Like many other people out there, I sometimes like to read Reddit posts. I came across one recently that really stuck with me. A mother told her bookworm of a daughter that she needs to “read books close to her reading level“. It got to the point where the poor 9-year-old felt the need to smuggle books home like she was hiding drugs or alcohol. My heart broke for the girl. There are so many people like her out there! Their parents are absolute snobs, which completely kills their love of books!
This is alarming to me as a tutor, teacher and bookworm! I can’t tell you how many parents out there beg me to find a way to make their children read more. They have no clue what to do to bring back that love of reading. Isn’t the state of books right now bad enough without snobs coming in and gatekeeping what we read? Don’t they see how special it is to have a child who already loves reading?
But it’s not just parents, either! I’ve seen way too many teachers make wild claims about what books kids should read. It’s all a load of rubbish. Students should be able to read whatever they want as long as the content is age-appropriate. In fact, I’ve written a blog post about getting children to love reading before.
I can tell you right now that book snobs are my arch enemy when it comes to trying to get students to read. Let me explain why.
Table of contents
- Book Snobs Make Reading an Elitist Activity
- They Can Undermine Diversity
- They Force Students to Read Boring Books
- They Make Students Ashamed of Their Interests
- Or, Teens Could Rebel and Refuse to Challenge Themselves
- We All Want to Relate to Stories
- Don’t Kids Read Enough Hard and Boring Stuff at School?
- Reading Isn’t All About Complex Language and Difficult Ideas
- Reading Should Be a Pleasure
Book Snobs Make Reading an Elitist Activity
Reading is a hobby that should be enjoyed by everyone. We don’t live in the 16th century anymore. The literacy rate is very high – which means that most people in the west can read. We’re very lucky like that. So, why is it that we treat reading like it’s some elitist activity only “academic” people can do “properly”?
The way book snobs treat reading is horrible. So many people are out there pretend that Stephen King is the worst writer on the planet. Sure, he’s not Shakespeare or anything. However, he has written lots of very compelling, interesting stories. If you like to read him, there’s nothing wrong with that.
In fact, it’s a good thing! Read whatever bleeding book you please! Don’t let snobbery control you. There is no such thing as a guilty pleasure when you’re reading – as long as your book is age-appropriate.
When people turn their noses up at certain books, they aren’t making us read more “high-brow” literature. Instead, they’re making lots of people stop reading books at all.
After all, many of us care a lot about what other people think of us. If the snobs out there are turning their noses up at the books they read, it just sounds like reading isn’t worth it if you’re not pretending to understand John Milton.
These snobs treat you like you aren’t really reading unless you have a classic in your hands. So, it is natural to feel like reading is only for the people who want to know what Dickens or Joyce were talking about.
I’ll be honest with you: Tolstoy is too much for me, too – and I’m an English teacher! You’re not alone.
They Can Undermine Diversity
Let’s face it: the books we consider “classics” are mainly written by or about straight, white, cis people. Most of the texts you study in literature are chosen from these classics. That means I can only think of a few texts that don’t fit this category off the top of my head:
- The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
- Orlando by Virginia Woolf (or anything written by Woolf)
- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Something strikes me about the very short book list: they’re all A-level texts! We can finish our GCSEs without reading a book that isn’t either by or about someone straight, white and cis.
Now, before I get cancelled, let me make something very clear. There is absolutely nothing wrong with books written by straight, white, cis people. In fact, many of them are wonderful texts that deserve to be read over and over. However, that doesn’t mean you should read them instead of texts by other writers.
Book snobs tend to show a lot of enthusiasm for classic books. However, that has a lot of issues. People or underrepresented groups didn’t have the same opportunities that their white peers did back in the day. They didn’t get such good education. It was hard for them to get published. Then, when they were, they just weren’t taken as seriously.
When it comes to the texts that we call “classics”, very few of them are modern. That isn’t because modern texts are no good! Of course not! We just have a bias for old things.
But people from underrepresented groups are getting so many more opportunities now. We limit diversity if we act like snobs and ignore newer books.
