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A Reader of Fictions: "Just a Book"

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Just a Book"

Yesterday, I came across several instances of "just a book," which really got me thinking and, admittedly, ranting. Referring to something as "just a book" is incredibly dismissive, something that I'm used to hearing from people who don't read, but that breaks my heart to hear from a bookworm like myself.


I'm going to paraphrase what I saw, just as examples. I don't want to call out anyone specific, but more to consider why these phrases put my on edge.
1: An author, asked about the next writing project: "Just another YA book."
2: A Goodreads user: "This is just a dystopia/science fiction, so there's no reason to look at it with a critical lens."
3: A Goodreads user in response to a somewhat negative status update: "It's just a book; I think you're taking it too seriously."

If you're spending all of this time reading and interacting with a community of readers, perhaps blogging, why do you feel the need to lessen the importance of books. Even if the book has little to no intellectual value, you're reading it for a reason. Emotional uplifting, like the happy buzz a romance novel might bring or the enjoyment of puzzling out a cozy mystery, alone is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, the whole "just a book" thing seems to relegate reading to the position of a guilty pleasure.

Though I admit that I do enjoy the phrase guilty pleasure, and do still sort of like to use it, I don't actually believe that you should feel any guilt about the books you choose to read. I might term something like Anna Godbersen's Luxe series a guilty pleasure of mine, but I'm not actually embarrassed to admit that I had a blast reading them. I've sort of switched to calling them candy or potato chip reads: they may not be your bookish sustenance, but you just can't stop eating them.


Don't feel guilt about what you're reading and don't feel like you need to put down your own hobby. Books are important, and, in most situations, there's no cause to say "oh, it's just a book." I mean, sure, I can think of a few scenarios I might say it, but they're going to be exceptions. For example: if I were crying about a book and called a friend who was crying because of a family crisis, and then asked why I was sad, I might mumble something about 'just a book.' Sure, relative to certain things, just a book has valid meaning. However, when talking to other bookish people about nothing but books, there seems little reason to put them or yourself down for putting a lot of meaning in books.

Referring again to those examples up above, I would like to respond to each one with why I think such comments are poisonous to the atmosphere of the book blogging/GR world.

Scenario 1: In this case, the comment comes across as denigrating YA, rather than books as a whole. Where the author could have replied enthusiastically with "Another YA book!" instead this person put down their own work and the age group that it serves, as though YA is somehow lesser. Perhaps this person has goals to eventually write literary fiction for adults, or maybe they merely failed to think through the connotation of their statement. My point is that a phrase like that is harmful, and may have negative connotations you should consider. And, if an author truly does think it's just another YA book, and that that's a bit shameful, then they should probably be writing for the audience they value. Again, I'm not trying to make a commentary on the specific author, because tone is hard to read over the internet, especially in such a brief context; I don't know the author's motivations or thought processes, and speak solely to how it reads to me.


Scenario 2: Here again, we see a comment that puts down a specific genre. Speculative fiction is just that, asking a 'what if?', so the authors can pretty much do what they want and shouldn't be criticized for a poor portrayal of the way something works in the real world. With this case, there was no mistaking tone or intent. Honestly, I'm very sad that anyone would feel this way. All fiction is a reflection on the world we live in, no matter how original or disparate it may appear. We know nothing but the real world, and, if you think about it broadly, authors can only write what they know. Yes, we have powerful imaginations, but the creations therefrom are still reflecting on something real that's been observed and portraying it differently or combining things into something new, like someone looked at a horse, added bird wings, and imagined the pegasus. Any sort of fiction merits analysis, I think, and if you think so little of the genre you're reading that it shouldn't be held to a set of standards, then why are you reading it? Sure, there are books that go better for me if I can sort of 'turn my brain off' as it were, suspending my disbelief, but I would never make such comments about a genre as a whole. I believe that there are brilliant novels in every genre, even romance and erotica, which I cite not to personally insult them, but because they are oft-picked-on as being mindless entertainment/guilty pleasures. Just because something is entertaining or because it's set in a fantasy world doesn't mean it is without literary merit or that it should not be criticized for poorly interpreting our world. We readers can read however we want. That's our prerogative and we're not doing anything wrong.

Scenario 3: My problems with this one are myriad. Like the others, it's dismissive, and here it's insulting books as a whole. Like with the second scenario I witnessed, we have this idea that books should not be analyzed too closely. Of course, the context here was a status update commenting about how a certain phrase was offensive and made the reader uncomfortable. What are the odds that the "just a book" person would have felt moved to make the comment about the reader taking the book "too seriously" had it been an effusive status update declaring some quote from the book to be the best ever? Pretty much nil.


This attitude is pretty pervasive with regards to negative reviews and status updates. When book reviewers write these, we're accused of taking the book "too seriously," of not remember that it's fiction or "just a book." We're told we've read wrong, being too critical, too nit-picky, expecting too much from some words on a paper. Yet, when we praise a book to the skies, including quotes that made us want to be best friends with the character/author, where are the dismissive hordes, saying that we've taken the book "too seriously"? Now, believe me, I'm not suggesting trolls should hop onto positive reviews right now, but that people look at this from another angle to recognize the hypocrisy. Putting down personal opinions and reactions to a negative book devalues book reviewing as whole; such comments beg questions of which these individuals seem altogether unaware.

I don't know how it is for everyone else, but for me BOOKS MATTER. I'm not remotely ashamed that I read 367 books last year, and that I've read over 120 so far this year. To me, that time is well spent, even with the books I hated or the ones I was bored by. Sure, I might wish I'd read something else, but I'm glad that time was spent reading. I'm not embarrassed that I spend most of my day with my mind on fiction, whether reading, reviewing, twittering, GRing, or doing something else entirely while thinking about books.


