I made a video on reader shaming about 2.5 years ago and I used that script as a reference for this blog post. As I read through it, I realized some of it was outdated, but so much of it was so savage. I don’t remember how the video came out because I can’t bear to watch my own videos, but it crossed 1,000 views, so that’s something, I guess? 😛
I’ve always maintained that reading helps us become better people and I still stand by it. But over the past four years that I’ve actively been on social media, I’ve seen reader shaming happen so violently, so carelessly, so heartlessly, that it has made me wonder if that were the case after all. But then again, I meet people who are gorgeous, beautiful people and my faith is restored.
The Internet, however, is as brutal as it is helpful. For those of us wanting to share our thoughts about books and to find others like us, it can quickly become a swamp where reader shaming keeps trying to pull us down. It’s not that one person had to say something, although I must mention that there have been tens of comments insulting me and my intelligence because I didn’t like a book that they loved and that I had the *gall* to speak that way about it.
But that’s not the only point. Reader shaming has many shades, to be honest. Even I used to be a reader snob in some ways, but I’ve learned a lot. The most important part of my learning process has been my acceptance of the fact that not everybody likes every book.
For example, I LOVE The Midnight Library, but I have friends who think it is meh and don’t see what the fuss is about. Which is completely okay.
Similarly, I never used to be a fan of classics, but I have a bunch of friends who swear by them. I’m now inducted into that group because – and I think these changes happen over time – I see why they are famous. Although, I still speak out if and when I end up not liking a book, but I wouldn’t say I am not a fan of classics anymore.
It comes back to the same thing – to each, their own. And unless the things that people like or love are hurting someone, one can’t blame them for it. This should be as true and applicable to the world in general as it should be applied to readers, but that’s not how the world spins apparently. Many people think it’s okay to insult a person because of what they read and how they choose to read it. Why? Why this attitude? Who gave one the right to decide what others should like or dislike?
If someone enjoys something, well and good. If they don’t, then well and good.
One shouldn’t raise a finger at someone’s character or state of mind just because of their likes and dislikes.
You can call out a person for disrespecting another person and minimizing their existence by supporting someone who is actively doing harm to them. For example, giving up your childhood favorite book series by a transphobic author who is out there in the open being the transphobic author she is. One’s childhood memories are important, but not more than the pain that is being caused by the author’s comments and their consequences.
When someone tells you that they didn’t like a certain classic, don’t get personal. Don’t insult their intelligence by suggesting that maybe they have no patience with the complex language. This has happened to me for a new book (at the time) by one of my favorite authors . When I read it, I was so disappointed, I made a rant video about it. Someone in the comments told me I needed intellect to understand the book. Wow. Just. Wow.
Maybe we just need to stop to think: maybe they didn’t like what happened in the books, the events, rather than how it was written. And even if they didn’t like how it was written, how is it any of our business? Personal choice is a thing, isn’t it?
But no. When we comment on something they do, it’s always, “Mind your own business” or “Don’t poke your nose where you are not concerned.” But when it is them commenting on ours, and when we retaliate, it’s always, “Why are you so sensitive? Can’t you take a joke?” I’ll tell you what the joke is: the fact that you are blind to your own hypocrisy, that’s what.
If you don’t like an author someone likes, diss the author or their writing – depending on the reasons, of course – all you want. Give reasons why you don’t like him or her. But never ever shame the person for liking something. Because maybe that author helped them through something. Maybe that author gives them a peace of mind that no other author can give. But also be mindful of what that author is doing in their social life. If they’re harming people or pushing people to violence against others or themselves, then we’ve got to do an introspection ourselves.
Another form of reader shaming is when readers diss other readers for liking a form of books that they don’t like. This is such an ableist take to be had. Why? What is it to those readers how other readers read? As long as it is working for people, why should anyone take offense at that? Why not be happy that more reading is being done in this world? Isn’t that a reader’s whole aim anyway? To see the world loving books so much that so many people actively work to make them accessible to everyone?
For example, I’ve heard a lot said about audiobooks that they aren’t “real books”. For people who can’t read, listening to audiobooks is a great way to consume stories. This audiobooks-aren’t-real batch of people doesn’t stop to think that it is ableist to expect everyone to do things the way they do. It doesn’t become unreal just because they don’t like it, the same way a book is only bad to the person reading it. Someone else could read the same book and find value to it. Because in the end, again, it’s all about a person’s perspective and their circumstances.
It’s like the Flat Earthers. They think the Earth is flat, while the truth is that the Earth is round. That fact is universal, though. Like the fact that any form of reading is reading is universal. How are you going to deny that? Moreover, it is our responsibility as part of the bookish community to accept everyone into the folds rather than push them away by shaming them for their choices.
I have another example of mild shaming that happened to me a couple of years ago. I’m pretty sure it was unintentional but I still felt sad that that person thought it okay to insinuate things about me. I read the book ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck’ and I hated the book. So much that I went and made a rant video about it.
In a certain group, someone asked if anyone had read ‘Everything is F*cked’, the new Mark Manson book at the time, and I said I hated the previous book so I probably won’t read this one. To which one person said:
Once you understand what he is trying to say, it’s an amazing self-help book.
My eyes bugged out of my sockets and my eyebrows went up.
So you’re trying to tell me I hate the book because I don’t understand it?
You haven’t even heard my problems with the book, and you jump on to insulting my intelligence?
Again, I want to reiterate that this was probably not intentional, but if we don’t even have an idea of how we are treating our fellow readers without discourse, then what’s the whole point? What is the point of being a reader and part of such a huge readership? We’re supposed to be tight-knit family, because compared to the number of people in the world who don’t read, our number is tiny. So why should we shame someone who reads 2 pages of a certain author in a day?
There are many people – or at least there were many people who used to shame the hell out of others for reading what they did.
“I can’t believe you like that shit!” they’d say. And in a way, I’m guilty of this too. Every time my friends told me they liked a certain author, I’d wrinkle my nose in disdain. Given, that the author in question uses sexist undertones and a set recipe in their books, but that didn’t give me the right to be disgusted at the person telling me this. So I’ve learned my lesson and I try to think before my face speaks.
“You read that? You’re not a real reader!” they’d exclaim.
Or “Are you even a reader if you haven’t read this author?”
First of all, you cannot dictate what someone reads. Sure, give suggestions, but don’t shame a person because they haven’t yet read that author. You could say they are going to have a great time ahead because of that author.
Sure, say that a book is bad IN YOUR OPINION, but never shame a person for liking it.
Sure, tell a person to read an author, but don’t call them a non-reader just because they haven’t read them yet.
Bullying is bad – whatever form it takes and wherever it takes place. And to see people bullying others in a community where bookworms come to feel safe is one of the worst feelings in the whole world. Well, not the worst thing. Far from it, really, but it’s all about safe spaces and being able to open up in a world where things are so bad anyway. Once reader shaming gets started, a person begins to shrink back into their shell. How does one live with the knowledge that one pushed someone so much that they no longer feel safe with you? That they no longer feel comfortable around you?
If a person cannot stop shaming people for reading what they do and liking what they read, then the bookish community is better off without them.
So what are your thoughts on reader shaming? What do you think of this blog post? Has anything like this ever happened to you or to someone you know? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you! 🙂
I’ll see you in the next blog post.
Until next time, keep reading and add melodrama to your life! Just not by reader shaming people. 🙂