Are We Not Reading the Same Books?

Photo on 2014-03-05 at 9.39 AMI was bullied pretty badly as a kid. I’m sure nothing as serious as what a lot of other people out there have endured, but it was pretty consistent (boring, tedious). I never considered killing myself. I don’t think I ever felt completely hopeless. But I did spend a lot of time in quiet tears that I didn’t let anyone see. It was a stupid thing. One of those things that I considered my problem because asking for help was too hard and I didn’t want anyone else to feel sad because of it. And your friends (and teachers) teach you very quickly that it is your problem and that they’re not actually going to stand up for you or do anything about it. They’re just going to sit on the sidelines and be grateful that you’re the target and not them, and sometimes they’re going to give off a giggle because being cool with the cool kids is what life is really all about. Your square ass doesn’t stand a chance! Kind of stupid I guess but you quickly come to the conclusion that you’re alone on this one, and if you’re lucky, you grow the boobs to deal with it and move on, hopefully unscathed. 

Cut to after school and I found myself getting lost in the Harry Potter series. Now this was kind of strange for me because 1.) I stopped reading “kids” books when I was about 14 and moved on to trashy romance novels, Sidney Sheldon, Mary Higgins Clark, Virginia Andrews and a whole bunch of other “grown up” books and 2.) the only fantasy I could ever remember reading (at the time) was the Narnia Series – fantasy had never been “a thing” for me. Of course I fell into the Harry Potter books and my heart has lived there ever since, but I specifically remember thinking something silly while I was reading one of the books way back in those days….

I thought: I wonder if bullies read Harry Potter and think that Malfoy is cool?

Now that may seem completely stupid, but here’s the thing: There is not a single doubt in my mind that who I am has very much been shaped by the literature that has moved me. Of course, to my absolute shame, I have also fallen into the trap of mimicking the behaviour of my peers on occasion but I have found that the things I choose to spend my spare time on, whether it be music or movies or TV shows or books, those things which have me nodding along in agreement, have played a huge part in who I am and where my values lie. I’m not saying I have become everything I have read, but sometimes The Great Narrator has this amazing power to teach and I am so drawn to learning from what is being said. Because of this I cannot help but think that we who have fallen in love with the literary world are so privileged because we have these amazing teachers who grow us on a daily basis. You or I may not have a specific voice of wisdom in our daily lives who drives us forward, but as readers we have so many voices teaching us so many things and helping us to understand the human condition in such a way that we surely cannot help but become softer and stronger at the same time.

It is with this in mind that my understanding fails me. I feel like an enlightened being and I feel like being a reader has played possibly the biggest role in that enlightenment. And yet…. The community that I share my love of reading with seems to be breeding the most appalling group of bullies. I just do not understand. Yesterday a Facebook friend was upset because someone had a severe and nasty issue with the way she chooses to review her books. It sounds like writers are dictating how she should be writing the reviews of their books. And she seems like such a sweet girl who is only playing around with and sharing what she loves….and yet here in the sanctity of her reading world, the bullies are encroaching. The Guardian has reported today that Anne Rice has signed a petition against Amazon bullying. Anne Rice! For heaven’s sake the woman is a legend and even she is feeling the crushing nastiness of cyber bullying. A while ago a new author decided not to publish her book because of the bullying she received on Goodreads.

And like I said: I don’t understand!!!!!

Aren’t we supposed to be rooting for the good guys? We are supposed to BE the good guys!

I really just don’t understand…. Have we not learned how to be better from our adventures into different worlds? Have we not learned how to treat other people with respect and encouragement instead of scorn and hate? Have we not cried together at the perils of characters who have faced exactly what we are piling onto others with all this nastiness?

Come on folks! We’re the people who have fallen in love with John Green and his campaign against world suck. We are the ones who knew Katniss before she was Jennifer Lawrence. We are the ones who had read the fourth Harry Potter Book before the first movie came out. We are the ones who have camped outside of bookstores at midnight waiting for a new release and then reading all 700 pages in one sitting. We are the ones who cheered when Edmund grew a conscience and walked away from the White Queen. We are the ones who have been enchanted by The Night Circus. We know great people like Margaret Atwood and John Irving and we don’t only know their names but we know their souls. How can we not be better for that? We have lived in Sophie’s World and we have been inside of the mind of a child with Aspergers looking for answers to what happened to a dead dog and we have gotten ourselves lost in fairytale after fairytale after fairytale….

How has all this enchantment, this wonder, this human brilliance not made us better? I truly cannot understand. Because all of this is everything to me. All of this has fed my soul. It has given me hope. It has given me joy and given me grief and it has swelled my being to a point of bursting. And all of it, every single bit of it, has lead to better. I look around my personal library and feel true happiness because I know that inside of those pages is light waiting to be fed into my soul. Every story, every word, silently encourages me to do better and to be better. And I am only eager to listen.

So I don’t understand which books you are reading, because I have found that even the “bad” ones have been able to teach me about myself and propel me forward. Even on those few occasions where a book (usually a very famous book where I just don’t get it) has sent me off on a violent tangent, I have learned through my own rebellion where my values lie and which of my buttons are easiest to push. Today I hang my head in shame when I think of some of my nastier reviews (Fifty Shades of Grey!) as I struggle between letting things be and sticking up for what I believe to be right. It is always a push and pull. Trying to be better. Failing sometimes. And then trying again.

Books are such an invaluable gift. They make us better. Not better than others. They make us better than ourselves. And our better selves find great value in treating others fairly. Lifting instead of squashing. Being the hero and never the villain.

So what books are you reading that lead you to destroy a new writer just because you can? What books are you reading that make you feel it is okay to bully a young reviewer about her thoughts and feelings on a certain book or subject? What books are you reading that after all this time you cannot tell the difference between “terrible” and “not to my taste”?

Because the only explanation I can think of is that maybe we aren’t reading the same books… Or is it perhaps that these particular bullies are not reading any books at all?

5 thoughts on “Are We Not Reading the Same Books?

  1. I suppose that at least makes me feel better…. Just trolls… Who found the book world and in it a neverending pool of victims to harass…

  2. I’ve been in your shoes bully-wise. The non-violent bullying is the trickiest one. It’s like water dripping on a stone – even if you tell someone no one would believe it can actually harm the stone until you see the dent in it, and then it’s too late.
    That’s a great question: are we shaped by our literary experience or do certain aspects of it merely resonate with what’s already in us, magnifying it. Some will resonate with Potter, others with Malfoy. There are people in HP fandom that choose to be Slytherins with all the consequences, unfathomable, I know. It’s a mystery to me how people can pass the literary richness through them while reading and not get any personal improvement from it. How does one stay mean and shallow and bitter after you’ve experienced all that? Being curious by nature I think I will dig into this question for as long as I live. I had a friend who is a serious bookaholic, which made me open to her instinctively…and then I saw the bitter truth – she’s a mean gossiper. She reads about fictional people just like she sniffs out the dirty facts of the real ones. The only difference is that she can’t use the “facts” against fictional characters like she does with peeps. The smaller and more scared a dog is the more it barks.

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