Word count: 5800
The other day I was standing behind the bar at work, polishing glasses, and a co-worker asked me the simple question, “Have you read anything good lately?”
I felt my mind race as I tried to think of what I had read in the previous few weeks, and came up with nothing. I said the same thing that I had said the last time: “I’ve been reading mainly trashy stuff!” followed by a nervous laugh. He proceeded to talk about Neil Gaiman books he’d read, and I talked about the stuff that I was planning on reading – the Illiad, Robinson Crusoe, books that somehow didn’t carry the same sense of shame as Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I found myself frustrated – why did I feel that certain books were more shameful to read than others?
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is an amazing book that explores key moral issues of assisted suicide and how far someone can have a say about their life – Will feels that his life is pointless and not worth living compared to the life he lived before his accident, despite everyone’s best attempts to convince him otherwise. Moyes also explores the issue of teenage pregnancy and it’s long lasting effects through Lou’s sister Treena, and class divides through the comparison of the Clarks and the Traynors. Despite this, I still felt ashamed to say that I had been reading it.
There is one clear reason why this is: the audience. Me Before You is marketed as a romantic novel, and the film that is being made of it – which has gained the book a lot of publicity – is also marketed as such. Romance is a typically female genre, resulting in the books of the genre being viewed, at least by myself, as lesser somehow.
It is the same, to an extent, with books that are marketed as “young adult”. A lot of young adult books that are being published at the moment have key themes relating to the problems within society – extreme class divisions in the Hunger Games, potential issues of our scientific advances within Divergent, issues presented in both examples of the power of government and censorship. But because they are books with primarily a young audience, they cannot be as good as “proper” adult books.
This issue can extend pass the audience of the books. There are some people that seem to believe that unless a book is a “classic”, it is not worth reading. The fault here, I believe, lies with the examination boards that set the same texts over and over again to analyse for GCSE and A Level: To Kill a Mockingbird, Dickens, Austen, A Clockwork Orange, Shakespeare, etc. It makes it seem that these are the only texts that are worth anything. This is one of the things that makes me glad that I did the International Baccalaureate – the set texts list is so much longer, giving the teachers so much more choice. We even analysed a graphic novel – Maus by Art Spiegelman – as part of our course. Open-mindedness is so important in literature, where greats are constantly being produced. We need to be taught to give every book an equal chance.
That is why, from now on, if someone asks me what book I am reading, I will respond with 100% honesty. There will be no stock “trash” answer, no awkward laugh and avoiding the question, because there is beauty and intrigue to be found in every book.