I don’t really care what you’re reading. To me, the exercise of reading is just as valuable whether you choose fiction or non-fiction, classics or romance novels. Whatever engages you is what you should read. Simple.
I get terribly annoyed when people get snooty about reading. Tell others that their reading is somehow not valuable because they choose to read something that falls into a category of which the person sitting in judgment does not approve. It is precisely this attitude that turns kids off reading to begin with. I was raised by my English teacher dad, who told me I wouldn’t like every book and it was OK to stop reading one if I didn’t like it, all the while introducing me to everything from Thomas Hardy to Ed McBain. And lo and behold, he raised a reader.
Author Joe Hill got more than a bit miffed the other day having read an article purporting, in a nutshell, that genre fiction is somehow less than literary fiction. Here’s an abbreviated version of Joe’s reaction:
I read a lot of genre fiction, primarily crime fiction. Most important term in the previous sentence? “…read a lot.” Ask anyone who reads genre fiction—romance, fantasy, thriller…you name it—and you’ll find that we read quite a bit. We also talk about what we read. We purchase books, too, thereby supporting authors and publishers. And most importantly, we encourage kids—our own, our family members’, our friends’, and sometimes even random ones we encounter—to read.
For anyone to imply that I am somehow a lesser person because of the books that I enjoy is beyond offensive. It is damaging to the health and wellbeing of the world as a whole because it actually discourages reading.
Lately, I’ve seen an increasing number of condescending people also criticizing ebooks. News flash: books read on a screen have the same words in the same order as those printed on paper. Ebooks and “tree books” are not mutually exclusive. Neither is going to do the other out of existence. An either-or debate around this is a waste of energy—energy that could be spent, on, I dunno, actually getting people to read.
According to the venerable Census Bureau, only 58% of the US population lives in big(ish) cities, those with a population of 200,000 or more. That means that 42%—almost 60 million people—live in smaller cities and another 59 million live in rural areas. So just short of 120 million people live in places that might well be without easy access to a bookstore. Yet they do have internet access. And many of them are readers. This reality was also highlighted in a recent Twitter conversation (note here, too, that these genre fiction readers are case-in-point about the passion in reading genre fiction inspires and sustains):
Add to this that ebooks give more people access to titles they might not otherwise be able to get. I’m not talking about self-published books—although this is certainly true of those—but rather those that might be more specialized, out of print, or otherwise hard to find.
As someone who travels quite a bit, another reality ebook naysayers seem to miss is that making books easier to transport, whether on a plane, train, or bus, also encourages reading. We’re no longer limited to listening to music (or talking on the phone) when we’re in transit.
Speaking of phones, how’s about this for an idea: The next kid who asks for a cell phone, get her an ereader instead. I know, I know…it’s a little like when a kid asks for a toy and gets an electric toothbrush instead, but if we care about contributing to future generations that have words rather than fluff between their ears, it might be worth a shot.
Some people still bemoan the death of vinyl. Another news flash: books are not music. Paper books aren’t going anywhere. Neither are ebooks. And genre fiction is a treasured part of the literary landscape. I hope that the energy currently expended on criticizing form and format is soon refocused.