Learning to Read

A guest post from Wonkomance’s official resident undercover librarian, Shelley Ann Clark.

It took me twenty-three years of school to learn how to read.

I’ve heard from a number of my fellow romance fans that they feel judged by their librarians when they check out or ask for romance novels. I’ve heard my fellow librarians speak scornfully of popular literature. There is a great debate, repeated endlessly in the profession, about whether we should give the public what they want, or give the public books that are “good for them.” As if we, the educated readers, are the only ones who can decide what makes a book great. This isn’t to say that I don’t think there’s plenty of room for critique, and I think it’s very important that romance not be exempt from cultural study. In fact, I think popular books need to be at the heart of cultural studies, because those are the books that reflect and shape our societal values. However, it’s vitally important that we remember that there is no one right way to be a reader, even if that’s what we learn in school.

The one-right-way-to-read thinking is antithetical to the principals of reader’s advisory. Generally speaking, most library professionals provide information to meet two kinds of needs: reference, which is when a patron has a need for information about a topic, and reader’s advisory, which is the art of helping the right reader find the right book at the right time. A reference question is, “I need to know how many elephants are currently working in the Barnum & Bailey circus.” A reader’s advisory question is, “God, I loved Fifty Shades of Grey. Do you have any other books like that?”

It wasn’t until I took Reader’s Advisory in library school (under the great Joyce Saricks and Becky Spratford, two of the best names in the field, and two of the best professors I’ve ever had) that I learned two principles of reader’s advisory that made the biggest difference in how I view both reading and writing:

1. There is no such thing as bad writing. There is no such thing as good writing. Good writing is writing a reader likes. That’s it. There’s no objective measurement of it.

2. Never, ever judge another reader’s taste. Reader’s advisory is about finding the right book for your reader, not about finding the right book for you or showing the reader how much you know about literature.

This philosophy was completely counter to everything I’d learned about reading and writing in all my previous education.  After being taught how to analyze writing to find its strengths and weaknesses, after learning about Big Important Books, after evaluating Great Literature and dismissing popular literature, after being taught that genre was lesser, and a genre book might be great for its genre, but it would never be a Great Book…suddenly, here were two librarians teaching me that none of that mattered.

Readers should like the books they read. That’s the only rule.

It’s a radical notion, that, the idea that any one reader’s taste is just as valuable as any other reader’s taste, regardless of education or literacy level or economic status. And it’s an incredibly liberating philosophy as a reader and as a writer. There are no guilty pleasure books, just pleasure books. There are no “should-reads.” You should read what you want. End of story.

Reader’s advisors read for appeal; we do analyze what we read, but we analyze it in terms of why someone might like it. Is it fast-paced? Does it have an unusual setting? Is there a unique voice, or high interpersonal drama, or is the writing lyrical? A reader who loves fast-paced, suspense-filled books will likely be bored by a lyrical, thoughtful, emotional read. Does that make one book better than another? Only in terms of how it fits for that particular reader.

As a writer, learning to think about books this way is the only thing that un-paralyzed me. I didn’t need to write a perfect book; I needed to write a book that at least one reader would enjoy. The goal became manageable, and honestly, fun, for the first time in years. Of course I want my writing to be technically strong. I want to use all those skills I learned to make my writing the best it can be. But it will never be perfect; it may never be Great, in the terms I learned to study. And that’s okay.

Extra Bonus Fun Time!
So, since most of you aren’t reader’s advisors, I’d like to invite you to try to identify the appeal terms that apply to the books you tend to love. I, for instance, like steamy love stories with a strong sense of place and lyrical writing. Some examples of appeal terms: fast-paced, character-driven, dark, humorous, complex plots, high interpersonal drama, alternating point-of-view. Notice that none of them place a value judgment on the work, they just describe it. I’d love to see how you would characterize either your own work or the books you like to read.

