You are what you read.
Well, I can’t say that I believe that. Everyone has different reasons for why, how, when and what they read. Stories, genres and even the format of books go in and out of fashion like most other things we tend to own. Entire shifts in popular genre can be traced back through history if you care to look (English courses at university tend to demonstrate this).
I’m certainly not immune to the changes. Just from a glance at my bookshelf I can see popular patterns – especially in the books I bought during my teenage years. There was something about the sudden upsurge in young adult fiction that was obviously very influential even if I wasn’t completely consciously aware at the time. Of course, I’d like to think that I picked the best of the crop which was available at the time. But, generally, if I liked a book then I liked it.
I’m comfortable with what I like to read. There’s a lot of fantasy, some sic-fi, the odd romance and poetry collections. There are non-fiction books about bees, mythology and the structure of language in Tolkien’s works. There are many different books but there are patterns in my collecting. I like to think of myself as fairly eclectic when it comes to my tastes in life as well as my taste in books. It is far better to try something new than to worry when everything on the shelves at the front of the store is swapped out.
The way that I read has changed.
Have you ever noticed that there is a certain stigma attached to starting a book that you do not finish?
If you read a lot, and your friends do the same, then I imagine that you’ve definitely come across this but it is hardly an exclusive phenomenon.
Now, I don’t feel as much guilt if I put down a book I am truly not enjoying. That doesn’t mean that the guilt is completely absolved. Not that long ago, I hated the idea of not finishing a book. Perhaps that stems from the books we had to finish at school, no exceptions.
It is, unfortunately, far too easy for reading to become a chore rather than a pleasure when the choice of book is taken out of your hands. (Did the books always have to be so dark? Life may not always be happy but I always found the books on the curriculum to be incredibly depressing). Often, I’d read ahead and finish long before the class had finished reading as a group. I remember one time when I had to flip back at least fifty pages in Of Mice And Men to read out loud because the teacher called on me. By the time we got to the end of the book any analysis had lost all interest because of the pace.
There are books I read, particularly when I was in secondary school, that I might not have chosen to read if I’d been given the choice. I read To Kill A Mockingbird with no outside influence. That book was my choice as we read Steinbeck at our school for the GCSE exam instead. I was in college when I borrowed To Kill A Mockingbird from my local library. I read Harper Lee’s novel and I adored it. I read it quickly because I was captivated by the world and it was no chore to finish the book. I’ll never know now if I could’ve been genuinely interested in Of Mice And Men in a similar sort of way because I have memories associated with a lack of choice.
Even in college there were elements of English Literature that I found tedious and I wonder know if I would’ve seen them differently outside of a learning environment. Yet, at college, there were also writers that I found fascinating despite being introduced to them in the classroom. W. B. Yeats, for example, was enchanting. This could possibly be influenced by the fact that I’ve always found ancient mythology captivating and there were enough links in the writer’s works surrounding this which kept me satisfied but as an introduction to Irish poetry it was wonderful. I genuinely looked forward to those classes.
Reading at university (after the first year and anyone who was in my class will understand why) was an absolute dream. Particularly in my third year where the topics were wonderful. Now, about half a year after graduating, I wish that I could go back and do more reading surrounding the classes I took. In medieval literature I fell in love with Breton Lay’s and in Shakespeare I saw a side to the historical plays that I had never considered before.
I’m not trying to exalt classical literature but, I guess that’s my point, in a way. I love the book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott as much as I love Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
I’m comfortable, now, with reading what I like regardless of other people’s opinions.
For the past couple of days on the train I’ve been reading Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It’s the first time I’ve read it (what took me so long? 🙂 ) and I’m not going to give anything away but I almost missed my stop on the train a couple of times because I was so focused on reading it.
I’ve just started Colour Of Magic by Terry Pratchett (again, first time I’ve read it. There aren’t many authors where I love the idea of them without having read the books but Terry Pratchett is one of them. As a hopeful writer his repertoire is so inspirational) although I’ve had to take a quick break from that for a reason which I’ll tell you about next week (or possibly earlier if I remember to actually use twitter).
I would say, read whatever makes you happy, but some people aren’t fans of happy endings.
So, instead, I will bring you back to the title of this blog post:
Read whatever makes you feel satisfied.
It doesn’t matter if you want your heart to race because you picked up a chilling gothic horror or if you want to wile away the afternoon with a fluffy romance or if, like me, you want to follow a character through improbable hijinks while they quip sarcastically about everything in their path.
Just, read what you like and if someone asks you about what you’re reading: Tell them. They might enjoy the book as well.