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I am a reader. This doesn’t mean that I enjoy reading one or two books a year, or that I’m part of a book club, or that I’ll fill your brain with facts I gleaned from WikiLeaks. (Though, I highly encourage the use of such things if this is the only way you are to obtain information in things other than the “LOL” text you got from your drunk hookup this morning.)
I am a reader that, like the cliche television persona, simply loves books. The smell of the pages, the weight of the binding, the feeling you get when you’ve picked up (or put down) a great read. I’m the girl with a book in my bag and two more in my car, just in case. As a matter of a fact, I just purchased a new purse with only one condition in mind — it had to be able to fit an average sized hardback so that I could take a book wherever I go. I’m the girl who freaks out over upcoming writers visits, and makes sure to get a signature from the author at most book readings. The one who updates her Goodreads “Currently Reading” list more than her Facebook status. I’m the one most likely to purchase earrings shaped like bookends, and have some lengthy quote from an obscure book pouring out of my mouth at any given moment.
I was also blessed with a current job in a library — where I’m surrounded by books all day, and often by other bibliophiles who get just as much of a thrill by discussing their current read as they do talking about their last vacation. The problem with all of this is that I simply don’t read what other people do. I know that this sounds somewhat pompous — I’m definitely not trying to be a hipster reader. However, reading what’s popular as it becomes popular is definitely not a strong suit of mine. I’ve never read Girl on a Train or The Nightingale, nor do I plan to. I’ve also never read any of the Lord of the Rings trilogy or most classics, for that matter. George R.R. Martin helps create a great storyline for a television show, but lacks the writing style to keep me interested for more than one book. The classics that I know are Shakespeare and Greek mythology, not Twain and Keats. And this is a great stress to me because I am the person that always stands out.
Some books aren't even worth reading en masse anymore... I'm looking at you Criminal Code 1985.
Those conversations you might overhear between people about any “high school” read, chances are I’ve never participated. It is often an assumption of patrons who come into the library that I’ve already read any classic and they can ask me questions about the workings in great detail. This is 100% false. As a matter of a fact, when it comes to recommendations for reading, if you’re asking for personal experience I’m probably the last person you want to come to. I like surrealist fiction, I enjoy a good mystery, and I appreciate things for being unique to my experiences, regardless of their genre or theme. Those criteria often conflict with what other people expect — I enjoy surrealism, but usually turn my nose down on anything fantasy. I love watching Doctor Who and Game of Thrones but wouldn’t be interested in going through the series as a novel.
It’s not that I don’t want to be a part of the collective memory of certain novels, it’s just that they don’t interest me. And by that, I mean they aren’t interesting at all. I tried pushing my way through Fahrenheit 451, and simply couldn’t. Any and all references to A Clockwork Orange are going to be lost on me. Besides that, there are SO MANY classics that it's hard to say if ANYONE has even gotten close to reading them all. Seriously.
Like seriously, who could've read EVERY classic book?
And while this is perfectly acceptable I often feel left out of the collective consciousness. People are surprised when I say that I’m an English Writing graduate who has never read Pride and Prejudice, or that I work in a library but have no working knowledge of Faust. And it’s sad in a way that I’ve been limited so much by what I have read, and that I constantly feel like I have to stand up for my interest and love of the written word. Even if I cannot say that I’ve read everything on the “Read before you Die” list, I have read quite a plethora of writing. I have probably read more books in the last five months than most people have in the last five years. So why do I always feel so inadequate when talking to other book lovers who don’t see books as beautifully as I do but have read all of the classics?
I don’t think that I’m the only one that has this problem. From a library standpoint, so many other millennials have NO IDEA about what happened in the last James Patterson thriller, and could care less about the classics. But finding those folks is hard to do IRL, because nobody wants to speak out about it. We feel ashamed, we try to hide it, or we listen to podcasts like Overdue to better pretend we’ve read every dusty book on the shelf. And sometimes we go to Barnes & Noble and hide our trashy romance novels behind our grande latte in the Starbucks seating area.
Because we all know that coffee and books are like the original peanut butter and chocolate.
I guess what I'm saying is, we need to be less judgy about what other people read. So here’s the call. Let’s start an anti-classics book club. Everyone’s welcome, and we can meet on Tuesday mornings and get drunk off our asses instead of going to work. We can talk about the latest short story fad on facebook, and why our mothers will never understand what it means when we say we read surrealism. We can meet up online and share links to magazine stories from obscure authors, and talk about the purpose behind stream of consciousness blogging. We can do whatever we want, talk about whatever we want, and never have to pick up a dusty book because “everyones read it.”
Let’s change the stigma of what it means to be a reader.