* * *

Shelley Ann Clark’s third-grade teacher told her she would grow up to be the next Danielle Steel. It probably says something about her that, at age eight, she knew who that was and thought it was a compliment. Shelley now holds an MA in Creative Writing, a Masters of Library and Information Science, and has worked in public libraries for twelve years. She lives with her husband in Chicago, where she writes about Southern men and the women who bring them to their knees.

About Cara McKenna

Cara McKenna writes smart erotica—sexy stories with depth. Read more >
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36 Responses to Learning to Read

  1. Wow, great post!
    My mom was a librarian, and when I told her I’d written a romance, the first thing out of her mouth was…wait for it…”Oh, a bodice ripper!”
    Which is why I waited so long to tell her what I was writing. I think that, based on my reaction, she’s probably not going to say that again…

    • Shelley says:

      It’s hard, because so many librarians are literature lovers, and came at the career by way of English degrees, so we’ve spent years absorbing and repeating notions about what makes literature “worthy.”

      But if we view ourselves as in service to our readers, rather than gatekeepers who guard knowledge from the unwashed masses, we cannot keep making those kinds of judgments. There’s already quite often a large class and education divide between librarians and their patrons, and our patrons are WELL aware of it. But good reader’s advisory depends on trust and rapport between the librarian and the patron, which will never develop if you dismiss entire genres out of hand.

      Using those appeal terms, and reading while looking for appeal, can help dispel some of that class snobbery, because it helps you understand why readers like the books they enjoy. It helps if you have to develop your own reader-appeal profile, too, so you can see that you, like any other reader, have certain appeals that really work or really don’t for you.

    • Oh, oh! Someone please help me. What on Earth is an actual “bodice ripper?” Is it a term? Is it an older 1970-1980 romance? Is it a romance where the heroine was forced to have sex, but ended up falling in love?

      I’ve never understood.

      • willaful says:

        It’s a term often used to mock the romance genre in general, but for those who are fans, it seems to encompass epic, intense, crazy, old school romances that do often include rape.

  2. Ruthie says:

    I love how you’re talking about reading and value here, because it resonates so much with how I read and think about reading. When I took a linguistics course in college, one of the first things we were taught was that no language is “better” than any other. Every language has the ability to make meaning just as well as any other. There is no room for cultural snobbery in the study of language. This was, at seventeen, a rather revolutionary idea to me, and I think it carries over into many areas of culture and art. It also resonates with something my mother once told me, which is that my hobbies shouldn’t stress me out. Reading has always been a pleasurable activity for me, first and foremost, so I try to reject any move that threatens to turn it into “work” that I’m doing “wrong,” as well as any judgment that suggests I’m reading the wrong things or the wrong way. Fuck that.

    I’m not sure I can characterize what I like to read, because it’s quite broad. I suppose I write steamy, humorous character-driven romance with high interpersonal drama and alternating points of view. :-)

    • Shelley says:

      And when you talk about this in linguistics, boy does it get interesting–and obvious how much of the debate revolves around social class–when you start talking about non-standard forms of English.

      Ruthie, appeal terms I think overlap with what writers call “voice” more than anything else. There are thematic elements to appeal terms, but a I find most frequently that readers note appeals that relate to voice more than they do to, say, plot elements.

      Just as an exercise, if I were going to give your work appeal terms, a few I might use are: multiple points-of-view, humorous dialogue, complex family dynamics, and high interpersonal drama– very similar to those you gave yourself.

      If I were to list appeal terms for Cara’s work, I think I’d use: steamy, explicit sex scenes; damaged characters; gritty details; and strong sensory elements.

      The more appeal terms you can assign to a book, the more you have to work with when analyzing a reader’s taste. You can start to see where your own tastes overlap, which terms come up again and again even in books that seem like they couldn’t be more different.

  3. Mary Murray says:

    Thank you! I couldn’t agree more. Your blog makes me want to read more, and tell all of those friends who judged me for my worn Vampire Young adult romance novels to suck it :)

    • Shelley says:

      Mary, if I had to guess, I bet I could pick a few of the appeals of your beloved vampire romances:

      fast-paced, plot-driven, high conflict, high interpersonal drama, (I bet at least half were) first-person point-of-view, high romance element

      Am I close? I did this exercise in library school with romantic suspense, which isn’t really my cup of tea, but it certainly led me to appreciate why readers who love it do.

