Overcoming feeling like an inadequate reader

I think anyone that knows me knows that I love to read. I talk about reading a lot, I post a lot of pictures of books, I spend a lot of time with books, hell – I’m trying to write one. We won’t get into that because I’m not doing a very good job of it and I’m not ready to hold myself accountable just yet. Books are my family. They make me feel safe and comfortable, even when what I’m reading isn’t even remotely safe or comfortable. One of my earliest reading memories was a tiny blue pocket edition of Hamlet that I carried around until it practically fell apart. Imagine little me reciting “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain” outside of the bathroom door while my mom showered. I thought it was really important to share what I was reading whenever I had a captive audience, regardless of whether they were listening or not.  I get excited when authors respond to me and even more excited when they follow me, they’re celebrities to me. I love when books are turned into movies and I hate when books are turned into movies. I love when literature is controversial and problematic as much as I love when it’s fluffy or touches on all the right things. Hell, I love when I hate a book and I love when books are trashy but entertaining. I love comics and novels and memoirs, I’ll read practically anything you hand me (unless it’s about mermaids, I hate water people). Everything about reading fills me with so much joy that I can’t imagine not reading something every day, even if it’s not exactly a book. I did a poll on twitter recently asking how many books were read by people (my sample size is really just whoever saw the poll) and the majority of people said zero. ZERO. I was shocked. In my mind, everyone is reading all the time.

Lord Polonius: What do you read, my lord?

Hamlet: Words, words, words.

As much as I love books, it’s easy for me to feel inadequate as a reader, like I’m not living up to my full potential as a bibliophile. As if I’m not even worthy of calling myself a bibliophile. It might be surprising to hear that I’ve often been told I’m not reading the “right” books. I’m not always the most well-rounded reader even though I touch most fiction genres, I don’t read a lot of nonfiction. I’ve learned that most people I know stick to nonfiction or read for educational and self-improvement/enlightenment purposes. I, on the other hand, mostly read fantasy and any speculative fiction I can get my hands on. When I ask people I know what they’re reading, their tastes are so different than mine. When I’m asked for recommendations, I never give any. I never know what to tell people and a small part of me doesn’t want my choices judged. How can I recommend Neil Gaiman and Stephen King to someone who typically reads books about business and finance? How can I recommend Cassandra Clare and Sarah J. Maas to people who prefer to read books about politics and current events? I can’t recommend Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Shakespeare to people who enjoy reading self help and spirituality books! It’s easy for me to feel less intellectual when I hear people talk about their favorite books and none of them have anything to do with mythology or princesses or fantasy worlds. It’s easy for me to feel out of place when I read about teens navigating through dystopian societies and ghosts that torture the living people in their homes when everyone else is reading books about how to become better people and further their career.

For a while I wondered if I was doing something wrong and I asked myself so many questions. Was I reading the wrong things? Is there such a thing as “reading the wrong things”? All of the books I love are being turned into movies left and right so I can’t be completely wrong, could I? (Sidenote: I’d love to be a literary scout for film, it’s my latest dream) Does preferring fiction mean I’m not as smart as people who prefer nonfiction? Does it matter if I’m as smart as those people? Am I choosing the wrong nonfiction?

Impossible questions and all of the answers are obviously subjective. If I’m answering them the answers are all no. If someone else is answering them, the answers might all be yes. In reality, none of this matters. I don’t have to read politically charged books to care about politics, I don’t have to constantly read takes on feminism to have feminist beliefs, and I certainly don’t have to read books about being a better person in order to actually become one. I should be able to get swept up in a romance or cry over characters that I fall in love without feeling like I should have been reading about how to clean my house instead (I did read Marie Kondo’s book and liked it. I’m not shading her). A major concern of mine when I think about what I read, will these books help me be a better writer? (For the record, and I’m still not ready to be held to this, I’m writing something in the gaslamp fantasy genre). I’ll talk about novel writing in another post but reading and writing go hand in hand, every novelist I’ve heard talk about writing has said as much. Even though I completely agree that great writers should be veracious readers, I don’t think everything I read has to make me a better writer. I shouldn’t feel bad for reading some books strictly for entertainment.

It isn’t fair to me that I make myself feel like I’m any less well-read than anyone else just because my choice of reading material isn’t always poignant or educational. It isn’t fair to me to force myself to read things that I don’t particularly enjoy and neglect the things I do. When I do this I tend to just not read anything at all because I can’t be motivated to read what I don’t want to read in my leisure time and that’s not cool. ABR! Always Be Reading! I realize that’s not a thing or a cool acronym and I know it won’t catch on but for the sake of this post, it’s fetch. Reading is the cool thing to do, isn’t it? Reading what you enjoy is important! I shouldn’t feel weird about liking books where vampires fall in love with humans (although I can admit that Twilight is poorly written and crazy problematic). I shouldn’t feel like I’m being left out because I’m damn near obsessive about Cassandra Clare’s shadowhunter world, I even watch the show and I hate the show.  

I became a better reader when I stopped seeking validation for what I was reading and just enjoyed getting lost in a story.

I work in an academic/research field and I often wonder if my leisure reading is supposed to align with that or if that’s why I make a complete turn. I spend my days with academic journals and textbooks and feel that sometimes, I just need a break. I never feel like I’m turning my brain off, in fact a lot of fiction I read feels incredibly smart. I think any and everything I read could make me a better writer. I have an analytical brain and a fantastical imagination. I don’t think everything I read has to be smart or make me think about anything other than what I’m reading (I’ve read some Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars books, I know what I’m talking about here). It doesn’t make sense to be ashamed of what I’m choosing to read. A book is a book, why should I need any validation about what I’m reading? I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel like I’m not being alienated during book talks but I’m glad to have found a community that doesn’t make me feel crazy for what I read and don’t read. It’s great to know that these people are out there and that sometimes they feel the same. There are amazing communities on Goodreads (follow me if you want), Instagram, YouTube, Twitter. They’re everywhere! Ameriie has a great book channel on YouTube. Emma Roberts just started a book club. The great thing about books is that there is something for everyone and there is always someone out there that shares my same taste in books, however “bad” and “uncultured” it might be.

An Ambitious Spring Reading List

The Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer (the 1st soon to be a movie with Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac and Gina Rodriguez so I’m already pretty excited for this)

Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare (release date: 05-23-2017)

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas (release date: 05-3-2017)

Re-Read of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (I’m listening to the audiobooks of these this time around)

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

Victorian London: The Tale of a City 1840–1870 by Liza Picard

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Carrie by Stephen King

It by Stephen King

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

Unfiltered by Lily Collins (I’ll likely listen to the audiobook of this)

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (I’ll probably listen to the audiobook of this too)

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemison

The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England by Carol F. Karlsen (I’d be interested in reading anything relating to the Salem witch trials. I’m super into this right now)

The Circle by Dave Eggers (I mostly just like to read the book before I see the movie, I’m in no rush to read this)

I took a moment to carefully add up how many pages all of this amounts to 12385 pages. Twenty-Four Books. I wrote it out because I’m obviously losing it if I think I can commit to 24 books along with everything else I need to do. I’m not sure how much reading time that equates to but I’m sure it’s more than I can actually afford to spend in just a few months. Although, I’ll admit, I’ve been known to read 800-900 pages in a day so I know that I can do it, but will I? Spring officially ends June 21st. I think I can get through the bulk of this list, right?