“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” (source)
On the other hand, I was like, “Yup. That’s about right.” I think reading books in a community can limit readers, and so I am here to respectfully disagree with Cait.
Not completely though. Cait is totally right that we interpret books differently, which is why we still talk about books written two thousand years ago. We all get something different from our books and that’s why book discussions aren’t just good but vital—they broaden our perspective. Secondly, reading is a great way to connect with others on so many levels. Telling stories is a unique human trait, and sharing our humanness with other humans benefits humanity as a whole.
Back to the disagreeing part: humor me a question. When did you last read a book alone? No, not alone in your room with the door shut; rather, when did you last pick up a book you’d never heard of, read it, did not discuss it, did not stumble onto anyone else’s discussions, and never reviewed it, starred it, or acknowledged you read it to anyone else?
I think for me it was July.
It's weird to bring up books we’ve read on an isolated island because we so rarely do it. Our reading culture is one of advertisements, reviews, and reputations. Not only do authors impact readers with their writing, but we as bloggers skew one another’s perceptions by posting positive or negative reviews. It’s almost like reading communities create a tank to be filled with opinions, and the popular ones float to the top.
Note that I said popular opinions, not positive or negative. Just popular. Prominent. If I say “Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight,” and you can tell me their overall reputations, that’s what I’m talking about.
Permit me a metaphorical example through Neal Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology, wherein he periodically inserts the story’s political campaigns for the collection of teenagers’ organs into his writing. On one side, witnesses insist a loved one would have died without a teenager’s unwound parts, or their children do more good in pieces than they would whole. On the other, campaigners say NO, unwinding teenagers is wrong; instead, we should punish criminals with unwinding and protect our youth. These are but a few examples.
They’re pretty fair. Diverse interpretations on the same issue are helping voters make an educated choice… right?
But wait. (SPOILERS) Shusterman reveals these arguments are paid for by the same people. While campaigners discuss who should be unwound, they avoid asking whether unwinding is morally acceptable at all. (END SPOILERS)
Essentially, when campaigners created a tank and filled it with different opinions of varying popularity, they prevented discussions they didn’t want voters to have.
Our situation isn't nearly as extreme as Unwind, and discussions in a full tank aren’t bad, silly, or pointless, but what I tend to see is a popular book with favorable opinions and unfavorable opinions but not particularly nuanced opinions because the book and the experience surrounding it take over. Thinking in the tank can mean you get stuck in the tank.
Do you need an example? Okay. How does your interpretation of a book change when you remove pleasure from the equation? Find a review, remove anything equivalent to “I don’t/like this,” and tell me what is left. What elements stand independently of enjoyment that make this book worth reading? It would even be pertinent to ask “how much of the review is left?” in some cases.
I don’t want your YA bookshelf to become an existential crisis, but that might align with Murakami’s intentions. When your opinions on and with other opinions, you might miss the discussion—the purpose—sitting outside those limited things. Cait’s right—books are popular because people love them and share them (and because companies market profitable books over average ones, lol). But sometimes you see the reputation for the book, and anything from Twilight to Pride and Prejudice will suffer for that.
You’ve probably guessed, I don’t read tons of popular YA books when they are in heat, breeding tanks full of opinions. I stay wary. I join the party late. I keep my thoughts close. To some, this makes me a book snob, and certainly, you could call me pretentious for believing you miss out on book discussions by reading trending novels. But, as I often say, I’m a malevolent reader. I think you’re sometimes limited by reading what everyone else is.
Then again, antisocial reading is kind of an acquired taste. Malevolent reader out.
Do you read popular books as they’re trending? How do you think this affects the way you perceive and discuss them?
(Don’t forget to check out Cait’s post, too! Also, while “researching” (read as: stalking comments) I found Deborah also responded with a defense of reading what you want. Go forth. Educate yourselves. Think about the discussions we aren’t having because we have made this topic an opinion tank.)