Why Are Readers So Judgemental?!

Gatekeeping in the Reading Community: An Angsty Essay

Before you say anything, yes, I am a reader. I love books and all things book-related. However, there seems to be this pervasive judgement that is rife within the world of books. It’s not everybody. In fact, it seems to be the loud minority, rather than the majority. However, it is there, and it is palpable. This will be a blog post of two halves, because this is a problem of two halves. The external: readers having an issue with non-readers. And, the internal: readers having an issue with certain genres, platforms, or types of books.

Gatekeeping Reading

Take this quote, for example, from actress Emilia Clarke, “My father always told me: ‘Never trust anyone whose TV is bigger than their bookshelf.’”

On the face of it, you might think it’s fairly innocuous. Essentially, to paraphrase, Emilia is stating that reading is a considerable part of her life, as you would assume for somebody who portrays characters for a living. However, the quote goes deeper than that. It states, outright, that people who do not have a large bookshelf (or at least one that is bigger than their TV) cannot be trusted. I too have been one of those people who shares quotes about how books are an integral part of my life. I may well have even shared this quote before, as I live and breathe books. But I know that this isn’t the case for others. There is a general air of superiority on the part of readers (I am guilty of this too) where they appear to judge those who are not readers, as though not reading is a character flaw that should be rectified. But why is that? Why does it upset readers so much to find out that others don’t enjoy reading? I believe the answer to that is fairly simple, on the surface of it. Essentially, as a reader, we love books so much that we can’t possibly imagine anybody not feeling the same way. Take the quote by JK Rowling, “If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.”

What if somebody just doesn’t like reading?

As a reader, it can feel impossible to even consider that a person just doesn’t like reading. But consider this… I know that I don’t like running marathons. It’s not that I haven’t found the right marathon, or the right trainers, or anything else. It’s simply that I don’t like running. Or, there may be somebody who just doesn’t like dogs, and therefore doesn’t want to own one. It’s not that they haven’t found the right dog for them, it’s just that they don’t want to own a dog. Simple.

There’s this misconception that people who read are the most intelligent, that they’re the most cultured or knowledgeable.

This, in my opinion, can be traced back to the fact that only certain people were taught to read and write in our history – similar to the misconception that having a university education means that you are automatically deemed to be ‘smart’ etc. Some of the smartest people in my life don’t like to read. They didn’t graduate university. I love to read, and I have a first-class BA degree and a MA (with distinction). Why does this signify that I’m ‘smarter’ than another person? Spoiler: it doesn’t.

If a person doesn’t want to read, they don’t want to read.

If they happen to pick up a book and find that they like reading, that it enhances their life in some way, that’s awesome. If not, that’s awesome too. We all have to find the things we love to do, and do these things as much as we can. For me, that’s reading, it’s watching scary films, working out, spending time with family and friends, going on holidays, and writing. For somebody else, it might be running marathons, playing video games, or listening to podcasts. Reading is just one part of my life, just as playing video games might be just one part of yours.

I’ve recently come to the realisation that reading is a significant part of who I am, it’s part of my personality, it’s something that both my career and my life are based around. And that’s my choice.

Reading is not ALL of me, but it is important to me. This doesn’t make me any more academic, any more intelligent, any more cultured than another person. It just means that I like books. I have, in the past, tried to push other people towards reading more books. My poor partner, Danny, has borne the brunt of this. And then I started to think, what if somebody tried to push me into doing something, telling me that it would make me smarter, make my life more fun, etc etc, but I knew that it wasn’t for me. I’d be annoyed as hell. I’d want that person to take my word for it, that I knew what was best for me, and that I was going to continue doing what was best for me, despite what they said.

So, while I might not be able to imagine my life without books, that’s just fine. My life is my life, just as your life is your life.

If you don’t like reading, that’s neither here nor there. As long as you have something in your life that you love, that enhances your life, and maybe teaches you a thing or two along the way, that’s fucking awesome! Go for it!