  4. Edie Danford says:

    Love this post so much! Thanks for sharing your experiences. I was thinking deep thoughts about these very topics today while volunteering at my tiny local library. The librarian, who is a good friend to whom I can blab all kinds of personal opinions even though she doesn’t like romance (I know, can you believe it?), and I were having a debate about buying “good” vs. “popular” books. We just purchased a Kindle for circulation and it’s my job to fill it up with a very limited budget. We don’t collect a lot of genre fiction and don’t purchase mass market paperbacks, and I was super excited about the kindle because it means we can buy all kinds of things that have not been traditionally collected under the library’s fairly conservative policy. As I stared at vast pages of ebooks (I immediately gravitated toward romance because we only have like 15 romances in our collection and they’re all hardcovers by Nora and D Steel) I found myself making all kinds of shocking judgments that I, as a former librarian and staunchly anti-snob, voracious reader of all types of romance, was scandalized to find myself making. “No, no…we don’t want to buy THAT romance. Yes, I know it’s a huge bestseller and has 4k 5-star reviews on goodreads, but come on! The heroine is a prime example of stepford wife wimpage and the hero is an asshat!” But if my budget is only $50 and I’m trying to buy books that would appeal to the whole town (does this translate into books that would circulate the most…hmm, a whole other debate), do I want to use my own criteria for what makes a good romance, or do I look at what’s the most popular thing available right now and buy that? Also, our readership is pretty lit-fic-centric and I want to “initiate” newbies into the joys of great romance. So how does that come into play? It’s hard!! But your post has inspired me to apply some of my old reader’s advisory tools to the problem. I know what a lot of our readers like in classic mystery and lit fic so maybe I could pull some of those threads through to other genres. :-)

    And, hey, I love to hear how the core ideas of being a great reader’s advisor can translate into freedom for your own writing. So cool. Because, yeah, I can see it in my own choices for what to write. I know what’s appealing in the market and I know what I like and love to read (I too am a fan of the lyrical writing/steamy love story combo) and I also know the incredible diversity of taste that’s out there. It’s that last thing that’s the most freeing and that’s what I have to hold on to when I’m wearing my writer’s cap and get intimidated by voices that say “nobody would buy that.”

    • Shelley says:

      Glad to be of service to another writer/librarian! I know there are popular romance writers I used to be super judgmental about, but if I think in RA appeal terms, I find it freeing– Author A didn’t write a perfect book, but plenty of people love her work, so I don’t have to write the perfect book either, just one that will resonate with at least one other reader.

      You’re so right that when we throw budget into the collection development debate, it gets hard to justify owning 25 copies of The Current Hottest Title when there are books that might have more lasting appeal going unordered. It’s a tough judgment call and why librarianship is more an art than a science. But if we can apply those appeals (I sound like a broken record!). . .it’s a huge help.

  5. I love seeing those two principles laid out from your readers’ advisory class – it’s always just so nice to get a formulation like that from somebody who has clearly spent a lot of time pondering.
    My life greatly improved when I flipped my top reason for reading from edification to entertainment, a direct result of getting Outlander shoved into my hands. I reconnected with my inner fourth grader, sitting in a corner, ready to give the devil-stare to anyone who might disturb her and her book.
    Also, I love that librarians have such a phrase as appeal terms. I like books that are thoughtful and emotional. Dramatic! And steamy. With elements of fun anticipation!

    • Serena Bell says:

      “My life greatly improved when I flipped my top reason for reading from edification to entertainment, a direct result of getting Outlander shoved into my hands.” — those words could have come straight out of my mouth (except I think you said it better than I would have :-)). I resisted *hard*. A friend told me to read Outlander and I found it in the bookstore, looked at the cover, and judged. Put it back. Took me MONTHS to make myself overcome the judgment, but when I did, it changed my life. Reading has been so much more fun for me ever since.

