Something that breaks my heart as a librarian is hearing people try and justify their reading habits or guilty pleasures to me. Phrases like "I don't really read, I just listen to audiobooks," or it's cousin "I don't really read, I just read graphic novels and manga" make me so sad. First off, audiobooks and graphic novels are reading. Full stop. I will stand on my librarian soap box all day and scream about this if I have to. As someone with ADHD, audiobooks are accessible in a way that print books just aren't. It's difficult to the point of being demoralizing when I sit down and try to read a print book. What kind of a librarian can't focus long enough read? Me. The answer is me. With audiobooks, I can barrel through books at twice the speed and keep up to date on the latest YA lit.
I've found that readers, both teen and adult, aren't just ashamed of how they read, but what they read. On more than one occasion, I've had people say something along the lines of "I know I'm not supposed to like [Insert Book Name Here.] Can you help me find it? I promise I read real books." Nine out of ten times, this comes from a teenage girl who is looking for Twilight or other similar mid-2000s vampire adjacent lit. Now, Twilight is certainly not without flaws. I could write an entire series of blog posts about content in or around Twilight that we can and should critique, but that's another conversation for another day. I'd highly recommend the video essay "Everyone Is Into Twilight Again" by Sarah Z if you want a well researched discussion of the series and fanbase. The backlash around Twilight in the mid-2000s was very "Ha! This thing is for teenage girls. Isn't that stupid?" and not "This book portrays a very real culture in a way that is both inaccurate and wildly irresponsible and disrespectful." The ghosts of the first Twilight backlash are still very present in our culture. We demonize books like Twilight which are primarily marketed towards teenage girls but don't have the same level of vitriol for books like Ready Player One or the Transformers films which are marketed more heavily towards a men and boys. If you like Ready Player One or the Transformers films, good on you. I'm not here to tell you what to read or watch, I'm not your dad. Though you should probably clean your room and drink some water, sport.
There are other conversations for other days to be had about when and how interact with pieces of media with irresponsible, troubling, or disrespectful content. With that there is, of course, not a catch-all answer that fits every situation. I guess this is a very roundabout way of saying, "No, librarians aren't going to judge you for reading Twilight," while also saying, "Yes, there are nuanced conversations to be had and critiques to pay attention to." It's also understandable if you don't want to read or watch a piece of media because of troubling, inaccurate, or offensive content. There are plenty of books or movies that I've personally chosen not to engage with for similar reasons. It's specifically the idea that people avoid partaking in media that's "for girls" or "for kids" that deeply bums me out. Teens will often admit they like series for younger kids or books heavily marketed towards teenage girls in the same way someone would admit they have a body buried in their back yard.
I'm a big fan of the band The Mountain Goats, and I think a lot about the song Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1. The lyrics to that song are particularly applicable to reading what you enjoy. The song goes:
Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive
Do every stupid thing to try to drive the dark away
Let people call you crazy for the choices that you make
Climb limits past the limits
Jump in front of trains all day And stay alive
Just stay alive Play with matches if you think you need to play with matchesSeek out the hidden places where the fire burns hot and bright
Find where the heat's unbearable and stay there if you have to
Don't hurt anybody on your way up to the light And stay alive
Just stay alive People might laugh at your tattoosWhen they do get new ones in completely garish huesI hide down in my corner because I like my corner
I am happy where the vermin play Make up magic spells
We wear them like protective shells
Land-mines on the battlefield
Find the one safe way
And stay alive
Just stay alive
Life is too short not to read the books you want to read, listen to the pop albums you want to listen to, or watch whatever cartoon you're supposedly too old for. (For the record, Bluey is a delight and I'd highly recommend it to anyone.) Feeling nostalgic for Captain Underpants? We've got plenty of copies in the Children's Department. Want to go down a rabbit hole and read Reddit threads detailing 15 year old drama from a fan base or hobby you aren't involved in? Go for it. Read silly books or watch movies you liked growing up. If I help you find a book, you don't have to justify why you're reading it. If you only listen to audiobooks, that's amazing. I'm just glad you're here. Think critically about what you read and read to enjoy yourself. I've included some of my favorite "guilty pleasure" reads and movies. (I've picked movies or books that I've sometimes felt the need to justify my enjoyment of. Being a guilty pleasure doesn't reflect the quality of the work, nor should you feel guilty for liking or disliking any of these titles.)
Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a vermin corner to play in.
-Margo Moore is a Teen Services Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.