What to read for fun (Part 1 of 2): Guilty pleasures.
Reader, I am a book snob.
This isn't really a revelation - I've been a book snob for years. But it stings to realize it right now, because for some reason, these days, (this has to do with writing my novel, I'm sure) literary fiction is not compelling to me. I can't read the novels I used to love reading.
I feel uncomfortable to say it out loud, but there it is. I read book reviews in The New York Times and they make me cringe. I have a stack of new novels on my shelf that I know I should want to read — including The Bone Clocks and Adult Onset — and I can't do it. Even my favourites, my talismans, the books I read over and over, like Bel Canto and Two Girls, Fat and Thin — when I look at them, it feels like a sack of wet concrete has been dumped on my shoulders.
Can't I read books for fun anymore?
I find myself going to the shelves of guilty pleasures. You know the ones. Books that have the author's name in big, metallic font on the cover — even bigger than the title of the book. The ones that come in trilogies. The ones that you can buy at library book sales for 50 cents apiece. The ones that are made into movies, and then re-released with pictures of the actors on the cover!
You know what's funny about these "guilty pleasure" novels?
They all have BESTSELLER written in block letters at the top. Which means that they sell in extraordinary numbers. Which means that lots and lots of people buy these books. Doesn't that mean that most people who read are reading the guilty pleasure novels?
Why is that? Thinking about that prompted these questions:
Why do we feel so guilty about pleasure? Should we really feel sheepish about reading for fun? Don't these books also have an important role in our lives?
Why do people read, anyway?
I read to learn how to write. For me, this has always been the case - books are my teachers. I love to be challenged and impressed by sentences, stories and characters. When I read, I imagine how it would feel to be writing what I'm reading. Writers do this kind of double-reading: we read to understand the story, and we read to understand the writing of the story, at the same time.
But what about people who aren't writers? Why do they read?
Because they want to be entertained. They want to stretch their imagination and be delighted by magic. They want to laugh, to cry, to be scared, intrigued, turned on. People read because they want to feel something!
We want to see how people find themselves in dark places, and we want to learn how they get out of trouble. We want to watch how people transform themselves in this process.
We want to make our thoughts stop spinning, to let go of our worries after a too-full day, before we go to sleep. We read to feel safe, secure and calm. We want to feel like we have a friend who understands us.
Yes, these are all of the exact reasons I first fell in love with reading, too!
When I was a kid, I loved the public library. It was one of the only places I felt seen and understood. If I was reading Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Carolyn Keene, Judy Blume, and Enid Blyton, I was not alone. If I was reading Sue Townsend, Steven King, Terry Pratchett, Mary Higgins Clarke, or Rosamunde Pilcher, I was safe.
This year, I promised myself I wouldn't grind through any tasks that feel more like obligation than joy. I didn't know that would include grind-through reading, too. These days, I only want to read books that feel fun and exciting to read.
In my search for reading for fun and excitement, I've been brought back to the kind of reading I used to do before I became a "writer." Back when I dreamed of becoming a writer.
When did I become so judgmental? Why so snobbish? What am I afraid of? I'm afraid of not looking smart enough. I'm afraid people won't take me seriously.
But you know what? I don't care anymore! From now on, I'm going to read whatever I want. Maybe even something with a unicorn on the cover.