Happy Children’s Book Week! I love seeing all the energy and excitement around books at this time of year, with all the special Days, Weeks, and Months! It does make me think, though, that we can bring more joy to readers by sharing our own joy about the books we really love, not the books we think we should love.
Recently, I was talking with a teacher who was describing a book he was in the middle of and loved—“not that I’d share that with my students.” Why not? Because it was a pure escapist read, a thriller, and the writing wasn’t even all that great, he said.
This made me feel sad. And guilty. Because I have done the same thing. Not with students on school visits (who usually want to know what my favorite kids’ books are), but with writer friends and educators and booksellers. I am not a reader of literary fiction, and I often feel dumb or shallow in my reading choices, because the writers around me are always discussing their latest amazing reads—almost none of which I have read.
Why I Read
I read for several reasons, usually: to learn cool things; to examine the world deeply; and to be entertained. I read awesome nonfiction (picture books and occasional adult books) to learn cool things. I read poetry and picture books to see the world in different ways and think deeply about it. And for entertainment, I usually read mysteries.
What I Read
I read mostly series cozies (amateur detectives), though I love a good dark, gripping, eerie serial killer mystery when I can find one that’s actually a mystery (not a thriller). I read to escape my own brain. I read mysteries set in places that call to me (like Scotland and Colorado). Or with main characters who do things I’m terrible at (baking, knitting, singing). Or that feature a villain so evil and horrifying I can’t put down my Kindle.
In many of these cozies, the writing is not…spectacular. I turn my analytical brain off and just lose myself in story. It’s what I’ve done since I was a child—escape into stories. And since I read multiple novels per week, it’s frankly just easier sometimes to stick with a so-so series where I know what I’m getting than to try (and abandon) several new authors/titles before finding one sufficiently escape-into-able.
So I’m vowing right now to stop being ashamed of the books I read. And of the books I don’t read. I don’t enjoy literary fiction. I never really have. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So I would appreciate it if people would stop gasping when I confess to specific books that did nothing for me. To Kill a Mockingbird comes readily to mind, as my confession of not liking it almost gave 84 educators a collective heart attack at a conference a few years ago.
You probably think by now that I’m a cretin. But I love to read. I don’t think I could live without books. I just love to read what I love to read…not necessarily what you love to read.
Setting A Good Example
To set a good example for every kid out there who’s ashamed because he doesn’t like the books he’s told are “fantastic,” “a classic,” or “great literature,” I vow to stop worrying about looking smart. I vow to share some of my own personal reading tastes with students–my REAL favorites. Making books—any kind of books—an integral part of your life—that’s the best example I can set.
I relate to your post; although, I loved TKaM. But many of the “classics” I haven’t read. My husband likes to insult me about not reading Harry Potter. Fantasy is not a genre I enjoy. Recently, a friend of mine has retained the rights to her Cajun romance novels and has put them on Kindle. That’s my guilty pleasure. No violence. Modest sex. And just good story telling.
Hurray! Thank you, Margaret, for sharing. We all have our guilty pleasure reading, I think. (I hope.) Maybe someday, we won’t even feel guilty about it:>)
Donna Smith says
I’ve read most of the classics way in the past, and I loved most all. I stopped reading in my 40’s not knowing I needed glasses – thought I just didn’t like it anymore – too hard for some reason. Then I had cataract surgery a few years ago and am getting back into reading. I enjoy middle school fare mostly now! You’ve probably read Irene Latham’s “Leaving Gee’s Bend”, right? I loved it! I read it to my husband every time we got in the car to go somewhere…I’ve become his “audio book”! I’ve recently finished the read-aloud of Fannie Flagg’s book “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe”, also set in Alabama.
I’m just beginning to enjoy reading again and have so much to catch up on!
Oh, Donna, I’m so glad you’ve rediscovered the joy of reading. Sad for the lost years! I loved Irene’s novel (and her other one–very different but just as wonderful–Don’t Feed the Boy). Have fun with tons of new great books!
Sara Matson says
I can totally relate to this; I rarely enjoy a book that has an unhappy ending, and because of this, literary books usually depress me. I read to escape! BTW, have you tried the Kate Burkholder series by Linda Castillo or the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny? Both really good mystery series, plus much of the writing in IG is quite beautiful!
I LOVE the Kate Burkholder series! Just recommended them to someone on Monday:>) Waiting for Down a Dark Road. And someone else just recommended the series by Penny to me. And that person recommended the Gamache series to me. I have the first book on reserve. Thanks! And thanks for sharing.
I love cozy mysteries, too!! (And don’t readily admit to it, though my librarians know) I will look up the two series mentioned above. I mostly read in winter- spring, summer and fall are for gardening!
What a great, thoughtful post! I love reading mysteries (not too gory, thank you!) and think one of the best things about mysteries is how often there is a series to enjoy. I read widely but my “guilty pleasure” and mental escape is reading historical romantic fiction–Guaranteed to whisk me away from reality for a few hours and to end happily! (I do wish they’d reconsider some of the cover art though!) I’m adding another vote for Louise Penny’s books and am going to look up the Castillo series mentioned above. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, Laura. I know I’m going to continue thinking about this post.
Thank you, Molly! That is the best result (to continue thinking about it) that I could wish for. Thanks for sharing:>)
Matt Forrest Esenwine says
Good points, Laura – if we don’t read for enjoyment, how could we ever possibly appreciate more ‘literary’ works? My father, who’s a voracious reader, never liked reading in school until he discovered Classics Illustrated, comic books which re-told classic novels in comic-book form…and from then on, he read everything he could get his hands on!
And I don’t know that “literary” works has to be the goal for every reader. To me, that equates literary with superior. It’s like saying classical music is better than rock music. I don’t see it as a ladder. BUT I agree that every reader who does love literary fiction probably started out with more mainstream/accessible fiction. I have family members who loved those Classics Illustrated! Thanks for weighing in, Matt!
Matt Forrest Esenwine says