I made a comment in 137 Books in One Year that genre shame is a waste of time. It’s something I learned through my reading, but I found the sentiment most eloquently expressed by Veronica Roth in her post Shame: The Ultimate Time Vampire. Roth is the author of the young adult dystopian thriller Divergent, which she wrote while studying creative writing at Northwestern University.
Writing that kind of a genre-specific book in that kind of a literary-focused environment, you learn a thing or two about genre shame. Much of Roth’s post talks about the writing end of genre shame.
But she also starts with the fact that genre shame kept her from enjoying reading for years:
The last time (excluding the past three months) that I remember loving to read was eighth grade. That’s right: eight years ago. What happened, you ask? People told me I was too smart to read what I liked to read. They said I should be reading “college-level books.” I started to feel ashamed of what I wanted to read, and I tried to read what I was “supposed” to be reading. But the problem was that I didn’t enjoy those books, and I couldn’t force myself to enjoy them, and I hated feeling like I was stupid for not liking them, so I stopped reading altogether.
That’s complete and total crap.
A book has to be snooty enough to be worth your time? Please. We should read because we enjoy it, not because we have to. Not because it’s good for us. Not because it’s labeled a classic. There are so many classics that have ruined reading for people because they were forced through an awful book. If I had to read Tess of the D’Ubervilles again I probably would give up on reading.
I can’t finish a Hemingway novel.
I hated Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
I have zero interest in Charlotte Bronte.
But you know what? That’s OK. Read what you love. It’s OK to read that smut novel. Or yet another vampire story. Or more space marines. Whatever floats your boat.
Go ahead, it’s OK.
Don’t waste your time being ashamed of your favorite genres. Don’t feel like you have to read the classics because they’re the classics. Whatever. Find your own classics (I’ve started my own list).
I love reading young adult fiction with teen characters struggling to find out who they are (13 Reasons Why).
I love reading realistic space sci-fi, light on the aliens, heavy on the application of big ideas (Old Man’s War).
I even have a soft spot for a good zombie novel (Zone One).
And I’ve mentioned my love for post-apocalyptic sci-fi too many times (Wool).
If you like the classics, great. But don’t force them on the rest of us. Read what you love, and don’t be ashamed.