Why Capital-R Readers Make It Harder for the Rest of Us to Enjoy Reading

There is a widespread assumption on the internet and in the real world that reading is the one and only true hobby. Everything else is time-wasting and fluff and pointless and why should you even bother doing it?

We’re on the home stretch for 2020, and that’s probably a good thing. At the start of 2020, everyone was full of such hope and promise, even though there were bushfires that had been raging through Australia since September 2019, and the U.S. Election was just around the corner. Now there’s a pandemic that’s effected the whole world, and unique little issues that plague each and every country. What that means is a lot of people’s lives have been thrown off-kilter.

With a lot more people at home (except the essential workers, who everyone seems to forget), we’ve had more time to watch YouTube and Netflix and the 60 million other streaming services, and we’ve been told by entrepreneurial and business savvy people that we should use that time wisely. Read more books. Educate yourself, make yourself smarter this pandemic season! In my last blog post, I spoke about the “stigma” of young adult fiction, and how the stigma is bullshit because everyone is always critical of something:

There are certain groups of people on the internet—mostly those that who believe anything but reading self-help books about making lots of money and retiring by 30—who think even reading regular genre and literary adult fiction are a waste of time.

For a true book reading purist, even YA fiction is not good enough, because all genre fiction is trash and why would you read something for the pure enjoyment of it? You have to read something because you will learn something tangible, something that will bring in the buckaroos. But it’s not just true of these book purists. It is true of each and every reader.

As I said back in March, right when 2020 smacked us at full-force 100km/h into the air:

If you truly believe that the youth aren’t reading, why would mockery and teasing encourage them to read? We should not be gatekeeping literature. Just 100 years ago, reading was considered the fool’s entertainment: in Anne of Green Gables, Diana Barry was criticized by her mother for reading; being “out-of-doors” was the respectable option.

Whenever there is a new technology, the old stuff is always looked upon favourably, as if it is the best and there is no possibly better option. YA aficionados are not free from this sort of gatekeeping of nostalgia, of being critical of new technologies, as if by accepting the new technology, the old one will fade out of existence. In this time of crisis, people have turned to the internet and video games and binge-watching TV shows, as a sort of escapism, much like 20 years ago, people would escape to their TV screen or a dial-up internet forum or a book.

Thanks to the power of the internet, we have glamourised the past, making it seem like those days with the face-to-face connection (what even is that?) and reading books and staring out the window on the train were a beautiful, peaceful era. Generation Z, though it is not limited to them, seem to think pre-internet, hell, even pre-COVID days, were wonderful fun-filled adventures full of life and love and peace. Just look at any comments section for a song that is more than two years old. But that is rose-tinted glasses, it is nostalgia. There were awful pandemics (Spanish flu, Ebola, too many to count), there were divisive politics, there was trashy music that forced me to cover my ears lest my eardrums exploded, there were books plenty of people found excuses not to read. In Daphne DuMaurier’s My Cousin Rachel, the main character Philip Ashley talks about wasting time by staring out the window, because even though he’s surrounded by a library of books, he’s not much of a reader.

As shown in Anne of Green Gables, reading was not always a respectable hobby, and I’m always quoting Socrates and his terror of books taking over the beautiful poetry of the spoken word. Nowadays, books and reading are seen as respectable, because it’s old and we are used to it. Old technology is considered a waste, useless, hburr durr Thomas Edison is a witch burn all the phonographs and rotary telephones.

Video games rot and burn your brain and radicalise us into being terrifying demonic basement dwelling lunatics. Streaming services are a wasteful use of your time that can be better spent reading. So says the reading purist.

Reading can be a life-changing hobby. As I child, I escaped into fiction—Chronicles of Narnia and Animorphs and Harry Potter and Roald Dahl’s works and Galax-Arena and Adrian Mole and Naughtiest Girl and Vibes and Lassie Come Home and Bimbo and Topsy—and it helped me into the writer I am today as an adult. As Stephen King said, good writers read, and if you want to be good at writing, or if you simply enjoy reading, then read, read, read. Submerge yourself into those pages and live a life like Tilly’s mother in Pages & Co (Whoops! spoiler), but be careful, much like Tilly’s mother learned too late, that it’s not all the smell and the touch and the taste of books. If you’re eating books, I’m very concerned for you. But, if you’re not…

Reading books isn’t a waste of time. Much like I derived enjoyment both as a child and an adult from reading, others derived that same enjoyment from watching movies or playing video games or reading comics or playing Cluedo or gardening or woodworking. No hobby should be considered a waste of time. I know of someone, a film connoisseur, who tells people who play video games: Films are much better. A director is always in control of the film. With passive experiences, the consumer can’t change things. He gatekeeps enjoyment of a hobby. Literature buffs work the same way: to them, only passive entertainment; in their case reading books, can provide a true enlightening experience. For them, reading is more intellectually stimulating because you have to imagine the plot. They are like Singin’ in the Rain, where characters lament the introduction of the talkie because silent films were where it was at, where you had to put in the true effort and these talkie actors aren’t true actors, not like us.

It is these people who make it a challenge to read. They romanticise the very hobby of reading, make it to be something more than it is. Reading is a life-changing experience, it is pure beauty and wonderment and pure realness and unreality. Not like those other hobbies. You should be reading to change who you are down to your very core. And that is all very overwhelming. Sometimes we just want to read for fun. Whether that’s YA or investment books about the stock market or a classic or a TV show tie-in. We want to read for the same reasons someone else watches a TV show or a movie or plays a video game or plants some strawberries in their backyard or fashions a napkin holder out of a piece of wood. Nothing more, nothing less. We don’t care whether it is passive or active entertainment, whether something is better than something else, whether we feel more superior because clearly we are the best person to ever exist because we read goddamnit!

I’ve read 12 books so far this year, and have countless half-finished and unfinished ones, and that’s because there feels like there’s a certain expectation that when you’re a reader, you have to be a proper Reader. I see certain groups of people on the internet complaining about “capital-G Gamers”, but it is these same people who are capital-R Readers, who feel they are morally and intellectually superior to the rest of the reading and non-reading population because they can read ink off tree paper, and it takes all the fun out of reading. They talk about how they’ve only read 50 books this month, and how reading makes them empathetic and intelligent and know lots about the world. Reading shouldn’t be a competition. It shouldn’t be better or worse than any other form of entertainment that exists. It should just be.

There shouldn’t be a pressure to be a Reader. Whether you’ve read one book or 150 this year, be proud of yourself. It’s been a tough 2020. Time-wasting is subjective, and we shouldn’t all be go-go 100 percent of the time. Of course, it’s nice when you’ve been productive, but we can lie down and enjoy our hobby. Just sit down with your drink of choice, and enjoy your hobby without guilt. As long as it’s not illegal! At the moment, I’m binge-watching Roswell for the first time and enjoying it.

What’s your hobby at the moment? Let me know down in the comments below…

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