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Read Whatever You Like. Just Read

E-books have come in for some criticism lately. Jonathan Franzen, apparently one of America’s greatest novelists, thinks they have no permanence, and worries that they are “not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government“. Antonia Senior, writing in the Guardian, sneers at “genre fiction” such as horror, romance and science fiction.

I don’t understand the snobbery around books. I’ve read before that e-books give people more freedom to read what they want to read, and that freedom has led to more sales of genres like erotica, because when you read on an electronic device, no-one can tell what you’re reading. My wife tells me that she once saw the Children’s Laureate giving advice to a parent who was worried that their child didn’t read. He told her to let the child read anything they wanted. Comics, magazines, books, whatever. The thinking was that it was far better for the child to read a comic and enjoy it than struggle through The Lord of the Flies and hate it.

I agree with the above advice. Recently, I’ve read non-fiction titles about Operation Grief (a German WWII false-flag operation) and Lady Thatcher’s thoughts on the Falklands Conflict. I’ve also read fictional accounts of a third world war in Europe and the recovery of treasure from a sunk German WWII submarine.

Ms Senior says that “It’s not future classics that push digital sales, but more downmarket fare“, and I’ll freely admit that the two fiction titles mentioned above are very unlikely to be future classics, but so what? They were entertaining, and the more you read, whatever your choice of subject matter, the more you learn. When I was 10 years old, my class took a reading age test. One of the questions was about merchant ships. My friend didn’t know what a merchant ship was, but I did. I’d learned the term from reading Commando, Victor and Warlord comics. Reading those comics helped me achieve a reading age of 16 when I was 10 years old.

I’m pleased that people now feel that they can read what they like, without fear of strangers on the bus or train judging them. Far better that people read “downmarket genre fiction” than nothing, and let’s be clear – if people aren’t allowed to read what they enjoy, they won’t read. They’ll find some other form of entertainment. I’ve learned all sorts of odd things from reading fiction, but most of all, I’ve improved my ability to read and write.

Image credit: Fahrenheit 451 e-book on the Kindle by unten44, on Flickr.

Published inCurrent EventsOpinion


  1. Absolutely, Russell. This is probably just the latest version of an ancient cavil “All those people out there are reading books they shouldn’t like”. Which deconstructs to “My tastes are superior”.

    • Absolutely. Everyone is different. I really don’t understand why anyone cares what other people read.

  2. 10 years ago, I got married, had a baby, switched careers and launched a tech company, along with a host of other activities that escape me now. Follow all that up with a new career that kept me glued to a computer screen for 8-12 hours a day and you get a former lover of books who hadn’t picked up anything that resembled pleasure reading in a decade.

    Enter the gift of a Nook awhile back and I am once again a voracious reader. I don’t think I’m alone. I’m convinced there are many people like me who only know how to read from an electronic screen anymore, and love the portability of throwing their personal library in a purse.

    I totally get what people are saying when they lament the loss of the art and feel of real books. I’ve pondered that question myself at length. At the end of the day, however, I am firmly in the camp that believes ebooks are here to stay and will only gain wider acceptance as more people adopt personal computing through mobile devices.

    Our whole culture is going downmarket. Get over it, people. If you want to sell books (and believe me, I am squarely in the middle of most authors’ demographic), embrace ebooks and look to the museums and auction houses to get your “real book” fix.

    • I also lost the habit of reading for some time. I made a promise to myself that I would read more shortly before I bought my Kindle. I do read more now, but I can’t honestly say whether or not the Kindle is part of the reason.

      I just started a paper book. I rarely read paper books now, because I find my Kindle more convenient, but this particular book was given to me, and isn’t available as an e-book.

  3. […] Having more people able to read confidently is a good thing, and I’ve written before that I don’t care what people read. I’d like to think that some of the people who take part in this challenge will go on to find […]

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