Discussion: What It Means to Be a Reader

For most of my life, I’ve considered myself a reader, but I’ve never really thought about what that means until recently. A few years back, there was controversy around a man who posted a video on Youtube criticizing what he called “fake reader girls.” Essentially, his complaint was that many of the more popular channels were people who were not “real” readers, and were just posting videos about books to make money. He especially seemed to complain about women who have professional quality cameras and lights, and post videos wearing make-up. It sparked a lot of discussion about his comments, and I’ve seen something similar happen around “fake gamer girls” too. It comes down to the idea that people who don’t fit the typical mold for what others think of as a reader must not really be readers.

This idea came up again the other day while I was browsing one of my Goodreads reading challenge groups. In discussion of some prompt ideas for next year’s reading challenge, a suggestion came up for a non-fiction and fiction book pair. Some users, myself included, commented that they would be unlikely to vote for that because we weren’t huge fans of non-fiction. In response, another group member made a comment that kind of rubbed me the wrong way, and reminded me of the whole “fake reader” discussion, albeit to a much lesser extent. The comment basically stated that they don’t understand the aversion to non-fiction, and classics since that was another suggestion being discussed, and that they must say that people who don’t like those genres were probably exposed to the wrong ones or read them when they were too young, and therefore mistake these genres for being challenging. The part that really irritated me was the line “Surely a reader would find a nonfiction book they would enjoy.”

Just to break down the comment a little: I have absolutely no problem with this person saying that she does not understand people’s aversion to specific genres. Everyone has their own preferences and it can be hard to understand sometimes why others don’t like a genre you love. However, I do take issue with the assumptions about why people must not like non-fiction and classics. As I’ve mentioned, I’m generally not a fan of non-fiction, but it is not because I assume it will be challenging. I have tried a variety of different subgenres of non-fiction, and while there were a few books that I liked, I generally prefer to read fiction overall. That is not to say it would be impossible for me to find a non-fiction option that I might like, but it is not something I gravitate toward nor something I want to feel forced into reading because of a prompt. I definitely did read  some classics when I was too young to really get them, and enjoyed them much more when I re-read them later, but it seems odd to me to make such a sweeping statement that everyone who does not enjoy these genres must dislike them because they find them too challenging. I don’t find non-fiction challenging necessarily, just dry. I’m much more interested in reading a story I can really get immersed in.

Even last year, when non-fiction-specific prompts were being suggested, it sparked a huge discussion across the board about non-fiction. I remember even then, a comment was made by another user saying that it doesn’t make sense for people to say they don’t like non-fiction at all because there are so many different kinds. Again, people are entitled to their own opinion and preferences, but it seems just as odd to me to say that not liking a genre doesn’t make any sense. There are also many people who don’t enjoy fiction, regardless of the genre, and prefer to read non-fiction. My grandfather was one of those, and so is my boyfriend, just as two examples. The overall message that came out of that discussion was that people who didn’t like non-fiction essentially must not have been trying hard enough to find something they would like, but to me, that kind of begs the question of why should they have to?

The comment that a reader would “surely” be able to find something they would like seemed to imply that only people who manage to do so are real readers. It doesn’t matter if you love to read and pick a variety of books — if you haven’t been able to enjoy non-fiction, you must not be a “real” reader. When it’s put that way, I would hope that it sounds as silly as it is. There are many people who consider themselves readers who stick to only one or two favourite genres. Based on my experience watching many vloggers, it seems like most of them have a couple of favourite genres that they stick to and don’t necessarily branch out from — yet I would still consider these people readers.

It seems like people have a set idea in mind of what a reader “should” be. To many people, it seems that someone is only a reader if they like to read a variety of books from different genres, if they read a lot of books very quickly, and/or if they own a ton of books. On the surface, these ideas do make a lot of sense, but I think they miss out on one key element. To me, the most important thing that makes someone a reader is a genuine interest in and love of books and reading. I think someone can be reading nothing but graphic novels or even picture books, and still consider themselves a reader. We don’t need to be reading more than 100 books in a year to consider ourselves a reader. We don’t need to own hundreds or thousands of books, whether we’ve read them or not, to be a reader. The one thing all readers seem to have in common is their love of books, whatever those books might be. It seems so silly to me to  judge other people for their tastes or suggest that they are not readers because they don’t like certain kinds of books. Everyone is free to pick up whatever kinds of books they want, and shouldn’t feel pressured about it. Granted when you are participating in a prompts-based challenge, you might be pushed to try something you wouldn’t otherwise pick up, but that’s part of the fun. If a person considers themselves a reader, than they are one!

Discussion Time: What do you think makes someone a reader? Is it necessary to read from all genres to be a reader? Has anyone experienced any of the “fake reader girl” kind of comments?


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