Being forced into reading books you don’t enjoy can significantly change your attitude toward reading.
When I was still in school, our literature curriculum would ask us to read all the scary, daunting, difficult classics, from James Joyce to Charles de Baudelaire or Edgar Allan Poe.
Every time I would pick up a classic, I would crash into anxiety and self-doubt. I enjoyed some of them, like Madame Bovary or Wuthering Heights. But I could never get through any of Virginia Woolf’s novels without underestimating my intelligence, or indeed my own love for writing.
Digressing from my reading list imposed at school, I would love to dive into a good crime novel or a contemporary fiction one. At age 14, I had a phase, when Agatha Christie was pretty much the only author I read, and I still remember fondly how much it made me want to read more and more, with every book I finished.
Many of my classmates who seemed to complete classic after classic with ease and enjoyment would always test whether I’d read my portion of heavy-duty literature for the week. Which, I admit, most of the time, I hadn’t. Some of them would underestimate my reading choices, or my knowledge and passion for books, only because I didn’t like classics.
It was frustrating and it made me doubt my reading tastes, my intelligence, and my entitlement to call myself a keen reader. So I gave into peer pressure and banned myself from any light literature. I tried my hardest for a while to fit the mould of what a worthy reader should enjoy, and what they should crinkle their noses at in disapproval.
To earn my well-read status and stop being a bookish pariah, I read Poe, Dostoievski, Jane Austen, Dickens, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Needless to say, not only did I hate every experience, but I also didn’t feel any more intelligent or passionate about books. Quite the opposite — I felt fed up with them.
Apart from a few giggles reading Pride and Prejudice and some lovely imagery and concepts I enjoyed in The Fall of The House of Usher, my classics-only reading marathon did nothing more than damage to my love for books.
Had I not subjected myself to a literal interdiction to read what I wanted to and knew I enjoyed, I probably would have disliked the experience a lot less, and given the books at least some appreciation. But having been pressured to change my reading choices in favour of the universally acclaimed big names of literature not only put me off classics for a long time but also made me hesitant to read anything else.
How To Own Your Reading Choices And Not Let Yourself Be Affected by Prejudice
If you love books, and can rarely stop thinking about your next read, or your current read, if books are part of your life and make you happy, then you are a reader. It doesn’t matter if you only read short stories and poetry, or romance and comic books, or just non-fiction.
Your knowledge, cleverness, and worth are never determined by what you’re reading. The more you love a book and engage with it, the more value it will have and the more you will learn from it. Yes, classics are important, and their place is unquestionably significant within literature.
A lot of them were published at a time in history when it was an elitist and extremely difficult thing to do, and the language, ideas expressed and heaviness of the books were also much more valued. Nowadays, the impact a book has on its readers and how much they can relate to its content is much more important than its difficulty.
The misconceptions and undermining of my reading choices back in high school affected me so much, that I missed a meaningful amount of time when I could have explored many more genres, themes, and authors. I felt numb to reading for years and I regret it.
Until I started university, I only read a handful of books per year, for about three years. I almost missed my entire young adult period, when I could have discovered and enjoyed YA novels, which are crucial for a developing teenager to seek refuge in.
One of the most unfortunate outcomes of my attempt to change my reading tastes is that I am now afraid of classics altogether. I’m scared of how little I could enjoy them and how that might disappoint other keen readers around me. I’m anxious about what it could do to my self-confidence, both as a writer and passionate reader and about the possibility that I might lack a fundamental literary knowledge, that only classics can provide.
If you ever doubt your reading choices, thinking they aren’t valuable enough, remember it’s always better to embrace what you enjoy the most than force yourself to like something universally approved, because you never know how it can ruin your passion.
Please note, this was initially published on January 8, 2021 at Medium.com