promoting reading a certain kind of book (the “better” book), but in order to do that he prettymuch discouraged reading in general. (Which was the opposite of what I think he was attempting to do.)

      It still makes me angry to think about. And when I read that Jess Rothenberg had experienced something similar in her childhood, I knew that this was something I had to blog about.

      Reply
  3. I completely agree with your thoughts on reading. Why can’t people read what they love for the sake of enjoyment? I also loved Sweet Valley High, The Babysitter’s Club, etc. and would have resented being discouraged from reading them. Kids who read what they enjoy are more likely to grow up continuing to read as adults.

    Reply
  4. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

     /  February 27, 2012

    What a lousy teacher!
    I’ve been working on a discussion post about just this issue. Thanks for sharing your story

    Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out

    Reply
  5. I was a Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High girl too. I tried other stuff as per teacher recommendations but the only thing I got into was The Hobbit. That was a surprise. Most other books I had to read for school I really hated. Well, except for Fall On Your Knees by Anne MacDonald, that was part of my grade 12 lit class and I loved it. Every other book in that class was boring as all though. 🙂 I’m a YA lover too and I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog today!

    Reply
  6. Great post, Sam! On one hand, I can completely understand why someone (especially a teacher) might judge you for your reading choices, but on the other, I think it’s silly to make such judgements because people read different things for different reasons. Take you for example: you read and love YA, but you also have the capacity to read and enjoy “high” literature. I know one kickass English professor whose guilty pleasure is crime fiction. As for me, I alternate between Henry James and Snape/Hermione fic–they both make me breathless, albeit for slightly different reasons. 😉

    Reply
    • I can see the reasoning behind a teacher judging someone’s reading in that way, but it’s something you would expect more from a high school teacher. It’s not something I could condone in a primary school teacher, because at that age surely it should be about trying to promote reading of any sort, not what you think is better or not, you know? Or maybe not, I don’t know. Either way, it just didn’t seem right.

      Hee, oh I can imagine why the Snape/Hermione fic makes you breathless… 😉

      Reply

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