Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Sunday Reflections: Shameful Reading

I may have looked normal growing up, but I never really felt normal, if that makes any sense. I really doubt anyone does feel “normal”, but I was definitely a book lover from an early age. We have pictures of me reading everywhere- to my newborn baby brother, in campers, in the backyard, in the pool, at camp, on the bus during games…
And while what I read outside my house was “normal” (picture will show Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, BTW, if you look close), what I read at home wasn’t. My parents never censored my reading-they turned me loose to whatever I wanted, and trusted that if I had questions or didn’t feel up to a book that I would turn away from it. So at home I would alternate between the serializations and novelizations of Star Trek and Start Trek: The Next Generation, all the horror I could find by Stephen King, Dean Koontz and John Saul, highlander romances by Julie Garwood and the oh-so twisted stories VC Andrews. 

Outside my house, however, it was always a different story. Being a reader was a thing, and being a brain and a girl was a thing, and then reading the things I was reading was definitely an ISSUE (brought up by a few well-meaning adults), and I was definitely shy… So instead of confrontation (or even covering the books- because they were LIBRARY books and you don’t even bend the PAGES down on library books) I adjusted my reading habits outside. I read the Babysitters Club, and Sweet Valley High series. I read Mary Higgins Clark outside, because that was OK, and I read Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. Poe was OK because everyone thought he was assigned reading. But nothing too dark or too weird for the high school girl.

Today, I still get that weird vibe from people that I don’t know. I read all sorts of things- one day I will be reading a YA book for TLT, the next I could be reading a book for a committee that I’m on, or the next I could be reading urban fantasy because I LIKE it. Yet someone always seems to feel the need to say something about what I’m reading. I can be at lunch, and be buried into the newest Eric Jerome Dickey book (who I met during a TxLA conference, BTW, awesome guy), and someone will make noises in the booth next to me and then start telling me why I shouldn’t be reading that.
Or I can have the newest book by Laurell K. Hamilton, and I have been stopped on my way out and told that I shouldn’t be reading that type of book. As if they know what type of book it is by the cover.
I’ve been stopped and chastised for reading The Lunar Chronicles. Why? Because it had a machine foot on the cover. “No good girl needs to be reading about androids and aliens.”
No one has ever stopped That Guy and told HIM he can’t read a Laurell K. Hamilton book or an Eric Jerome Dickey book. If he carried around 50 Shades of Gray they wouldn’t stop him either. So why stop me? Is it because I turn a much more interesting shade of red when embarrassed? Because I don’t want to get gunk on my book?

I was and still can be embarrassed by strangers for noticing what I read. Not for asking what it is that I’m reading, or for taking an interest- that’s not a problem, and I love sharing books. I’d be in the wrong profession, and writing on the wrong blog if I wasn’t. However, no one should be shamed about what they read, which is why the tagline from Lifetime’s spot for The Flowers in the Attic irks me.

I wasn’t forbidden to read it, no one I know was forbidden to read it- and to use that as a tag line just to make it all that more scandalous is just wrong. There are plenty of things you can use: The book you hid away to read, the book you hid under the covers to read, the book you snuck away to read…. Yes, they’re twisted and weird and just oh so wrong (and if you haven’t read the entire Dollinganger series including Garden of Shadows, you don’t know how twisted it is) but there’s nothing wrong with that. Making people feel ashamed of liking the books is wrong.

It’s extremely similar to what I see happening to my guys. I don’t think that guys don’t like to read- I think they get shamed OUT of it. They start all enthusiastic in picture books. And run towards Diary of Wimpy Kid, Guinness Book of World Records, and others. But then once they hit later elementary/early middle school, it starts to be shameful to be a reader for boys now. You’re supposed to be into gaming and sports or you aren’t manly and upholding your image. If you’re too much into anime and manga you’re a geek, if you read too much sci fi you’re a nerd, and lord help you if you actually *like* an assigned reading like The Outsiders or one of the current YA pick lists. Girls are allowed to be raving over authors like Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson and John Green, but if you’re a guy and into them just as much? Being called a “girl” is the nicest thing I’ve heard. 

For fear of having other guys catch them, I’ve seen my teens hide books in the magazines and chairs so others won’t catch them reading, I’ve checked things out on the sly and sneak them into their backpacks so that others won’t know they checked them out. I’ve had teens keep books in my office and just chill after school. 

Guys like to read- I’ve got a dozen that proved that by reading 35 hours or more over their Winter break in order to spend 13 hours locked in my building overnight. But not when they are made ashamed to read or ashamed of what they’re reading. And this is something we, as teen services specialists, need to work on- because no one deserves to feel ashamed of reading.