Today I’d like to talk about a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: What does it mean to be a “relevant” reader?
Recently I watched a video by Ariel Bissett in which she talks about the pressure in the online book community to read certain books as soon as possible to be “relevant.” She emphasizes this stress particularly in the YA genre with popular new releases at the time such as When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Ariel discusses how before joining Booktube she didn’t have this large awareness of what was recently released, current trends and topics in specific genres, book “hype, etc. While this can certainly be an advantage of being immersed in this bookish community, it also comes at a price: feeling like a bad person or that you can’t be a proper reader unless you read the books that “everyone” is currently talking about.
Ariel emphasizes that this need to be relevant is ridiculous. As she points out, the books that are deemed “relevant” are not always the books we’re most interested in reading. Her solution is to try to not give into this competitive feeling of needing to be relevant– yet she acknowledges that this is a really difficult thing to do. How do you participate in a community that focuses on reading competitively when that isn’t what you initially signed up for? (Metaphorically speaking, of course– there aren’t any sign-up sheets to be found here…)
Shortly after watching this video I read a great blog post by Hannah @ Mortal Reader in which she discusses feeling lost in the book community when she tries to keep up with all the constant cycle of new releases being published. She explains that she often finds herself picking books to read based on what she thinks the people who read her blog will be interested in rather than simply picking up whatever book she herself would like to read in that moment. Here is yet another manifestation of the pressure many of us feel to be relevant readers when we blog, make videos, and create other bookish content online.
I’m certainly guilty of feeding into this competitive edge of reading as well. For instance, I definitely felt pressure to read John Green’s most recent novel Turtles All the Way Down as soon as possible once it was released so I could write about it. I also really relate to something that Ariel discusses in her video: the problem of viewing rereading as not making progress towards our reading goals. I LOVE rereading books and feel no shame at all when I reread old favorites… but why is this attitude the exception rather than the rule? Why does stigma exist? Why does rereading often make people feel as though they’re not staying “relevant”?
My way to deal with this notion of “relevant” and “competitive” reading is to try my best to ignore it. You may have noticed that I love reading classics and old books, which are mainly what I talk about on this blog. Are people dying to hear my thoughts on William Faulkner or Willa Cather? Probably not. But those are the kinds of books that I love to read, so why would I read anything else? Personally, reading what I enjoy is more important to me than “staying relevant”– whatever that means.
What are your thoughts on “relevant” and “competitive” reading? Do you feel this pressure to read certain books in the online bookish community? What can we do about this? Let me know in the comments section below!