Ugh — those are not really your all-time favorite books

If I have to hear one more person list the same five books as all-time favorites, I cannot be held accountable for how far my eyes roll or how loud my huff will be.

Seriously, “what are your favorite books?” is not a test, or it shouldn’t be. I hear so many people repeat the same obscure novels or cliched classics as their all-time favorite, absolutely loved, you-must-read books, and I think in doing so, they are keeping other people from reading.

I have a friend who said she wanted to read more, but she struggled to engage with the books people recommended her. Sometime after we had that conversation, she came across a romance she liked and devoured it in one day. And then she read a few more, and then she strayed from the genre but kept reading. One day at lunch, she was telling me about her latest find, and another friend at the table dismissively said: “I don’t understand how you read those books.” I had to bite my tongue and count to ten at least five times.

Some people say fiction like it’s a bad word and will look at you like you need therapy if you say you like fantasy, “at this age?” Yes. Yes, at this age. At every age. I try not to get mad. I feel lucky to love reading as much as I do, to read widely and enjoy it, shamelessly. More than shamelessly, proudly!

Read widely

I am a bookworm. I read a lot and have been doing so since I was a kid. As a kid, I read anything I could get my hands on and kept asking my mother for new books. I did have some favorite stories and series, but essentially whatever mum brought, I read.

When I say I read widely, I mean that I buy the classics I didn’t read in school and pick them up between novels and biographies.

When I say I read widely, I mean I’m 7 books deep in a 14-book fantasy series. I dive in and out of that universe between bestsellers and poetry books.

When I say I read widely, I mean the first book I read this year was a statistical study of literature, and the last book I read was Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library.

I read widely because I enjoy it, and I think it makes me more creative and it helps me see the world through different lenses.

The thing about reading classic novels

Some classics aren’t really enjoyable outside of the classroom. In class, we used to analyze and see how the book spoke of the events of the time, or against them. We analyzed how it related to the author’s own story and how it compared to other authors of the time. When you read classics in your free time, you can analyze them as little or as much as you want. More often than not, I find that I read them as a novel, like any other novel. And sometimes, stripped of their historical significance, they are not enjoyable. To be clear, I’m not saying that you can’t understand why it got to be a classic, or appreciate different elements of those stories. I’m merely suggesting they might not be universally enjoyable.

If you want to read to improve your vocabulary or your knowledge about certain periods or people, that’s great. But reading can also be a way to travel, and get lost in a story like when you were a child. It can be something that you do simply to enjoy it.

This idea that, as adults, there are certain types of books we are supposed to like or talk about… it’s snobbish. And if it was just that, then I could roll my eyes and ignore it. But the problem is, it has other people thinking that if they don’t like Animal Farm or the latest hyped-up biography, they don’t like reading. Today’s library is infinite. I assure you that if you want to read, there’s a book out there you’ll like, there are thousands.

Humans love stories. If you love Netflix, you can love to read. You just have to find the sort of writing and story that clicks, and I hope that when you do, you’re not surrounded by snobs who think it’s only acceptable to like one sort of book.

And while we are at it, I hope schools start to see this too. I hear kids saying they hate to read and it kills me. HOW? How when they love comics and movies and bedtime stories? And then you see the books they read in school, and it makes a little more sense. I’m not saying kill the classics, I’m saying mix it up. If we were all taught to read widely in school, there’d be a much bigger chance of each of us finding what we like to read. A bigger chance of us seeing books for what they can be: doors.

I’m not saying everyone has to love to read, maybe you genuinely don’t. But I have this feeling I can’t shake that a lot more people would enjoy reading if they’d been encouraged to find stories they cared about, stories they could relate to, laugh at, or marvel at. I can’t do scary novels, I get too anxious with thrillers, and slow-burn detective novels are not my thing. I love fantasy novels because the authors create entire worlds, languages, laws, cultures, and landscapes. I find them fascinating exercises of the imagination. I love novels about the children of immigrants because I find we have a lot to learn about each other through cultural clashes. I find there’s something in those stories that resonates with my pidgin mind. And yes, there are some classics I have read many times.

Can you recommend 5 must-read books?

I hate when people ask me this question, even though I click on every article with this title — human beings can be contradictory like that.

When I say I read a lot, people often ask for recommendations, but it’s hard to recommend books to somebody you don’t know. The best booksellers I’ve talked to ask a lot of questions. Can you name a couple of books you liked? What did you like about it? Do you like fast-paced narratives or do you enjoy a slow burn? At the end of the day, like everything in life, you have to try different ones before you find what you like. In Spanish, we say “Sobre gustos, no hay nada escrito” which roughly translates to “when it comes to taste, nothing is written.” You are free to like what you like.

So… if your all-time favorite books genuinely include the 5 classics taught in every school, then ignore this piece, it’s not for you. However… if you say you love 1984, but secretly read Stephen King; or if you say you love Sense and Sensibility, but are secretly counting the days till Christina Lauren’s latest rom-com hits the shelves; or if you still believe you hate to read, well then… I’ll just say this: there are infinite stories out there, and chances are you’ll like more than a few of them if you dare.

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Agnes

Agnes

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Slow runner, fast walker. I have dreamed in different languages. I read a lot. Yes, my curls are real.