      I’m pretty committed now to entertainment. Although I am reading the incredibly edifying Catherine the Great by Robert K Massie right now, and finding myself greatly entertained.

      • Serena Bell says:

        Another way to put it would be “head” v “heart.” It’s not that “head” books don’t give me pleasure, it’s just that it’s a very think-y kind of pleasure. And for me, at least lately, not as satisfying.

        • Shelley says:

          Yes, and Carolyn, you are so right about the inner fourth-grader in the corner! We know as children how to read that way, with our hearts, and then we get it trained out of us somewhere along the way. And it’s such a joy when we rediscover it.

          I think part of my goal as a reader’s advisor is to help adults maintain that joy all along.

        • Hah! So funny that you had the same Outlander experience. I actually resisted, too. I read a few pages and turned up my nose. But then, some time later, I was stuck on a plane with it, and I found my tender self swept away and ravished, and it was awesome.
          Also, I love your head/heart distinction – I think clarity about the reasons a person is reading can clear up a lot of misunderstandings, judgment, and wrong ideas about the fun of reading – or lack of it.

  6. It’s an interesting way of thinking about reading. While I’m a lot less restricted in my own book choices, I still have plenty of judgments in there. I just think of them more as what I like or dislike rather than good or bad.

    • Shelley says:

      Thanks for commenting, Julia! We talked on Twitter a little about this, but I think RA thinking is purposefully radical in part to counteract what most librarians and other literary types have learned over the years. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there’s value in critiquing craft or in cultural criticism, just that there’s also a time to don a different hat and look at books this way, too.

      And yes, it’s hard to stop thinking of books as “good” or “bad” and more “to my taste” or not.

  7. This is so true:
    Readers should like the books they read. That’s the only rule.

    It’s the easiest concept to hear, but the hardest to understand. It took me years.

    Writers and readers can get bogged down in the “requirements” for a great novel. A great novel is great because we love it. Regardless if the author head hops or writes the story entirely in one point-of-view. The “requirements” only come into consideration when something isn’t working. Even then they’re not fail-safes.

    Books that appeal to me: Contemporary, Paranormal, angst-filled, dark tones, and drawn out dark moments. I want the hero to screw up and the heroine to have enough of a backbone to pack his shit and kick him out. He can prove himself for 80-120 pages for all I care. :)

    • Shelley says:

      You’re right that it’s hard to embrace this idea. I have to stop myself, sometimes, from saying things like, “Oh, well, *I* don’t read those kinds of books/that author,” because it can so easily imply judgment– which, of course, is why so many librarians say it! I think they’re afraid that if they’re overheard recommending a new street lit book or romance novel, someone will judge their taste and find them lacking, so they preempt it.

  8. Karla Doyle says:

    What a fabulous post! Love it. :)

  9. Shari Slade says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post all day. I started to respond earlier, but EDJ got in the way.

    I grew up in homes littered with books. Piles of ‘em behind doors, stacks on stair steps, no flat surface was safe. My family of hoarder-readers is eternally blue-collar, and my print-rich upbringing didn’t come with a side-order of elitism.

    Books only existed for entertainment, escape & pleasure.

    It wasn’t until I hit junior high (and a required reading of A Separate Peace) that I learned to feel shame about some of the books I read/loved. And it bristled. I trudged through years of AP classes seething. Sure, I enjoyed the classics. My love affair with the page is deep and abiding. But every time a beloved teacher denigrated “popular” novels, I mentally deducted points.

    I love the concept of “appeals” so hard. It speaks to my egalitarian reader-writer soul.

    What appeals to me? Emotionally intense, gritty, steamy, lyrical, character driven, damaged people…I like books that gut-punch, break my heart and put it back together again.

    • Shelley says:

      Shari, I think you are dead-on when you mention class. It’s definitely a class issue, and when you mention shame, I get this awful sinking feeling in my gut, because it’s true. The whole idea of “guilty pleasures” means people have been taught to be ashamed of what they like to read. Which is horrifying, for someone who wants to encourage literacy.

