You Like Reading? You Are So Special!
Just to get this out of the way, in the interest of full disclosure: I enjoy reading. I don’t consider myself a big reader, per se, but I try to read a book or two per month, and as many interesting articles as I can during the day. I prefer the smell and feel of books, but I will admit that Kindles are pretty sweet, and am considering getting one to give me even more of a reason to read. I think that reading a lot makes you smarter, and wittier, and generally more aware of the world around you — it really cannot be praised enough. And it’s true that our culture does not always put the highest premium on the act of picking up a book. That is something that we should change.
That being said, picking up the occasional book does not somehow rocket you into an upper echelon of human existence, placing you on a hardcover pedestal from which you can look down on all the plebeians and their episodes of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. While it is certainly good to enjoy your hobby — and there are few that are more affordable and enriching than being an avid reader — it is no reason to constantly pat yourself on the back for being one of The Readers.
Springing from what is undoubtedly the same cess pool that generated Gamer Girl and Nice Guy, The Readers are the people who, beyond just enjoying books and the act of reading, have begun to fetishize and self-congratulate the act of consuming the written word to the point that it defines them almost entirely. These are the people who will post twee pictures of “Average People” (who are content with, I guess, Doritos, Sunny D, and illiteracy), vs. “Readers” (who like to spend their days curled up with a scarf, a cup of tea, and a big ol’ paperback). They enjoy quotations that commend the act of reading, and the overall intelligence and superiority of those who engage in it. They think of themselves as “different,” because they might wear glasses, and actually enjoyed the books they were forced to read in high school (yes, even Wuthering Heights).
They also are quick to remind us that we should be dating one of them, as they are not just any ol’ shlub who is content to listen to David Guetta and drink Red Bull while talking about Snooki’s baby — they have real thoughts and feelings. You see, because they read, their whole being has become a character, someone demanding of thoughtful conversations, dashing changes of scenery, complex plot lines, and someone who is equally capable of getting lost in the transcendent power of good fiction. They will be difficult but, oh, they will be so worth it. You could have some loser who enjoys watching football and going to bars, or you could have a complicated dreamer who takes notes on Henry Miller books in his Moleskin. I think the choice is clear.
In all seriousness, though, the snobbery inherent in the self-congratulatory comics or infographics or quotes about being Someone Who Reads is pretty unfortunate. I understand the frustration of not always feeling like reading is praised or encouraged enough, but how is making people who enjoy books seem like some blue-blood upper class going to help? If anything, it only serves to alienate people more and make not being as big a fan of books turn into an accusation of stupidity or illiteracy. By saying that reading makes you special, and different, and unique, and — ugh — “not like other girls,” you are saying that it is an exclusive activity that gives you some kind of gratification for being rare. There is a humblebrag quality in the complaints about how more people at your school don’t “get” your love for sitting, in the back of the class, with a book on your lap.
If the goal is truly to generate some kind of “cool factor” for reading — and not just make it a way to distinguish yourself as a Special Snowflake — why not simply talk about what you have enjoyed reading lately? Why not praise a book, review it, take out quotes you enjoy, offer to lend someone something that really moved you? All of this can happen without the added smugness of being “A Girl/Guy Who Reads,” and without the implication that enjoying books makes you better than someone else. We should all be reading more, and it is perfectly fine to enjoy the feel and smell of an old book in your hand, but it is probably best to remember that doing so doesn’t make you a member of the Illuminati.
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