They Force Students to Read Boring Books
Back when I was in school, I had a tutor I loved. He pushed me so hard and insisted I was Oxford material. I loved classes with him! Plus, he encouraged me to read lots outside the classroom. There was one thing he never did: recommend me a boring book.
Sure, I was a big reader back when I was in primary school. You probably think it was easy to motivate me to read. However, homework and video games took up my time instead. I fell out of the hobby.
So, this tutor played a big part in helping me to love books again. If he had told me to read Crime and Punishment, I might have given up on reading for good!
Ok, let’s not act like all the great classics are boring. In fact, many work well for young people! The others? Well, quite a few seemed much better when I was at uni. The messages and ideas appealed to me a bit more because I was older with a tad more life experience. I love even more of them now I’m 25, too!
When I was 13 or 14, Virginia Woolf was a bore to me. I wanted to read Vampire Academy and Noughts and Crosses! Those were the books that excited me! Short novels about the mental health of a woman walking around London? Well, I wouldn’t have been able to keep my eyes open.
Because of adults like my tutor, my taste in books matured. They let me explore with “less reputable” novels that any snob would turn their noses at. That way, I slowly got into things outside of my comfort zone.
To a kid, most classics will be boring. Don’t force them to read books that bore them, or they’ll hate reading.
They Make Students Ashamed of Their Interests
Reading should be something that you praise in a child. You should never make them feel bad about it!
It doesn’t matter what books appeal to them. It doesn’t matter if you think they’re reading poop in book form. Forget all of that. Your child has an amazing hobby. That’s all that should count.
Of course, you should always make sure the books they read are age-appropriate. That was one of the other reasons I cringed when I read the Reddit story I mentioned at the start. That book snob of a parent wanted a child to read books for teens! There’s a reason those two sections are separate in bookshops and libraries!
Other than that, though? Well, never make your child feel ashamed of their passion.
We all want our parents’ approval when we are young. We want to talk to the people we love about our hobbies and interests. I, for one, used to chew my dad’s ear off every time I read a new chapter of Eragon or the Discworld series.
I wouldn’t be where I am today if he hadn’t made me feel as though my hobby was valid. I’d probably have felt guilty for liking something my parents thought was stupid. I probably would have dropped the hobby completely. That would have made the resentment slowly build up. It’s a recipe for disaster.
So, do yourself and your kid a favour. I don’t care if you think their book is the dullest thing in the world – just don’t be a snob about it! Embrace what they love. Ask them questions. At least try to be interested. They’ll appreciate it in the long run.
Or, Teens Could Rebel and Refuse to Challenge Themselves
Now, teens are a little trickier. Sure, a child might feel disheartened and give up on what they love. When they get older, though? That’s when they start to rebel.
I’m going to let you in on a big secret: I used to rebel by reading when I was a teen. My mum would make me go to bed at 9:30, but I was not ready to sleep at all. So, I bought a press torch when I was at the Science Museum and hid under my covers to read. I feel so sneaky! She probably knew exactly what I was doing, though.
When it comes to teenage rebellions, I’d say I was being pretty tame. It could get a lot worse than that!
Book snobs give their teens plenty to rebel against. They turn their noses up at certain books, authors or even genres! Most of the time, they don’t have a very good reason. Here are some of the ones I’ve heard:
- “The writing is terrible.”
- “I don’t want my child to read that liberal crap.” (Yikes!)
- “Fantasy and sci-fi are pointless, childish genres.”
- “Can’t they read something more high-brow?”
Do you know what many teens hear when you say stuff like that? They hear that you are stuck up and can’t handle them having different opinions from you. If that’s not the perfect ammo to spite you with, I don’t know what is!
The worst part is that you lose all control. I said that they should read age-appropriate stuff. If they can’t be honest with you about what they’re reading, you’ll never know what book they have! It could be full of sensitive themes tackled in very adult ways.
We All Want to Relate to Stories
Another thing I’ve noticed about book snobs is that they often want their children to read the classics. Not just the kids’ ones, either.
