There is No Should in Reading

I have a small confession to make.

I was that kid you hated in school.

The one who read half the reading list before the semester started. The one who asked if there was a maximum page count on the term paper. The one who spent most of the spontaneous group outings for pizza and beer saying repeatedly “I should really be studying right now.”   Un-ironically.

It was annoying.

I’m sorry.

But I  loved school. And I was good at school. (Those two things may have been related)

I would be pretty happy just spending my entire life getting degree after degree but at some point, apparently, you have to grow up and think about retirement plans and boring shit like that.

are you serious

Hence my career choice of Youth Librarian: where I still get to read and learn shit and make crafts on a regular basis.

I love being a librarian.

But  I am realizing that my slightly OCD/overachiever student personality is harder to shed than my jeans/hoodie grad student wardrobe.

Listening to my new favorite Podcast “Dear Book Nerd” from Book Riot hosted by one of my favorite twitterbrarians Screwy Decimal, one of the themes that has come up several times is that there is no “should” in reading.

I kind of want to tattoo this to my forehead. No, not my forehead because then I’d never see it. I kind of want to tattoo this to my arm.

I’ve gotten better than I was. I let go of many of my “shoulds” in grad school.

“I should read more classics.” — Nope. Classics are just classics because some white dude said it was a classic. Some of those books are great and others are SUPER BORING. Tale of Two Cities- snoozer. Anna Karenina — booooorrrrring. I love LOTR but there are whole sections of Frodo and Sam walking through piles of rocks that I have skipped over and never plan on reading. Like ever. Sorry not sorry. If you like it, sweet. If it doesn’t hold your attention and you really want to be able to get references to it in other books I have two words for you: Spark Notes.

“I should read more literary fiction.” — Nope. First off literary fiction isn’t really a genre, so when most people talk about literary fiction they mean ‘books that could win the Pulitzer’ and again some of those kinds of books are great and some are long, arrogant ramblings by authors who are so pleased with the sound of their own voice and the plethora of adjectives they memorized they couldn’t construct a clear sentence with a gun aimed at their head. And while I’m sure the intellectual reward of making it through “The Road” is probably worth it I just don’t have time or energy for that shit right now. And that’s okay.

Life is too short to read boring books.

If I’m only going to be able to read a finite number of books in my life (that’s a depressing thought, isn’t it?) I don’t want to waste any of those books on boring ones.

I can’t tell you how many articles I have read that bemoan why adults are reading YA and children’s books. They try to figure out what is “wrong” with adults today that they don’t enjoy “adult” literature for surely there is nothing to be gained from books for young people as an adult.

You know why I love YA books?  Because they are written for teenagers and kids who have a bullshit-o-meter that still goes off when they see arrogance in writing, a bullshit-o-meter that hasn’t been silenced by years of formal education and societal pressure and shaming. Spend too long weaving your oh so clever words in a description that is too long and boring– young people roll their eyes and shut the book. They haven’t been trained to replace “boring shit” with “artful prose” in their heads. And I like that.

The idea that adults have nothing to gain from reading literature aimed at young people is preposterous, dangerous and turns me into a giant squid of anger.

But that’s a rant for another day.

Back to the idea that we should read something or should read something else.

So as previously established… I no longer suffer from genre shoulding. I’ve stopped caring what people think of what I read and when asked I honestly say that I read pretty much every genre.  I read bestsellers and classics and YA and children’s books. I read gritty true crime mysteries about depraved criminals and victimized heroes who make totally impossible escapes from locked cellars. I read fantasy and sci fi with dragons and cyborgs and Star Trek references.  I read fluffy beach books about thirty somethings who have a life crisis and end up finding true love and a rewarding job after rediscovering their inner child. I read smutty romance novels and smuttier fanfiction.

I read it all. And I don’t care.

gaga fuck

So I was listening to “Dear Book Nerd” and agreeing with everything Rita was saying about how there are no shoulds in reading and how no one will give you a gold star if you read bestsellers or literary fiction or whatever. I sat there smugly thinking how enlightened I was to not “should” myself.

And then the next day I said this to a co-worker

“I totally want to drop everything and re-read all the Harry Potters, but I really should read all the new award books first.”

And there we have my should. The should I suffer from. (From which I suffer? I get that the latter is grammatically correct but it just sounds weird.)

It is the perfect student overachiever work-a-holic should that is my nemesis.

I “should” read all new YALSA award books.

I “should” read all the Illinois award books (4 age groups x 20 titles = 80 books).

I “should” finish the Hub Challenge.


anna kendrick

I do concede that as a librarian there is a little bit of should in my job. I should read more picture books because I’m less familiar with them than the J Fic and YA. So yeah, I should do that– in order to do readers advisory, not to get a gold star.

I should make an effort to read J Fic and YA that is outside my normal comfort zone, again for readers advisory.

But if I want to re-read all the Harry Potters first and get back to that shit later I CAN DO THAT BECAUSE I’M A GROWN UP AND YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!!!!

come again?

I impose these ridiculous standards on myself. As if my career will live or die depending on whether or not I’ve read the latest “Diary of a Whimpy Kid” book. As if someone somewhere is giving me a grade.

I do the same thing with TV shows. I jokingly say that “I need to watch ‘Orange is the New Black’ or they’ll take away my gay card” and I do genuinely want to watch it but I HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO IT YET AND THAT’S OKAY!


