A Reaction: Should We Read What Everyone Else Is Reading?

Note: This started out as a comment I was writing after reading Cait @ Paper Fury‘s post “Should We Read What Everyone Else Is Reading” and the comments afterward.

It was an interesting post about a fascinating quote, namely:

β€œIf you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” Haruki Murakami

My comment got REALLY long and kind of unrelated so I decided to turn my comment into a blog post, so here it is.

But first, do go read Cait’s post so that you understand mine! (Hers is a quicky post and very amusing so it won’t be hard to read, I promise).

Okay, have you read it? Good.

On to my reply:

Wow. This is an intense discussion. o.o I have mixed thoughts as well.

Okay, so for ME, I’m actually NOT a book blogger! *gasp* I read books primarily for ME and occasionally someone will ask me to review their book, or I’ll see a book I
wanted to read up for review.

But mostly I don’t read a lot of the modern/mainstream books simply because they don’t come my way/don’t sound interesting. Me and my life/background/thoughts are entirely different than most people out there. Some of these just DON’T APPEAL TO ME even though they are are totally relateable to everyone else out there. And that’s what I’m trying to say here.

The Hunger Games, Divergent… I hate dystopian; it depresses me. I like a little HOPE in my books, please and thank you, and reading about a bunch of people living in the dirt being oppressed by an evil government living in luxury is just… not my idea of fun reading.

Harry Potter? Any and every contemporary YA book of ever? I was homeschooled; I just don’t GET any of the books set in a public school (magical or not) because I don’t understand the classroom politics and groups and cliques and obsessions and backstabbing and jerks and bullies and “popular girls” and “popular guys” and football and sports and things. It’s not a culture I find interesting/relateable, or anything I WANT to read about because it is not me. IT JUST DOES NOT INTEREST ME AND I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY IT INTERESTS OTHER PEOPLE. (I mean, I know WHY but… again, not me.) (And no, it doesn’t help to read books about homeschoolers because, contrary to popular belief, all homeschoolers are actually super different than each other.)

City of Bones? Twilight? I’m just not the biggest fan of paranormal. *shrug*

Cinder? Again, not a fan of dystopian and not very much of sci-fi either.

Percy Jackson? The modern thing again, AND I’ve never been a fan of Greek myths… Dunno why, but I prefer Celtic stuff and King Arthur and fairytales… Greek stuff has always felt… greasy to me. πŸ˜›

I could go on and on with lists of popular books and why the sound of them just doesn’t interest me. That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t enjoy them if I read them — I very well might! I just don’t want to spend all of that time finding out, when I could be reading books I think I’ll want to read.

Time (especially reading time) is precious.

And I don’t see a point in reading a whole lot of books that do not appeal to me, just because they appeal to everyone else.

And that’s my point. I’m so “out there” MYSELF that I don’t find the popular books interesting at all because I’m just different from everyone else.

And I do think a lot of that is BECAUSE I grew up reading different books. I grew up reading old books and fantasy recommended by family members and really close friends (recommendations are good, actually — I’m not saying otherwise!) and random interesting-looking fantasy books that I found second-hand at library sales. I find gems that nobody’s heard of, and yes it’s sad when I don’t have anyone to talk to about it…

But again, I read for ME.

So discussion or bookblogging isn’t a big thing for me, I guess. I read what I want to read, and most of the time that happens to be something not many people have heard about.

Books do shape you. So what I grew up reading has shaped me, and what others grew up reading has shaped them, and I think that’s the point of the quote. If we all read the same books, yes we’ll still be different people because everyone IS unique and we all have our own thoughts — but we’ll still be more similar.

I like to compare it to TV shows.

Nearly everyone I know LOVES Doctor Who. I think that’s because there’s a little bit of something in it for everyone. So it reaches the broadest range of audience — and consequently everyone loves it because they found the part in it to click for them. I enjoy some Doctor Who (fun! The Doctor himself!), but I’m not obsessed with it, simply because I don’t feel like every single episode/part appeals to me. But then you take a lesser-known show, like Leverage, or Hustle, or especially Firefly, and those are much less heard about/talked about, but I love them so much more! I think they’re directed to a certain smaller select audience, and tailored directly for them instead of aiming for EVERYONE, and therefore to the select audience, it’s ten-times better.