Gatekeeping Within the Reading Community

Not only is there a judgement of non-readers from within the reading community (AGAIN, IT IS NOT EVERYONE, SO DON’T COME FOR ME) but there’s also a judgement of the type of content readers consume.

When I was researching for this blog post, I came across a great blog post written on the website Books Are Our Superpowers [Blog Post] which had the sub-heading, please let readers read what they want. I want this to be our main take away from this blog post, but let’s make it a little wider: please let people do what they want, whether that’s reading-related or otherwise, you do what makes you happy, end of. There’s this unspoken hierarchy within reading circles, that I vehemently disagree with. In a nutshell, it says that ‘classic literature’ is at the top of the hierarchy, this is what ‘serious readers’ read. And that smut, or erotica, is at the bottom of the list because it’s well, not as ‘meaningful’ or ‘distinguished’. So, not only are non-readers judged for not reading, but there’s also a hierarchy of ‘appropriate’ books for them to read, if they choose to start reading.

I went through a phase of only reading classics because I thought that was what I was supposed to do.

Back in my late teen years, a decade ago (if you must know), I decided that I had to read the classics in order to become a proper, serious reader. Do you know what I found out? That the majority of the ‘classics’ suck, in my opinion, of course. If you genuinely love reading classics, then that’s awesome for you, but they’re not for me. Out of the many that I read, there were maybe three that I actually enjoyed: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. That was it. Around this time, I began to fall out of love with reading. It felt like a chore that I had to complete, rather than something I wanted to do. So, do you know what I did? I started reading the books that I wanted to read; whether that be young adult fiction, sci-fi, horror, romance or whatever else. I fell back in love with reading. Over the years, I have dabbled with reading classics a few times but I’ve always found myself desperate to go back to reading something that grabs my attention, a good thriller, perhaps. Also, on a similar note, who decides what is classified as a classic or not? Does just the age of the book make it a classic, or is there something more?

Not only is there gatekeeping around the genres of books that are the most superior, but there’s also gatekeeping around the format of the content.

You hear it all of the time: audiobooks don’t count, graphic novels, comic books and manga don’t count, eBooks aren’t as good as paperbacks (I was guilty of this one until recently!), you shouldn’t read young adult books if you’re an adult. The list goes on and on. It is reductionist to think that the only correct books to read are the ones you hold in your hand. What if a person has limited sight and prefers to listen to the book? Or, god-forbid, THEY ENJOY LISTENING TO AUDIOBOOKS. They’ve still consumed the exact same content as you, just in a different format. How does that make a difference?


I think part of the problem is that society tells us we need to be a certain way, and it can be easy to get caught up in what we think we should be doing, rather than doing what makes us happy.

I am a huge believer in the phrase ‘you do you’. If that is reading, awesome. If it’s running marathons, well, rather you than me, but if that makes you happy, that’s amazing too! We, myself included, seem to spend a lot of time looking at what the people around us are doing. What are the influencers on social media doing? What are our friends, family, co-workers doing? Rather than looking at ourselves. What do we want to be doing? Maybe, for you, that is reading classic books. Maybe it’s reading erotica, or exclusively vampire novels, or manga.

Not to make this whole thing about me, but I’m going to anyway, I’ve been reflecting on myself, on who I want to be and how I want others to see me, which is what inspired this blog post.

This is what I think… It’s easy to judge others. It’s easy to make assumptions. It’s easy to pretend to be something we’re not, especially on social media. By taking a step back and focusing on ourselves, rather than what other people are doing, we’ll be happier because we can be authentic. Let others do what makes them happy, and focus on doing what makes you happy. That’s what I’m going to do, moving forward. Rant over, thanks for listening to my Ted Talk!

2 thoughts on “Why Are Readers So Judgemental?!

  1. I love your post so much! It’s true that we’re often told how we need to be. Like you say, reading is wonderful when you enjoy it, but not everyone will like it and they don’t have to. The world would be so much better if there were less judgement in it.

    Liked by 1 person

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