      • Shari Slade says:

        I find it very interesting that in encouraging early literacy, quantity trumps quality. We tell parents to read their children everything from Goodnight Moon to the cereal box. But somewhere along the way the scale tips to “quality” and a legion of maybe-would-be readers are alienated by what they perceive as inaccessible, high-fiber-low-sugar, “I’ll never understand this” literature. I hate the idea of books being treated like vegetables. Something picky-eaters must hold their nose to choke down. Or even WORSE, books being treated like sacred artifacts only the initiated may touch.

        The act of reading is good. For me, that is the only rule.

  10. Cara Bristol says:

    Well said. I noticed that sometimes it isn’t just a book that gets criticized, but also the readers who liked it. I’ve seen some reviewers who disliked a book take to task readers who enjoyed it. There are many reason for liking a book and no one person’s reason is any more valid than another’s.

    • Shelley says:

      Ooh, yes on the criticism of readers in addition to the book. “I just don’t see how anyone could like this” comes up. Or even if it’s not explicitly stated, the implied criticism of readers when we feel compelled to explain that *we* don’t read *those* books.

      It’s tough, because I do think that books reflect and shape cultural values, so that means that sometimes books that are popular espouse values that I find disturbing. I think there’s a way to look at broad trends and individual books, though, without attacking readers– or even writers. And it may just be a matter of different roles. The academic and cultural critic has one role, the reader’s advisory librarian has another, and the two are both important.

  11. Good post!
    About half my reading is romance and half is SF/Fantasy and I get so tired of the readers of one genre looking down on the other genre and vice versa. Especially since both sides objections to the other seem to be based on out-dated information. Romances are no longer only “bodice rippers” and SF is no longer only “rocket ships”.

    • Shelley says:

      Good observation on the cross-genre snootiness. I think people often have one bad experience and dismiss an entire genre (and its readers). So unfortunate, because they’re missing out on so many great books!

  12. Jackie Horne says:


    Thanks for sharing a librarian’s perspective on “learning to read” and advising patrons. I completely agree that there is a class issue at play in the denigration of genre literature such as romance, especially by college-educated book people. Reading the “hard” books gives college-educated book-lovers cultural capital; the value of that cultural capital increases when we insist that genre literature, in comparison to what WE read, is bad. I love that you are calling attention to the class aspects of reading, and readers’ choices.

    I completely agree that different types of literature can be good, in different ways. The pleasures I get from reading HARRY POTTER are different from those I get from reading MIDDLEMARCH; the joy I get from reading nonfiction about changing ideas about sex and sexuality during the 17th and 18th centuries is vastly different from the joy I get from reading a Ruthie Knox romance. Not better, just different.

    But I’m not sure I believe your professors’ readers’ advisory guideline that states there is “no such thing as bad writing.” Denigrating an entire genre by labeling it as “badly written” is surely misguided, but individual books, within any genre, can be badly written or well-written. When I worked as a literature professor, I tried to point my students in the direction of well-written books in whatever category or genre they enjoyed. Can we make the argument against genre denigration, while still upholding some standards (genre-based, of course) of what constitutes good writing?

    Unfortunately, because genre literature such as romance is typically produced for the mass market, as a good to be consumed as quickly as possible so another good can be bought as quickly as possible thereafter, writing quality is often not upheld as a goal in its production. As a result, there is a LOT of bad writing in romance: bad stylistically, bad character-development-wise, bad plot-structure-wise, bad grammatically and bad in outright incorrect word choice & usage. Shouldn’t we try to steer readers away from badly written books, no matter what their genre? If, while we do so, we make sure to pay due attention to ways that class often shapes are views of what constitutes “good” and “bad” writing?

    If someone says they like 50 SHADES, can you as a librarian suggest better-written books that still hold the same appeal? Or would you argue that for many readers, part of the appeal lies in the poor quality of the writing?

