“I never feel lonely if I’ve got a book – they’re like old friends. Even if you’re not reading them over and over again, you know they are there. And they’re part of your history. They sort of tell a story about your journey through life.” ~ Emilia Fox
Both my first and fourth grade teachers told me “As long as you are reading, it doesn’t matter WHAT you are reading.“Coincidentally they happened to be my two favorite and most influential teachers growing up. They were also the ones who not only encouraged me, but believed I could and would be a writer. Their wisdom has stuck with me ever since and I tend to remind myself of their words at times when I need to, like with NaNoWriMo or when selling myself to an agency or publishing company.
In elementary school, my reading level was considered high school. At the time it was difficult to find books that both challenged me, but were also age appropriate (No Danielle Steele or VC Andrews for me!) It was at the teachers discretion whether the books I read would be counted toward a reading requirement. because of that I was reading and rereading a lot of Harry Potter.
By the time I reached third grade, my reading time was essentially my own. I was excluded from reading groups, because the books weren’t considered “Challenging,” yet because of the classroom, their wasn’t an aide who could work with me.
I was in a no win situation and as such it created an environment where I was frustrated with school and bullied because I was intelligent. I learned to dumb myself down. Even now all those years later, I still do it. Cracking jokes and playing down to my blonde hair. Old habits die hard.
I grew up in an age where young adult literally blew open the publishing world. Writer’s like Meg Cabot, Ellen Hopkins, David Leviathan, and Sarah Dessen wrote books for a generation that lacked them. Oh yes, we had Ann Rinaldi and Judy Bloom, but for those of us who were die hard readers, give us a few months and we had read them like they were adds in a newspaper, or a tasty treat waiting to be gobbled up. The Young Adult Genre gave us that. What is more they gave us a place to not feel so alone. To welcome and celebrate our differences.
Yet there was a certain amount of stereotyping of a genre that spoke to kids who needed it. Countless times I was told that it was “Frivolous reading and I should be reading the classics.”
With my rebel without a cause attitude, I mutinied and refused to read them unless it was required for school. It wasn’t until I grew older and wiser that I could pick up Jane Austin and not puke. In fact I learned to love her. Elizabeth Bennet was flipping Bad A and Mr Darcy swoon worthy. And do not get me started on Count Vronsky I have a sneaky suspicion if I hadn’t been dictated at what to read, I might have loved them sooner.
Nothing is frivolous. Not in my book. Pun not intended. You can learn something from a “frivolous” book just as much as you can from a history book. Learning and improving your mind is great, but it does come in all shapes and sizes. It isn’t subject to just what society perceives as a “Smart” book.
Reading was a way for me to escape the bullying. It also made me feel less alone. To slip into another world and escape for a few hours. It is also why I started writing. It was a way to create new magical worlds for me to explore and let myself wander in, and subsequently I could share that with others. To help them feel less alone, much like Meg Cabot and Maureen Johnson did for me. It is why when I started writing, I predominantly wrote YA. I wanted to help influence the next generation. Let them know, that high school doesn’t have to be your worst ears, an they don’t have to be you best years, but everyone can relate to the highs and lows.
Now I read a wide range of books. I feel no guilt picking up Nancy Drew whom was a staple in my early years of reading, and I credit with fueling that addiction. Nor do I have a problem picking up a Tolstoy tome, knowing I will be lost for hours as I pull apart layer after layer of juicy Russian drama. Just don’t ask me to read Dickens. He was a casualty in the push to get me to read the “classics” And I doubt I will ever enjoy him.
But that is alright. We all have our likes and dislikes even with books. The key is to read. Regardless of what you read, it is still causing your brain to work (though I do draw the line at Facebook statuses and Twitter)
Right now, I admit I have been going through contemporary romance like skittles. Is it frivolous? Yes. But does it make me happy and take my mind off of school, or deadlines and help me escape? Heck yes!
I have taken that advice to heart. In turn because I read many genres it has made me want to try my hand at writing in them too. The world needs the words of J.K. Rowling, Robert Chernow, Meg Cabot, Sylvia Day, James Patterson, and all the incredible writers out there. The world needs your words.
Don’t be afraid to write, and don’t be afraid to pick a genre that may not be considered “academic.” It is those genres that we need the most.
What is your favorite genre to read?