Serial Bookseller

Because all of life is stories.

What You Can & Can’t Read

As a bookseller, I run across a broad spectrum of people. And as someone who follows a lot of other book blogs on tumblr and twitter, I’ve seen this issue crop up a few times online, and plenty of times in my store. It usually goes something like this:

A kid or a teen will have picked out a book. We can see that they are very very clearly excited about it, and that they put a decent amount of thought into what book they want to read next. The parent’s response upon seeing this is then some kind of variation of “You can’t read that.” We’ve heard them all across the spectrum, “That books is trash”, “That book is banned in our house”, or my personal favorite, “Not that book. A REAL book.” As if somehow the book the child has chosen for themselves is imaginary or will disappear in a puff of smoke or turn into a dragon upon leaving the store.

Instantly the child’s demeanor changes. That excited feeling they get (And I’m sure you all know it) as you hold a book close to you is shattered. The person in their life who is pretty much infallible to them (Some of these kids are really young) has just told them that the thing they were excited about it bad, is wrong, is undesirable. You can almost see their little souls shatter and I tell you it is one of the most heart breaking and infuriating things I have ever dealt with or seen as a bookseller.

We see it in adults too. “Oh, isn’t that a book for CHILDREN?” “I can’t believe you read that trash.” “You should know better than to read something like that.”

Let me take a moment to express my deepest and most sincere opinion of this kind of behavior.


Let’s get something straight. You can read whatever the hell you want past a certain age. The shelves and labels in stores and libraries are just there as guidelines and to help us put books in some kind of cogent order. They are not rules. They are not laws. If you are an adult and you find yourself enjoying Harry Potter or Percy Jackson or *gulp* Twilight, then my and every other person’s opinion means precisely nothing. You found something you like. Read it.

As for the kids, I understand some books just aren’t for the younger age groups. Parents have every right to keep certain subjects away from kids that are obviously way too young for them. Would you read 50 Shades of Grey to a six year old? Of course not, they aren’t ready for that. What I’m talking about are books that are perfectly fine for a certain age group, are even popular or critically lauded, that are being denied just because the parent doesn’t like that kind of thing.

I once had a woman tell me I was going to Hell for recommending her daughter read The Golden Compass. A book full of views and beliefs I guarantee her seven year old would not have picked up on.

What I’m really saying is this: When you tell someone that young that their choices are wrong or bad without explaining why or using the ever popular “Because I said so” you are failing as an adult that day. It creates a fear and a reticence of something that should be about learning and wonder and dreaming. If you wanna take the time to tell them why they can’t read that certain thing yet, fine. But blanket dismissal is killing people’s excitement about something they are trying their hardest to love, and I see it every day and it kills me.

As for us adults, you aren’t a child anymore. If someone looks down on you for reading SFF or Romance novels or Heaven help us SMUT, then that is their own freaking problem. Never let anyone else make you feel bad about what you like to read. I love science fiction. I love fantasy. I really really hate Jane Austen. I’m not saying she isn’t brilliant, but she isn’t for me. And that’s OK. Your reading tastes are your own. And if you want to sit down by yourself and read a picture book, or Junie B. Jones, or a YA novel or a book that has sex in it then that is OK.

Life is too short to let the killjoys of the world get you down. Read what you want. Read what you love. Read what makes you happy, what makes you cry, what makes you think, what helps you escape, what helps you laugh or makes you angry or makes you tired or hungry or horny.

Read whatever you want. There is nothing that you absolutely CAN’T read.

Stay literate everyone. In whatever manner you please. It’s your shelf. Fill it.


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This entry was posted on October 7, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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