    • Shelley says:

      Hi Jackie! I’m a huge fan of your blog. Thanks for commenting– you actually summed up the opposition to the point of view I presented in this post really thoroughly, and what you’re saying is definitely part of the debate about where we should go in the library profession.

      The short answer, and the one I said in a similar discussion with an editor on Twitter, is that I think there is room for both kinds of thinking by people who serve in different roles. So, English teachers and editors, for example, need to be concerned with matters of structure and craft. A librarian’s role, though, is different and unique. We’re educators, but not English teachers. We don’t grade our patrons; instead, we try to meet the needs they express to us. That means that if someone tells me they loved 50 Shades, I try to listen for the appeal and match them to other books with similar appeals. Writing style may be part of that appeal, or it may not.

      When I was first presented with this kind of thinking, my first thought was yours: Of course there’s such a thing as good writing, and of course there’s bad writing. I’ve read bad writing, writing where the craft, rather than supporting the storytelling, interferes with it.

      But that brings me to the long answer to your question, which isn’t so much an answer, but a series of other questions, and I don’t know the answer to any of them.

      Why do we have language rules and conventions? Is it so that language can efficiently and effectively convey meaning? And if so, then as long as meaning is conveyed without too much struggle on the reader’s part, is writing doing its job? I suppose the question really is, what *is* “good” writing, and why is it “good?” And, more importantly, who do those distinctions serve or privilege? And what are we telling readers when we tell them that something they enjoyed is “bad,” or at least, not “good?”

      And, of course, this applies primarily to librarians, not scholars, because we have a different kind of relationship with readers and literature and literacy in general. I present this way of thinking not because I think everyone should immediately drop out of their English graduate programs, but because I think it’s interesting and important for all of us who work with books and reading to think from each others’ perspectives now and then.

      • Jackie Horne says:

        Thanks, Shelley, for responding to my comments. I love your list of questions about the purpose of language. I think that there are several different answers, some that support your view, and some that support mine. One purpose is definitely class-based; language serves as a way to distinguish the educated from the less educated. In this regard, the good vs. bad writing debate can serve as a cover for classism, for discriminating against those who speak/write a different language than we do.

        But good writing should also, as you note, efficiently and effectively convey meaning. And stylistically bad writing does this less effectively than good writing, I believe. I stumble when reading books where the word choices are not quite right, where the grammar is off. Some are pet peeve stumbles, things about language that are currently in flux that I have to live with (I really hate the usage of “relatable” that has infiltrated writing in the past five years, because it is a usage that wasn’t accepted when I learned to write, but I realize that that is a generational difference that isn’t worth arguing over). Others are minor stumbles; a comma splice makes me wish the writer knew better how to subordinate and coordinate clauses, but I keep reading, knowing that the usage is not really interfering with my understanding. But some are major, large enough to jerk me right out of a story because they are just so wrong according to the rules I learned.

        Sometimes I wonder if I stumble only because I’ve been taught, and have internalized, the conventions of good writing, especially when someone I know praises a book that I find poorly written. Did they not notice the bad writing? Or were other aspects of the book so appealing that they were not bothered by the bad writing the way I was? Or are their rules about what constitutes “bad writing” just so very different from my own?

        I also think readers can find pleasure in the sheer joy of words, when an author is truly skilled in crafting prose. I know I certainly do. And you lose this pleasure with badly written books. Again, though, is this a learned skill? Or is joy in the musicality of language something everyone appreciates on an instinctive level?

        Lots to ponder…

        One question for you: you write that as a librarian, you consider yourself an “educator.” How do you educate your patrons?

        • Shelley says:

          “Sometimes I wonder if I stumble only because I’ve been taught, and have internalized, the conventions of good writing, especially when someone I know praises a book that I find poorly written. “– I wonder this, too, and I think this may be part of it, anyway.

