I love reading. I love books. It’s important that I make that fact as clear as possible.
Each time I read a book, I am stretched as a person. I am exposed to new thoughts, perspectives, ideas, etc. which urge to me reevaluate myself. I am taken to different places and enjoy conversations with an array of people. I am inspired, entertained, and invested in them, but I want to do more than just reading a lot. So for the new year, I have decided to take up a challenge.
Before I fully explain the challenge—though I am sure at least one person reading this may already know what it is—let’s first boldly go where no one—
You know what? No.
I prepared some very imaginative taglines for my sign posts, but frack that—
Cause. Effect. Conclusion. Engage.
Like many other decisions that have been made, there are causes: First, I have found (after much introspection) that I harbor some biases, prejudices, and shame; and Second, I have been inspired by Lilit Marcus and her experience in doing the challenge I will be doing.
First: Although I like to think I am a well-round reader, I realize that I do harbor some unfair biases against certain books or at least certain aspects in books. As far as I’m aware, that is completely normal—it’s a part of being human. However, some of my biases actually made me one of the worst types of humans out there—a literary snob. Though I do own to being a judgmental literary snob once, I now show my snobbery much more discreetly. I still give those who read certain fiction books the stink-eye, but I don’t want to anymore because that makes me a hypocrite since I secretly indulge in commercial YA and Chick Lit. The point is, for the last few years I thought that the only works of literature worth reading were the classics, renaissance literature, philosophical fiction, and all that fancy “serious literature”. Most of the contemporary and commercial books that didn’t fall into my book criteria were deemed unworthy. My snobbery combined with my unwillingness to invest time in these “unworthy” books makes me a sectarian. I wasn’t really interested in reading something that was too “easy” for me, since I am apparently a very smart individual. So I was conditioned to confine myself into the “standard reading level” people have put me in and made a nice comfort zone out of it. But I later learned that by staying in my “comfort” zone, I was missing out on how fun reading is when you take a vacation from a tome and read unserious and/or fluffy stories.
I also consider myself to be an accepting person, however I realize that I do harbor some unfair prejudices toward some authors (since I do believe that there are a few authors who are rightfully assholes). I have passed unfair judgments about their writing and intelligence based on their values and reputation. It could get bad enough to the point where I not only find their work unworthy of my time, but also project a passive aggressive holier-than-thou attitude toward the people who read their books. I’m sure everyone has lapsed into this state whether you like it or not, so you should know how hard the feelings of prejudice come at you and how hard it is to resist them.
I wanted to bring up my prejudices because as much as I love books in general, this year I have read, wish-listed, and preferred more books by men than I do by women. I had succumb belief that “Men write more interesting fiction than women because all women focus on is the romance.” That belief goes by many other descriptions, but essentially it’s about how male-authored books are generally preferred more than female-authored books. What’s worse than my succumbing to it was the fact that I deliberately avoided certain female authors specifically because I thought what they wrote wasn’t as good as some of the fiction I read by men. That went against my beliefs as a feminist, but I did it anyway.
Obviously I must seem like a hypocrite to you, because I am. The fact that I am a literary snob who will harshly judge you if you read something that I condemn, then goes around in secret and read that something because it’s my guilt pleasure makes me a hypocrite. The fact that I am a self-proclaimed feminist and advocate for fair treatment, yet upheld a social belief that goes against fair treatment and equality makes me a hypocrite. I admit this because not only does it make me feel extremely guilty, but also ashamed of what I like and what I read.
Remember the explanation of my snobbery? Well in a nut shell, I became a literary snob partly because of the reading level I have been placed in when I was younger and partly because of the expectations that people have for me. (e.g. “You should be reading Tolstoy and Dickens, not John Green or Holly Black.”) But don’t think I made myself miserable just reading the “serious fiction” someone of my stereotype was “supposed” to be reading, because I actually enjoyed a lot of the them—because they had very interesting messages about humanity and the self and all that academic spiel, and I did enjoy feeling more superior than many of my friends and schoolmates (that was just my pretentiousness). However, there were a few books that I didn’t enjoy, which made me feel stupid because they were the holy college standard books that the academic world said I should be reading. In a way, I felt like the academic world was basically telling me that reading all of these YA/contemporary/light novels is a waste of time.
To make matters worse, since I secretly wrote “unserious/light/fluffy” fiction (on top of just reading it), I felt like I was also being told that the stories I actually liked writing were a waste of time. Somewhere along the line, I started to feel ashamed, not just of my reading tastes, but of my writing. Feeling powerless to the stigma of reading unserious fiction and too embarrassed of my hypocrisy to be truthful, I allowed myself to be put down my others and stopped writing completely. People made me feel inferior and I consented.
Clearly I have issues that I need to change. And I will. But before I want to go to what I will do about those feelings, I should first elaboration on my second point.
