So you love Twilight. Yeah, you know it isn’t the best book, yeah, you know the relationships are low-key abusive, and yeah, in hindsight the whole thing is pretty melodramatic. But why are you apologizing for it? Why is it your “guilty read”? Why … do people criticize you or make fun of you or call you not a “real reader”?
I feel the same way about pretty much every book, btw. Fifty Shade of Grey? You do you. Harry Potter still? Hey, if it’s your favorite it’s your favorite. Everything by Sarah J. Maas? We don’t see eye to eye on much, but at least we both love to read!
Okay, but Katie, they can’t read Harry Potter because its author is transphobic and trash.
Just, hear me out. I was ten when Harry Potter became like, super popular. I devoured it in a weekend, and I loved it so much I started reading it to my little brother, who was eight. Now, my brother could read just fine, but he never did. He didn’t like books, didn’t like reading. But after I read the first three Harry Potter books to him and stopped because the fourth book was too dang LONG to read aloud, he picked it up himself. He was nine, and he read that book ALL THE WAY to the end. Then, suddenly, he started picking up other things. He became a reader. These days he’s reading freaking Colson Whitehead. Without Harry Potter, no The Nickel Boys. I don’t think he’s still a big HP fan, but so many people with similar stories ARE. Who am I to tell them that the book that made them a reader is too problematic for them to continue to love?
That story, by the way, applies to any book that made someone a reader. *cough* Twilight *cough*
Who am I to tell the KAZILLIONS of women who hadn’t read a book in a decade but devoured the whole Fifty Shades series that their favorite book is stupid?
Maybe with our twenty-first century reading lens To Kill a Mockingbird is “problematic”. It doesn’t change the fact that it has spoken to people of all skin colors for decades. It doesn’t change the fact that it opened the eyes of a generation to racism, and continues to do so. It doesn’t change the way it empowers young people to think for themselves and is a touching coming-of-age story.
Maybe as a bookish community there is something more helpful we can say than “I can’t believe you actually like book-x, it is such trash because ________.” Maybe going forward we can instead try “Wow, if you like book-x you might also enjoy book-y” as a way to open their eyes to more inclusive or better written books.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t continue to draw attention to books that have bad writing or insensitive content in our reviews and discussions. Those discussions are SO essential. I just wonder if making the conversation surrounding those books less combative might actually make those conversations more effective.