Thoughts on Reader Prejudice

18 Jan

I have come to a sad conclusion these past few days and I feel as if I need to confess this to you, my readers.  Are you ready for it?

I have reader prejudice.

There, I said it, I admit it. I am a horrible person for judging reluctant readers.  Here are a few situations that I found myself in this past week or so:

I’m shelving the “GHI” books at the library (fiction books which have authors that last names begin with a G, H, or I) when a young woman comes up to me asking if I had the latest Chelsea Handler book on my cart.  If you know which books I am talking about, you would know that they are non-fiction, so they would definitely not be shelved anywhere near where I was.  The young woman looked about my age or younger, and had a 6 or 7 year old in tow, so I figured that she is a young mom (the girl called her mommy).  She also had quite a few visible tattoos (something of which I am ashamed to admit that I judge people on, even though I have three myself).  My first thought was, “Chelsea Handler’s books are probably the only ones she reads.  How ignorant.”  Seriously?  I told you it was confession time.  Then I shook off my inappropriate thoughts and went to do everything in my power to find that book for her.  When I did, she thanked me profusely.  She was so incredibly excited to read a novel containing the ever-wonderful wit and banter of Chelsea Handler.

Situation 2:

I’m shelving books in the YA section of my library when a girl asks me if we have a specific book in a series that she likes.  I had been watching the girl a little bit and noticed that this series was the only one she had looked at while her mom perused the nearby adult fiction section.  I did a little bit of searching and found out that we didn’t have the specific book she wanted and apologized.  I assumed (again, inappropriately) that she would just have her mom buy it for her and not really care and go convince her mom to let them leave.  But, I needed to do my job as a library employee and proceeded to tell her that she could request the book via interlibrary loan or fill out a form requesting that the library purchase the book that she wanted.  She asked a few further questions, thanked me, and proceeded to go find her mom.  The first words out of her mouth were, “Mom, can I borrow your card? I need to go request this book from another library.”  Wrong again, Amber.

Situation 3:

My brother tweeted the other day that he had recently read L.K. Madigan’s Flash Burnout and really enjoyed.  Figuring it was a requirement for school, I texted him mocking him about only reading when he had to.  Here is the rest of the conversation:

Zach: I read all the time lol

Me: You can’t be serious?

Zach: I am

Me: You better believe I’m going to send some recommendations your way.

And I did, thanks to my awesome Twitter/blogging buddies.

Now, what’s the point of all this banter?  I want you to know that reader prejudice is silly and inappropriate.  I don’t want you to get yourself in situations like I did, sounding (or having thoughts) like a fool.  One should never assume that a certain person is a reluctant reader.  One should never assume that, just because a person talks about Harry Potter all the time, that they have not read other series or books.  One should never assume that their very own brother, who spends an obscene amount of time playing Call of Duty, also does not spend a generous amount of time reading.

So, how about you guys?  Do you have reader prejudice?  What are some situations you have regretted getting yourself in?


Posted by on January 18, 2011 in discussion


10 responses to “Thoughts on Reader Prejudice

  1. Mrs. DeRaps

    January 18, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Well, I guess that it’s a good thing that you’ve recognized your prejudice. I am a teacher of students who are all at-risk of not graduating from high school. Reluctant readers abound. Rather than make assumptions as to why they’re not interested (or able) to read as well as other teens, I try my hardest to match them with books that will intrigue them and make them avid readers. I’m not always successful, but there are definite cases where this approach has worked.

    I guess it just makes me sad to think that readers are judged for their choice in material. You could see me at a local coffee shop reading literary criticism of Shakespeare’s works one day and then the latest Sarah Dessen the next. Or an Orca book. Or whatever.

    Perhaps one of the reasons why readers become reluctant in the first place is that they feel judged in their choices/ abilities.

    This is a great topic for those of us who are in positions of helping readers to find materials and a reason to read. Hopefully, we can be more present and less judgmental about their choices and their questions. After all, it really doesn’t matter what you read; just that you DO.

    Thanks for this. Sad but thought-provoking.

    • literarywife

      January 18, 2011 at 3:35 pm

      I completely agree with the fact that “it really doesn’t matter what you read; just that you DO.” That’s what I want my first thought to be, in the end. I appreciate your thoughts. I always find it interesting to hear from professionals about how to handle situations like these.

      • Mrs. DeRaps

        January 18, 2011 at 6:03 pm

        And, I’ve been thinking about this more…Which is the mark of a great topic.