Second: In early January, I read an article by Lilit Marcus about why she read only books by female authors in 2013. After all wrapped up my New Year reflections, it was obvious I had to find a way to make those changes I wanted in myself. Marcus gave me a way. Her experience with reading books by women seemed not only interesting, but enlightening. To top if off, her reasoning for reading were. She addressed the reading double-standard and gave the perfect response, which was backed up by her own experience.
(Yeah, I’m a sucker for rhetoric.)
Not only has my respect for her grown exponentially, but also my motivation to overcome my snobbery, prejudice, and shame also grew.
When there are causes, there are (more often than not) effects. And I now have two of them: First, I have come up with a lot of commentary on what I have talked in Causes; Second, including inspiration from Marcus, I thought of a few other reason why I decided to heavily focus on this reading challenge.
First: More recently, I have toned down the snobbery and am planning on reducing it even more sometime in the near future (give or take some lapses because I am still human). I figure that there’s no point in spending time reading books that pressure me to be something unpleasant, because if I did I wouldn’t be trying anything new. While there are so many serious books I’ve read and loved, I would be closing myself off from some really dynamic and entertaining things by reading them all of the time. I have come to believe that you can learn something from every book, even the horribly trashy ones and the serious ones that I feel like I’ve wasted hours of my life on.
Moreover, I found that by not reading outside of your favorite genre—be it serious fiction, YA, historical, or something else—you could be limiting yourself in terms of inspiration, too. Since I have started journey toward becoming a good writer (maybe not published, but at least enough to be a good blogger), I have slowly been taking up the “read everything and everything” philosophy that’s suppose to expose me to different writing styles and what not. And it’s been working! Whether it’s an essay I read for English AP (Language and Composition, in case you’re wondering) or a YA book or a book about a theory, when I get into it inspiration hits me like a lightning bolt.
I also recently realized that the real problem was not really with the people who told what to read; it was with me. Certainly it would have been nice to feel like I didn’t have to put up a pretense. However, it ultimately my decision whether or not to embrace unserious fiction. I should have been convinced that my personal preferences were nothing to be ashamed of. I should have refused to allow anyone to put me down. I should have stood up for myself, my opinions, and my writing. If I had, I would have realized that only a handful of people would have judged me. Not that it really matters any more as I think about a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt—“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Basically, I’ve accepted that reading and writing unserious wasn’t a waste of my time and it was nothing to be ashamed of since most of my friends would have been supportive. As for hiding it? That was a waste of time. I won’t make that mistake again. [I would also like to add that I enjoy chick lit. Although I admit I probably wouldn’t read it at work in certain settings, because it’s out of place (e.g. an extended family dinner) or people do look down on it. Sometimes I don’t want to slog through heavy, thought provoking prose. I just want to be entertained. (Seriously, I have enough “heavy” in my life and my favorite time of the day is escaping into one of my chick lit books.) Chick lit is like a welcome breath of fresh air in the otherwise monotony of my never-ending pile of work. Sorry…digressed…anyway…]
- It’ll make me a better writer. Since I enjoys spreading thoughts and communicating with others, writing is important to me. And it’s a known fact that reading always increases our capacity to write.
- It’ll increase my worldview and pragmatism. Since I will exposing myself to different ideas and cultures as well as different approaches to life and the problems we face, I am provided an opportunity to better discern what has worked in the past and what has not.
- It’ll increase my reading speed. While not a slow reader, I have never considered myself particularly fast either. Speed reading will be a good skill to have, especially if I need to read through a lot of passages in my textbooks.
- It’ll improve my self-discipline. No doubt, at times, this challenge will definitely require discipline. The best ones always do.
- It’ll stretch my creativity. By rediscovering like in new ways, we begin to see the world differently, and we find new creative solutions because of it.
That is in addition to the inspiration I have drawn from reading Marcus’s article and self-reflection. Since I’ve started to think about what I can do to advocate for female writers, I find myself going with the most obvious method—reading and buying their books. By becoming an audience members for female authors, I will be giving them as much [free] publicity and support as I can, which is extremely important and heartwarming if you’re a writer. By doing so I hope to overcome my vices and achieve a better understanding of feminism, sexism, social stigma, and prejudice so I can fight against it!
[I am happy if you were able to read everything up to this point. If not, then you must have saved yourself a lot of time just jumping here.]
After all this loosely structured and digressive writing, I have come up with one conclusion:
My goals for 2014 include learning a lot about the things I’m passionate about, contributing more proactively to issues I’m passionate about, writing better and more in general (because it should be quite obvious that my organization and conciseness is crap), and sharing my best discoveries by creating exceptional content for this blog.
I hereby commit to reading no less than 40 books, all by female authors.