A minor pet peeve


And although I suppose I am mildly interested in what the author of this post (Jeffrey Davies)has to say, this is largely because I’m curious why he thinks anybody in the world needs a post like this.

Personally, my first reaction is, You seriously think I feel like I need your personal approval to feel okay about my changing my tastes in reading? Who do you think you are?

My second reaction is, Since every reader in the entire world has grown out of a lot of books and authors, rather than sticking to picture books and See Spot Run into high school, why would ANYONE think this is a worthwhile topic? Even if for some reason he feels his expression of personal approval is important to random strangers?

I am having trouble imagining anybody feeling like statements of validation from random strangers on the internet are helpful, or even appropriate. I dislike everything like this on sight, whether in the title of an article or in a twitter post or whatever. But maybe I’m an outlier on this particular curve, so how about it? Do any of you have similar reactions to mine, or do you feel these types of “You have my permission” or “I hereby give you my approval” statements are actually helpful?

I will add, I don’t go around snarling under my breath for an hour just because of titles like this. I have the who-do-you-think-you-are reaction and then I go on with my life without thinking about it again. But that reaction does occur and I don’t think it’s wearing off at all over time, either.

Now, let’s see what Jeffrey says . . . oh, he’s in his twenties. First thing he says. Possibly if he were in his fifties, his tastes in books, and the tastes of his friends, would have changed often enough and dramatically enough that he would no longer find it startling.

Skimming lightly through the article, I don’t find a lot to mention. It’s just a self-reflective post about the author’s own changing tastes in books.

Fine, all right. Aside from outgrowing picture books and then more substantial children’s books, let me see.

There are a bunch of authors I used to read with enthusiasm but now no longer care for. Robert Heinlein, Jack Chalker, and Andre Norton spring to mind. Oh, and Terry Brooks! And for that matter David Eddings.

There are also whole genres of fiction I read now that I didn’t read at all fifteen years ago, including historical romance, contemporary romance, and contemporary YA. In fact, I no longer care for Nancy Springer’s fantasy novels, but I like her contemporary YA stories.

There are also children’s books that I will never stop loving, including, say, A Little Princess by Burnett. I maintain that Black Beauty is a very good story that many adults would enjoy. I don’t expect to grow out of loving those stories and I don’t imagine many readers do.

“Grow out of” is therefore the wrong phrase for changing tastes in books. This is not necessarily a process by which one grows to prefer better or different sorts of stories. Changing tastes can reflect that, sure, as someone gains experience and realizes that The Sword of Shannara is actually a pretty terrible book. But changing tastes can also reflect nothing but new exposure, over time, to genres a reader thought were not to her taste, but actually sometimes are.

Take-home message, such as it is: let’s just assume that everybody should read what they want, that nobody’s taste is static, and that nobody ever needs permission from strangers to validate their reading tastes.

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6 thoughts on “A minor pet peeve”

  1. Allan L Shampine

    I was amused that of the authors you listed as previous favorites that you have moved on from, I felt the same about every single one of them. I suspect that’s true of many in our generation.

  2. I think there can be some validation in this sort of article in specific circumstances. Like, when the quarantine started, there were a bunch of “think of how much you’ll accomplish with all this down time” trying-to-inspire articles, so I appreciated the responses to those that said “we’re all stressed and scared and distracted, this isn’t a sabbatical, no pressure if you aren’t very productive right now”.

    But, if it isn’t responding to something else that places undue pressure or judgement on people, it’s unnecessary. And, all he had to do was word the title so it was about himself instead of me, and it would have been fine.

  3. SarahZ, yes, I think that’s what rubs me the wrong way — I think every time it hits me like, “For heaven’s sake, realize you’re talking about yourself, not about everybody!”

    Good point about responding to immediate circumstances, though it still seems odd to me that it needs to be said that people respond differently to stuff, and that people’s circumstances are all different.

    Actually, saying, “We all have so much downtime right now, yay!” seems a lot like saying, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block!” or even “REAL writers write every single day.” All those statements fall into the same category of “If I weren’t totally self-absorbed, I’d realize this is true for me so far, not for everyone all the time.” The proper response, it seems to me, is not seething silently at these misconceptions but either active pushback — “You jackass, [terrible thing here], you want to tell me again how I should write today?” is harsh, but appropriate. Or absolute lack of response to those statements is fine, with a silent eyeroll standing for “Some people sure think they have Found The Answers, what a jackass” and then instantly and completely dismissal of that person’s opinion.

    But it’s true that a drumbeat of “You’re doing it wrong, you’re doing it wrong, you’re doing it wrong” is perhaps best answered by a rising tide of “not true for everyone.”

  4. Out of curiosity, if the title had been “Why it’s OK to Grow Out of Books and Authors” would that still have set off the negative reaction? The lack of a personal pronoun would work against your first “who do you think you are?” reaction (which I feel only to a trivial extent … I feel like I should try to use “velleity” here but it doesn’t quite work…), although the second “does anyone need to read this?” reaction is exactly the same.

  5. Pete Mack, you’re not wrong, although I wish all college sophomores wrote in complete sentences, at least. But now that you mention it, there’s a certain English Comp II flavor to that article.

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