I think there’s a sense in which that quote just means if everyone was ONLY reading Twilight/Hunger Games/Harry Potter, and not branching out at all (which is not true — you all say you read other things and find new gems and we all end up reading things nobody’s read as well) there just would not be a bunch of NEW ideas from DIFFERENT books coming into our heads. It’s not meant to say we all think the same — which is definitely not true, as Cait and others are pointing out — it’s just that if we all only read the same things, where would the recommendations of the random book nobody’s heard of but is awesome come from? And how can different, important, more “out there” ideas find their way to us, if we all only read the generally popular stuff? It’s just… new ideas and new books have to come from somewhere, and if everyone ONLY reads the “mainstream”, “popular” ones, there would be less new thoughts showing up EXCEPT ABOUT THOSE BOOKS. That’s all. πŸ™‚

But really, again, I only read FOR ME, and because I’m not a book blogger, it’s not that big of a deal to me like it is to you guys, I think. And occasionally I do feel a resistance to reading a book if EVERYONE had recommended it because in my experience if everyone loves a book, it’s usually more of a case of what I said about the TV shows (something for everyone, but not everything for me) and so I generally don’t care as much for said book… OR I just have a rebellious tendency because I AM very much about reading what *I* want to read, not what everyone else says I should — because I want to make my own way! A rebel… that’s me. πŸ˜‰

So part of it is stubbornness, part of it is past experience, and part of it is just not being interested in most of the popular books, simply because of personal taste and life experience and cultural background.

BUT don’t get me wrong: I DO LOVE GETTING BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS.

(I feel like this entire post should come with an enormous disclaimer. XD Especially when I say generic things like “everyone”, which I don’t REALLY mean… It’s just general… >.>)

That being said, nobody should read books ONLY because they’re popular and I think everyone should read what they want to, but as was pointed out, there is a reason things become popular, yes, and sometimes it’s useful to read popular things just so you can understand the culture around you.

Like (back to shows) I understand the internet SO much better having seen some Doctor Who and knowing at least a bit about Supernatural, and having seen Sherlock. (Sherlock is awesome, BTW.) There are just some things that are so cultural that one needs to understand them to understand people. Like, I might end up reading the Harry Potter books (that’s a big controversy too because some people hate them but I’m not going into that today) not because everyone says I have to or because they interest me a SUPER amount, but because it’s gotten to the point where enough of my friends have HP as their “core fandom” that I just can’t understand them very well without reading it… Just like most people wouldn’t necessarily understand me without having read (or at least seen) MY “core fandom” which is The Lord of the Rings. And I might read The Hunger Games because I’ve been seeing the movies with my brother, and again it’s a cultural understanding thing. Sometimes it’s not worth holding out against “popular” or against “uninterested” if it means that if you DO read them you will have a deeper friendship with your friends and understand them better. But those popular books aren’t a real high priority right now, because I read for ME. I might read them, eventually… I might not. I have other stuff to read right now because I’m excited about other things, and that’s the point.

I do love it when I read someone’s blog and they mention a book and I’m like I’VE READ THAT! YES!!! But I read slowly enough and there are so many books I DO want to read, that I’m not going to specifically tailor my reading just so that I can read all the books everyone else is reading, just so I can talk about them with everyone.

I’ve run across a very small handful of books that I consider to be “perfect”. The more popular on the list would be The Lord of the Rings, The Penderwicks, and The Horse and His Boy. But a lot of them most people have never heard of. Howl’s Moving Castle, The Gammage Cup, The Ordinary Princess, Prince Valiant (YES!), Searching for Dragons, The Kestrel, The Boggart, The Reluctant Dragon, more recently Broken Glass in the Five Glass Slippers collection, and near the very top a book that’s not even PUBLISHED yet, Paper Crowns by Mirriam Neal.

And I have others that are top favorites of mine, but even favorites sometimes have something you didn’t like quite as much, but as far as I-HAVE-LITERALLY-NO-COMPLAINTS-ABOUT-THIS-BOOK those are pretty few and far between and I don’t think one will run across those little gems if one only reads the “popular” books. NOT because popular books aren’t good, but because they’re aimed toward everyone, not the specific smaller group that is you.

But those books I mentioned, I just think of them and I’m happy without any reservation, and I always want to reread them. They’re not necessarily my FAVORITES (okay, so some of them are) but they’re the most perfect books I’ve ever read.

And I do love talking with people about books we’ve both read — it’s the funnest thing in the world! — but it’s even BETTER when I meet someone who has read and liked one of my favorites or one of these “perfect” books because they ARE more rare and less popular, and they’re a part of my heart, and if someone has read and loved one or several of them, I know this person is a kindred soul. πŸ™‚ It wouldn’t be QUITE the same if it was a book I loved that EVERYONE had read and everyone had loved, you know what I mean? In a way, it wouldn’t be as special.

Books are extremely subjective. We all come to a book differently and take something different away, and that’s as it should be! A book that one person might love, another might hate, and yet another might feel meh about. I’m not disagreeing with Cait, or with any of her brilliant commenters, I’m just putting my own thoughts out there. πŸ™‚

I don’t know if there’s a point to this. I just started typing reactions to Cait’s post and this is what came out, and I decided that 1) it was too long to actually post as a comment and 2) it might be make an interesting read as a blog post!

So. Bookish thoughts.

Deborah out.