          I call myself an educator, but I think maybe a more accurate term would be “advocate for literacy/ies.” I am a children’s librarian, officially, but the realities of that job mean that I serve a whole spectrum of patrons, from birth to senior citizens. Most of my advocacy when I’m wearing my children’s librarian hat involves teaching the importance and value of early literacy as well as nurturing relationships between kids and books. I lead workshops for teachers and parents, but I also model literacy-encouraging behaviors during storytimes, for instance.

          With adults and older kids, a lot of what I do is encouraging information literacy. Every reference interview is a chance to help a patron, no matter what their age, evaluate information quality.

          But when it comes to the humanities, or lifelong learning, I find that fostering relationships is really at the heart of what I do. Both interpersonal relationships– mine with my patrons, my patrons’ relationships with each other, and all of ours within the broader community– and relationships with art and learning. So much of what I do involves facilitating: a patron wants to teach other people how to knit, so I give her our space and advertise the program; or a theater company wants to lead a workshop for teens, so I find the teens who are the best fit. Or a reader wants to find their next favorite book, so I work with them to discover what that might be.

  13. Liz Mc2 says:

    This is a great conversation and I mostly agree with everything you say. I certainly want librarians to embrace this attitude. It took me ages to give up my shame about enjoying certain kinds of books, and part of that was learning to recognize their value, even if it is sometimes–not always–different from what I value in other books I was reading, and other kinds of reading I was doing.

    But. I am uncomfortable with the way “school” gets framed in these discussions. While I agree that no language is “better” than another, we still need to master certain kinds of language to be accepted or successful in certain contexts, like the workplace (whether that is mainstream “correct” grammar or professional jargon). In the same way, reading in school is a particular kind of reading with particular aims. Those change as we go from kindergarten to high school and beyond. And teachers select books that help them reach those various aims.

    I realize that there are (a lot of) teachers who denigrate certain kinds of books and make their readers feel bad, and who don’t enable students to discover different kinds of pleasure in reading (like, instead of helping you see how cool a metaphor can be, how rich in meaning, why a writer would use that particular one, they ask you to find three metaphors in this poem), teachers who have the one right interpretation and make you feel like an idiot when you didn’t guess what it was. Fuck them; they’re doing it wrong and making the rest of us look bad.

    When I choose books for a syllabus, I am not saying, “this is all that’s worth reading,” I am saying “here are some books that are worth reading in this class which has these particular aims.” it’s no kind of comment on what should be read outside of class purposes. I try to be explicit about that. Like many of my colleagues, I include a much wider range of literature than was once studied in classrooms, because cultural studies has had a huge influence on my discipline. I hope that some of my students get pleasure from what we read, and from interpretation. I try to help them get excited about that. Because edification can be enjoyable, though it isn’t what I want from my reading all the time. It is, however, the purpose of school. I totally agree that shouldn’t come with a side-order of judging what people read in their spare time.

    • Shelley says:

      Thanks for commenting, Liz. As always, you’re thoughtful and well-spoken, and I agree– even when I’m the one who did the unfair framing!

      I find a lot of value in education, especially English education, but what I mean more than anything in this discussion is that RA thinking plays a *different* role. (And lord knows teachers at all levels get enough guff from everyone, and I certainly don’t want to add to that.)

      I work with a lot of patrons who have a very fraught relationship with the entire education system, for many reasons. Part of what makes me adamant that my role is different is because so many of the people I serve have so many complicated and often negative feelings about school. I absolutely do not blame teachers for this. I see, and work with, fabulous teachers every day who are working in incredibly tough circumstances. But so often the discussions I see about societal value, in the library profession and at large, frame the library’s value as its contribution to traditional education; I think we have value even removed from that role. That doesn’t mean that the education system isn’t also valuable.

  14. I read across all kinds of genres, so if I had to boil it down I would say: 3rd person, alternating POVs, humor, fast-paced for the cake and everything else (romance, mystery, steamy, thriller, suspense, action-packed, hair-raising) would be the icing.

  15. willaful says:

    What a fascinating exercise! I’m finding it quite difficult to avoid value judgements and describing in terms of what I *don’t* like. Let me see…

    witty, angsty, relatable, unexpected, plot-driven