You've heard of, and in all likelihood experienced, all kinds of shaming in your lifetime, from body-shaming to slut-shaming to food-shaming, but if you've ever been on the wrong side of book-shaming, you know how terrible it can feel to be unfairly criticized for doing something you love. When you stray away from mainstream literature and dive into the world of romance, young adult, chick lit, fantasy, or any other unique genre, it's common for people to turn their nose up at your book and make you feel bad about your choices, but the truth is, you should *never* feel guilty about what you read or why you read it.
I was an English major in college, and I hate to admit that the stereotype is true, but I'd be lying if I said I was pretentious about my TBR list in those days. I can remember proudly strolling through campus carrying Proust and Melville under my arm, or sitting at the local coffee shop pompously reading Joyce and Tolstoy. I even brought Dostoyevsky and Kafka on spring break with me instead of a juicy beach read because, yes, I thought that was what was expected from an English major.
But I wasn't always that way, and it took me years to recognize what happened to me: I was shamed into reading what I "should" read instead of enjoying what I wanted to read. It's OK if you love to read Kafka by the beach, but I didn't, and I wish I'd spent my time reading what I love instead.
I grew up loving fantasy and science fiction, and it was my mom's used copies of cozy mysteries that helped me fall in love with reading in the first place, but when I stepped foot onto my college campus, all of that changed. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by professional literary lovers who scoffed at the idea of genre reading or anything outside of Literature with a capital L. Already out of place as the first person in my family to go to college, at a school I struggled to afford no less, I was worried I would be found out as the phony I was. What right did I, a Mary Higgins Clark-loving, Twilight-reading, sci-fi loving nerd, have to learn next to these smart, wealthy, educated students who already seemed miles ahead of me.
Years and plenty of genre reading later, it seems foolish to think I put so much time and effort into putting up a front around something I love as much as reading, but that's exactly what I did. And why? Because I felt ashamed of my book choices, embarrassed by my interested, and ostracized by my implied stupidity. And that's exactly what book-shaming does: makes a person feel less-than, lower-than, the shamer and their elite reading preferences.
The truth is, like the clothes we chose to put on, the makeup we chose to wear (or not wear), the music we chose to listen to, the books we chose to read are another expression of our personalities, and no one should ever be ashamed of being who they are, no matter what the haters say.
Shaming of any kind doesn't feel good, and it's hard not to take it personally when it's done to you, but I'm here to make one thing clear: you should never feel guilty about what you read.