        I think that we assume that literacy and being “literate” equals reading certain books or magazines or whatever, but really it’s completely situational and subjective. Before I became a teacher (and before I let go of the idea that I’d leave all sorts of Brit Lit lovers in my wake), I tended to judge those young (and old) folks who didn’t read. As I’ve become part of my local community where I teach, I see that there are all sorts of literacy.

        There are those fine young men and women who cannot sustain interest in a novel, but read auto manuals to fix my car. I am virtually illiterate when it comes to any sort of manual! And, there are those who read the Farmer’s Almanac and know exactly when and where and why they should plant certain crops, and I’m left scratching my head over a pile of weeds. (I’m learning and getting better.)

        I just think that we tend to view literacy as being defined by what interests or motivates or is applicable to us, when in reality there are all sorts of ways to be literate and well-versed about any number of subjects. And, it’s easy for me, with a master’s degree in literacy education to assume that one literacy is better than another. But, after having students who’ve successfully ventured into areas that are totally unfamiliar and uncomfortable to me (nursing, logging, metal fab, etc.) I appreciate that we all have interests and would like to read about our area of specialty. Mine just happens to be literacy. So I read lots of books.

        I love that you’re working in a library and have lots of opportunity to test your theories/ ideas/ assumptions about literacy. I worked in one during my ungrad and have always held a fantasy that one day I’d return. Maybe it’s not too late for a degree in library science?

        Thanks again for the discussion. I’ll be quiet now.

  2. April Books&Wine

    January 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    What a great post! You know, it’s hard to admit faults and prejudices, but the sooner we admit them, the sooner we can remedy them. I know I have the same thing, reader prejudice, and I do judge people for, idk, only ever reading Twilight. Then I realize, hey, at least they are reading and connecting with a book.

    • literarywife

      January 18, 2011 at 3:49 pm

      Thanks, April! It honestly felt like I was already fixing my problem just by writing up this post. And, working in a library, I know I will have plenty of chances to move away from the reader prejudice.

  3. clbeyer

    January 18, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    My greatest example of reader prejudice is of people who read “Christian fiction” or “inspirational fiction.” Though I read it ravenously in high school (I didn’t have much solid theology at the time), I since decided that it’s not real literature, except for maybe some books of Francine Rivers’. (I would have said that even if you hadn’t read _Redeeming Love_ recently. It started to seem like Christian fiction may be nothing more than a plug for a sweet Jesus message — important, yes, but with all the beauty of art cast to the side. When an English teacher friend of mine recommended Ted Dekker, I didn’t trust her judgment. Well, then my sister — my much-smarter-than-me sister — said just this week that she enjoyed Ted Dekker’s novel _Black_ as well. Huh. Have they gone mad? Umm… maybe it’s I who has gone mad and collided with a severe case of reader, or in my case, GENRE prejudice.

    Thanks for the good word, Amber.

    • literarywife

      January 20, 2011 at 2:12 pm

      I totally understand what you mean, Carrie! I feel as if I have genre prejudice sometimes as well. So glad that you are beginning to trust Christian fiction, and your wonderful sister.

  4. amanda

    January 19, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Friend, I must admit that I haven’t read your blog in a while and I did not know you were working at the library. That is so perfect for you! In response to your question, I would not say I have reader prejudice. However, I do have eater prejudice. It’s a condition that makes me judge people by observing what is in their shopping cart. Most of the time it is very sad to me, but what I really want to do is give them some advice and suggest putting back everything in their cart, exchanging crap for substantial healthy food.

    On another note, I just finished reading, “The Cry of the Poor, cracking white male supremacy.” It was written by a man that started Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia and is a part of the Catholic Worker. I feel like I’ve been learning a lot about poverty recently and really seeking what my life can contribute to creating a solution to this issue.

  5. Ginger @ GReads!

    January 20, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    I really try my hardest not to be prejudice against other readers because I feel like I am at the other end of it all the time. My family jokes around a lot saying the only thing I read is teenage vampires. Yes, I do read about them.. along with many other topics. I usually just laugh with them, but sometimes it irks me. Some of the stuff I’ve been reading has really tugged at my heart strings for personal reasons that only my family knows about. If they were readers, I would suggest the books to them – so they could experience it too. Unfortunately, they are not avid readers like me. And the few who do read, are stuck in Stephen King & John Grisham novels. Is that me being prejudice?! haha

    • literarywife

      January 20, 2011 at 2:11 pm

      That’s an interesting take on it, being on the other side. I wonder the same thing, what people think about the novels that I read. It’s so hard to try and recommend when you’re not sure how they will react.


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