Pretty soon, they’re demanding their child reads A Tale of Two Cities or Moby Dick. The characters in those books aren’t exactly easy for a 13-year-old to relate to, are they?
Don’t get me wrong! If your child wants to read the harder Dickens stuff, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s an amazing thing! You should never force them to, though.
Most of us like it when we can relate to the characters we read. It helps us to get into the story and empathise with our main character. If we have felt the way they have before, we can imagine the thoughts and emotions way better.
So many of the classics are written from the perspective of an adult. The parent in the Reddit post I mentioned wanted her child to read books from a teen point of view. It’s not impossible for a kid to relate to an adult, but it’s not easy, either. They just care and worry about different things!
Book snobs try to make kids read books they just can’t relate to. That makes reading seem way too boring!
Don’t Kids Read Enough Hard and Boring Stuff at School?
Speaking of boring stuff, school is full of it. I don’t just mean in Literature, either. I hope my school chooses books that appeal to them! If you ask enough students, any subject can be full of some boring reading.
I mean, think about it! Let’s say you hate physics. Well, suddenly, the physics chapters in your science books are the dullest things in the world. The same can be true of geography, history, R.E, and pretty much anything else.
School is full of reading. Your child is bound to find it boring at some point in their day. After all, they probably have at least 5 hours of learning each day!
So, why would you want them to use their precious free time reading stuff they aren’t interested in? How in the world is that supposed to make them love books? It will just make them resent you and reading completely.
It’s no secret that kids don’t read as much as we’d like them to. Of course, smartphones, Netflix and video games play a huge part in that. However, book snobs really don’t help the problem.
They make kids feel as though reading isn’t meaningful unless you choose a “boring” book. So, it is only natural for them to think that reading is boring.
Don’t kill your child’s love of reading before it even starts by forcing them to read “boring” things.
Reading Isn’t All About Complex Language and Difficult Ideas
When I was young, I didn’t read to learn a new word or challenge myself with a difficult philosophical concept. Sure, those were great benefits! They didn’t make me want to pick up a book, though.
I read for the escapism. Harry Potter sent me to another world. I could imagine I was off at Hogwarts, doing spells with my very own wand. I was hooked on the story, too! What would happen next? Would Harry defeat Voldemort? Those were the things that made me beg my parents to get me the next novel.
I didn’t notice that I had learnt new words like “poltergeist”, “furrowed”, and “chortle” along the way.
My dad was very keen to fuel my love of good stories. For him, that meant any medium. We watched films, listened to audiobooks and played games, always talking about how the story touched us. His passion drew me in. I’d read so that I could talk to him about a new character or tale I came across. Or, we’d watch a film that obviously deserved a sequel, and I’d go on a hunt for the book version so that I could find out what happened next.
Those were the things that drove me to read.
First, I developed my love of escaping to new worlds and reading great stories. It was only then that I fell in love with reading as a whole. Then, I was obsessed with the smell of books and the feeling of the paper between my fingers. That all took time.
If my dad had been a book snob, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with books. I’m so glad he wasn’t.
Do your kids a favour. Let them fall in love with the easier parts of books first.
Reading Should Be a Pleasure
I mentioned this in my previous blog post about reading already. I do feel like I need to say it again, though. Children are never going to love reading if it feels like a chore.
If you want your child to fall in love with reading, you need to show them that they’ll enjoy it! Introduce them to stories and genres they’ll like. Allow them to develop their own tastes. Encourage their interests. Make sure they see that you like it, too.
Of course, reading isn’t just a hobby. It’s a life skill. However, there’s a difference between being able to understand some words on a page and seeking out new tales to consume. If your child doesn’t enjoy their books, they will stick to the first one.
Please don’t let your own snobbery or preferences take over your child. Don’t make them feel like they are into the wrong kinds of books or wasting their time. You won’t make them more sophisticated readers. The chances of that happening are next to zero.
So, why not just let them pick their own favourite books? Let them develop and grow as readers and find new stories as they grow up. If you let this love of reading flourish, you might be pleasantly surprised! Eventually, they could start to love the books you’d like them to.
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