Recently, someone saw me reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and said, “you have an English degree – why are you dumbing down your reading?”
It was a shock to me. I started by explaining what Ready Player One was about, and how the violence and wit and geek references made it without a doubt a piece of crossover fiction.
But later I realised that it wasn’t a personal attack on Ernest Cline’s work. The comment was the result of a very discriminatory attitude that some books are valued more by society than others. If I was sat reading Crime and Punishment then I’d get a big old pat on the back because there’s so much prestige in reading it – even if I wasn’t enjoying it. But if I decided to pull something from the teen shelf, and was fully engrossed in the story and all it had to offer, then I would be doing an injustice to my reading abilities.
It’s true – I do have an English degree, and one of the modules I studied for that degree was Children’s Literature. And here’s the thing. Many prestigious, classic books are children’s books – I hardly think reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe would have resulted in the same reaction from my peers.
So who exactly is drawing the line between what is smart reading, and what is considered “dumbing down”? Before now, there are times that I have been deeply moved by children’s picture books, and times I have rolled my eyes at adult fiction. I have related to Jo March’s character in Little Women (a children’s classic, by the way) just as much as I have to Toru in Norwegian Wood.
At its core, a fiction book tells a story, and I think if a reader can take something away from that experience, then the book has done its job. It doesn’t matter what the book is, or if it is even a book at all. Magazines, comics, audiobooks – everything is reading as long as there is enjoyment to be had. Because at the end of the day, who exactly are we reading for?
So, enjoy reading today, everyone – whatever it is you decide to read.