I’ve been a little busy working 3 jobs and trying to be a person.

So I’ve decided only a dozen weeks after making a handful of lofty reading goals to drop them all.

I may complete the Hub Challenge and I may not.

I may read all the award books and I may not.

I’m going to read more picture books– and I’m going to do it at work.

I’m going to read more books with POC and queer folk because I genuinely want to, but I’m not going to check off lists or gather statistics.

I am going to read whatever the fuck I want for the rest of the year and not feel guilty about any of it.

I am. Watch me. I can do it. I can stop worrying about arbitrarily imposed standards I set for myself that don’t accomplish anything other than stressing me out every time I look at my GoodReads home page.

I can.

i seem to be very bad at

Don’t get me wrong– the Hub Challenge is great and making reading goals is awesome and checking off lists is very satisfying. I’ll probably get back to that at some point.

And the only “should” I do support for everyone is that we should try to at least occasionally read books that help us gain empathy for others whose life experiences we might not have otherwise encountered. We should try to occasionally read books about people who are not exactly like us. But, hopefully, gaining empathy and insight into other people is a goal that we all have in our lives.

So while I want to be professionally astute and generally well rounded, I don’t want reading to become a chore. I don’t want it to become just my job. I’ve never ever stopped loving reading, but I learned in music school that making the thing you love into your job can take the joy out of the thing you love. I don’t want that to happen to reading.

I want to always love reading.

And if that means sometimes taking a break from reading and marathoning NCIS— that is okay too.

I want to rediscover that reader I used to be in Middle School when I volunteered as a library helper solely and only so I could override the checkout limit and check out 10 books to myself at a time.

What about you, oh faithful readers?  What “shoulds” do you suffer from? What compulsions do you want to let go of?

Leave em in the comments!

10 thoughts on “There is No Should in Reading

  1. As an Elementary School Librarain I should read more: picture books, J Fiction and Nonfiction as well as professional development-type books to transform myself into one of those superstars with blogs.

    As an overeducated smartypants librarian I should be reading lots of challenging lit fic and big brain nonfic.

    As both, I should definitely not have read 2 Jack Reacher books, 2 Austen-themed romance novels and 2 marginal sci-fi novels during this week of vacation. (You can bet that the first four did not make my self-censored Goodreads list.)

    Reading is my favorite thing above all else. I regularly sacrifice almost all other aspects of my life so I can spend more time in those alternate realities. I guess it should be no surprise that reading is as loaded down with shame and guilt as everything else.

    I constantly preach the gospel of “All Reading is Good Reading” and admit to reading mysteries, as if that was some mildly risque practice, but have a very clear set of inernal, and no doubt arbitrary, shoulds that guide my public persona as a reader.

  2. I spent my teenage years thinking I don’t like reading because I couldn’t finish Great Expectations for a high school English class. I wouldn’t find a book I wanted to read, because “I should read Jude the Obscure first… since it’s for a grade.” But Jude the Obscure was boring. So was The Scarlet Letter. And, really, anything else assigned by a teacher.

    I was genuinely surprised that writers like Bill Bryson exist when I picked up his book during college (people write stuff that isn’t tedious to read?!)

    Now, I like reading.

    I wish I’d read this article when I was in high school.

    1. Thank you! I’m so flattered. I think almost everything we are assigned in High School shouldn’t be because we haven’t experienced enough life to really relate to most of it and then we decide that all books or all “literary” books or whatever are boring and so we stop reading.
      Glad you like reading now 🙂

  3. my friend and I started our own small press, Alucard Press to put out vampire books where the vampires didn’t fucking sparkle. We wanted to return the genre to its horror roots and away from the romantic vampires of the twilight books. so we put out THE BLACK IRISH CHRONICLES book one BLACK IRISH and book two IRISH LULLABY are now available on Amazon as both Kindle downloads and trade paperbacks. You really SHOULD read them! Also would like to recommend one of my early books THAT TIME OF THE MONTH, THE ADVENTURES OF LANA CHANEY by C.S Anderson which is a fun lesbian romance/werewolf novel also available on Amazon.

  4. I keep thinking I *should* read the most popular books in my library so I can book talk them or do readers’ advisory about them, etc., but those books are popular because other people (mostly my students) are reading them.

    I have often said I *should* read all the Printz award winners, the Newberry winners, etc. I get bored with the older ones or I read things like The White Darkness and then I hate. All. The. Books.

    So while I do skim the new books in my library and keep my eyes out for which manga series is most popular, I spend my time reading possible Stonewall winners and working through Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series (which I think you would like, btw). And sometimes I get home from work and I binge-watch NCIS or Bones or House instead of reading at all or maybe I just play with LEGOs instead. Because you’re right – sometimes you have to tell the shoulds “You’re not the boss of me!”

      1. Me, too. I was horrified at the end of S2 when Kate was shot, and although I liked Ziva, I’m okay with her replacement, especially since Ziva didn’t end up with a bullet between her eyes. Also, Abby rocks. The end.

      2. I had the biggest crush on Abby when I was still closeted and in a fundamentalist cult. I watched the DVDs at home but couldn’t really talk about it with anyone else. Abby is unbelievably comfortable with being herself, and as my students would say, “She’s hecka smart.” 🙂

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