Jo Talks Books: On Books “Everyone Should Read”

Hi all! I had totally intended on writing a September discussion post well before today, the last day of September, but I just haven’t had a chance since I’ve arrived back at Uni. Today I’m going to talk about something that I’ve been thinking about for a while: something that I see quite often when bloggers are talking about books they really love, the “everyone should read this” praise.

This phrase has often made me feel uncomfortable. It’s a phrase often used on “books you should read before you die” lists and just generally whenever people feel really strongly about a book. It treats people as a monolith, not individuals with their own unique experiences. The beautiful thing about reading is that whilst we can all read the same text, we will all interpret it and experience it in different ways. So when we say, “everyone should read this”, it seems as if we are ignoring the fact that different people bring their different experiences to reading and that not every book will speak to every person in the same way.

Take probably the most popular example of this phenomenon: Harry Potter. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Harry Potter is an amazing series, and it really influenced me, both as a reader and a writer and yes, when I found out that one of my friends hadn’t read it, I was very surprised and really wanted her to finish it. However, would I say that series is for everyone? No. Because that’s impossible. There are 7 billion people on the planet, all with different likes and dislikes and asking one book or one series of books to speak to everyone is ridiculous.

I totally understand the feeling of excitement when you read a book that you love unequivocally and you think that it’s so amazing, you just want to shove it into the hands of everyone you know. Heck I’ve been there. But not everyone is unequivocally excited about the same things. Some people prefer stories in different mediums, TV or film or radio or theatre over books, and that’s fine. In fact that’s great, everyone should get to experience the joy of a good story, no matter what form its in. And for people who do love books, we all get excited about different things. For instance, I love fantasy and the books that I get excited about are things like A Darker Shade of Magic, Harry Potter, Throne of Glass, Six of Crows. But not everyone loves that, there are bloggers out there for almost every single genre, crime, romance, historical, fantasy, contemporary etc. Would I suggest that every single one of those bloggers reads the same ten books that are supposedly for “everyone”? No, because that would be boring. Variety is the spice of life and if we all read the same books then there would be no variety and we’d get so bored just talking about the same books all the time.

The “Everyone Should Read” label in general society, most of the time seems to go on classic books, books that have acquired a certain cache because they’ve been around so long. But the thing is classics aren’t for everyone. They can be long and boring and share outdated views and just because they’ve survived the test of time, doesn’t mean you have to read them. That’s not to say that they’re not worth reading at all, but just that the fact that they have been given the label of “classic” (which is somewhat arbitrary anyway, who decides what is a classic?) doesn’t mean that they automatically become “for everyone”. Like any other book, some people may love classics and some people may not, and even within that, there’ll be variations, you may love one classic book and hate another. We’re not dealing in absolutes here, reading is such a subjective thing, and you can’t expect everyone to react the exact same way to a certain book, even if you think it’s great.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon in the blogosphere recently with diverse books. Whilst I totally agree that we should definitely be pushing authors from marginalised backgrounds, & it’s really important that these books get exposure, the “everyone should read this” mentality can be just as dangerous here. Take for instance, The Hate U Give, which has become a pretty common “everyone should read this” book in the year since its release, there are such high expectations that you should love it going in, that it’s actually kind of intimidating, because what if you don’t love it? What if it’s just not for you? There can be a lot of pressure on reading these kinds of books, because you know that it is so important that that representation is out there for those who need it and you feel like if you don’t love it, because it’s not your genre, or you just don’t connect to the story or whatever, then people are going to hate you. This is why we need to push for diverse books in all genres; so that no matter what genre you like, you can see yourself in stories and everyone can have diverse stories to enjoy, in whatever their preferred genre is.

The reason that 90% of required reading at school sucks, is because you are being forced to read books that you are not necessarily interested in. That’s not to say that no one is interested in required reading at school, some people may love the books that they read at school, but the point is that not everyone will, because you cannot please everyone with one book. If you get 50 people to read one book, the chances are you won’t get 50 of the exact some reactions. The whole idea of required reading is not at all useful for fostering a love of reading, because you are not going to get that but telling people they have to read certain books: the only way that you can get people to fall in love with books is by allowing them to find stories which speak to them.

As a reviewer, I try to stay away from absolutes. I don’t want to say “everyone should read this” or “this sucks, everyone should avoid this” because reading isn’t an absolute science. A book that speaks to me, may not speak to you and vice versa, you might find a book that I hated absolutely amazing. I firmly believe that reading is the most magical experience in the world for this very reason: two people can read the exact same words on a page and take away completely different things and when we talk in absolutes, like “everyone should read this” we do that magic a disservice.

So there we go, my thoughts on the “everyone should read this” phenomenon. Have you ever fallen into the “everyone should read this” trap? Are there any times when you think that phrase can be justified? Let me know in the comments!

Obviously I won’t have another September discussion post for you, since it is the last day of September now, but I will have another Jo Talks post in October, though I haven’t decided what I want to write about yet. In the meantime, I will be back with a new Top Ten Tuesday for you guys on Tuesday, so look out for that!

4 thoughts on “Jo Talks Books: On Books “Everyone Should Read”

  1. kozbisa September 30, 2018 / 3:52 pm

    Yes, yes, 1000 times yes! The phrase makes me nuts, because it makes an assumption that issues and themes, which are important to one person, are also important to all people, and we know that’s not true. I, for one, will never read Harry Potter. I saw the movies, and have no desire to read the books. And the books they made me read in school? Most of them was so age inappropriate and totally went over my head.

    • iloveheartlandx October 1, 2018 / 1:21 pm

      Yeah exactly-we can’t deal in such absolutes when it comes to a really subjective activity. And that’s fine, you probably love books that I have no desire to read-I think the whole idea that everyone has to love one certain thing can be so exclusive, we should embrace the fact that we all love different things. Ha ha yeah, totally, they really do not think of teen appeal when they come up with those lists.

  2. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight October 1, 2018 / 1:53 am

    This is a really good point. I know I am definitely guilty of saying “everyone should” read something- even if it isn’t what I mean, technically. You are really right that we should think before we phrase things a certain way. I think that while certain books are IMPORTANT, that doesn’t mean that everyone “has to” read them. Because yeah, if it’s just that a reader isn’t into the genre or something, why be so forceful? Now, if their reasons are awful or racist or something (thinking of your THUG example) then that is different of course, but what if they just hate contemporary? These are really thought provoking points you bring up here! Awesome post!

    • iloveheartlandx October 1, 2018 / 1:17 pm

      Thanks! I can’t say I’ve never used it, because I probably have in the past, but I try to phrase things more carefully now and say that “people who like…..” might like this book. Oh definitely, a book can be really important but I think we should be careful about saying, “this is so important, everyone should read this” because it puts a lot of pressure on the book. Oh of course, I’m not suggesting someone shouldn’t read THUG because they hate black people, if anything, they REALLY need books like that, I was thinking more in the case of people having different genre preferences which is why I get really excited when I see diverse books in other genres, it gives a chance for everyone to read diversely without having to force themselves to read things they don’t like. Thank you!

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