Though, unlike some, I can't necessarily cite a specific book that had a monumental impact on my life, changed me as a person, I do think every single book I read plays into making me a better person. Looking at them critically, figuring out what I love and hate in characters and writing helps me decide what kind of person I want to be and techniques I might want to avoid or employ in my own writing. Even from the most facile novel, there are lessons to be learned, even if they're not factual. Books inspire me, they uplift me, they give me hope, they teach me, they thrill me, and they get me out of my own brain to see what life might be like from someone else's perspective, helping me with empathy, something I'm not good at by nature. Even if I can't point to a single book and say "That book made me who I am today," I can say that about the thousands of books I've read to date.

It's not "just a book" to me and it never will be.

*What do you guys think? Have you seen this phrase around? How do you feel about it? Can you point to a specific book that changed your life?*

Labels:

42 Comments:

Blogger Blook Girl said...

Wow. Just wow. Well said, friend. I am going to have to read this another time or two before I respond, but - I agree.

May 22, 2013 at 2:36 PM  
Blogger Ashley said...

Well said! I loathe when people say "it's just a book." Books are never just books to me. They've made me who I am and they've helped me disappear from some tough times.

May 22, 2013 at 2:48 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Thanks girl. :)

May 22, 2013 at 3:06 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Nope. Books are wonderful. Pretty much the only time I would talk like that is to someone who I know doesn't care, the same way they might know I dislike football and if I came up and asked what they were talking about, they might be like "just football." In that case, it's more of a cue that it's something that person isn't interested. Between book nerds, there's no need for it!

May 22, 2013 at 3:10 PM  
Blogger Lilian said...

If someone said that to me in my face I would be secretly thinking, "well, you are JUST a person. I guess it won't matter if I mentally hurl daggers at you."

May 22, 2013 at 3:13 PM  
Blogger Brandy said...

Yes. As always brilliantly and passionately stated and I agree with you 100%.

Especially this though:
" I'm not embarrassed that I spend most of my day with my mind on fiction, whether reading, reviewing, twittering, GRing, or doing something else entirely while thinking about books."

Because most people I know IRL act like I should be embarrassed by this. I don't let it bother me though. They have no idea what they're missing out on.

Thanks for the wonderful post, Christina!

May 22, 2013 at 3:39 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Good plan. I am awesome at mental dagger hurling. Thankfully for the world, this does not translate into any real life skills. Haha.

May 22, 2013 at 4:24 PM  
Blogger Kimberly @ On the Wings of Books said...

Well said!

I can't tell which scenario bothers me more. I think it's said that an author feels that they are "just" writing another YA book and I think as readers we can (sometimes) pick that out that the author wasn't into the story they were telling and that makes me sad.

I find it hard to understand how a bookish person could say "it's just a book" I can't think of any book that I feel has made a significant impact on my life or changed my life but books are not "just books" to me. They take me places, teach me things and give me something to think about beyond what I've read.

May 22, 2013 at 4:30 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Many thanks. I generally write them when I'm still emotional, so probably passionate. Not so sure about brilliant, but I try.

I get the same thing. They ask you with this sarcastic tone about you're reading, and I proceed to tell them. I'll try to resist unloading about fiction if you're not interested. Being a dick about it and I will share ALL MY FEELS.

May 22, 2013 at 4:34 PM  
Blogger April (BooksandWine) said...

Word, that noise is annoying. I take my books seriously and my analysis of them seriously. Actually, no that's a lie, I goof around a lot. ANYWAYS, I get your point and have to say it blows when people denigrate such a cool pastime.

May 22, 2013 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Cosign!

OMG, Rory :) Ahhh!

I think I saw what went down for scenario 3 (maybe?), and I agree, that whole thing was completely ridiculous. Why would someone else feel that they can dictate how a reader should or should not feel about something they read because it's "just a book." A book can be read a million different ways, and each reader can have a different reaction to said book; why can't everyone understand that? ::sigh::

"Books inspire me, they uplift me, they give me hope, they teach me, they thrill me, and they get me out of my own brain to see what life might be like from someone else's perspective" A-freaking-men!

May 22, 2013 at 4:43 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Scenario 1 bothers me least, but only with the proviso that they didn't mean it that way. If they really did intend it dismissively, then rage, because don't write YA if you don't love it.

Yup, that's just how it is for me. They're crucial to my life.

May 22, 2013 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger Ellis said...

I'm so glad you addressed this.

I get very annoyed with the "don't be silly, it's just a book" statement. Sometimes, a book really touches me, to the point that I have to be alone for a while to think it all through. My brother once saw me in one of those moods and asked me what was wrong, so I told him it might sound silly, but I was really impressed by this book and I couldn't just shake it off. He said it wasn't silly at all and asked whether I wanted to talk about it, which we did and after I was done, he wanted to read it too. I'm slowly converting him to bookism and it's working.

Also, some people need to realise that books have power. There are entire university and college courses built on literature and the ideas expressed in books. (I know it's not the case for all countries, but where I live, all higher education is funded by the government, so obviously someone thinks "discussing books" is worth that.)

The best things about books is that they inform readers about societies or cultures they don't have a lot of contact with, and in my personal experience, reading has taught me to become more open-minded and critical at the same time. Not that I'm saying people who don't read (much) lack these qualities.

And then for my last argument as to why bookism must become a legit religion: critical reading has helped a lot in terms general understanding and tolerance. I'm now thinking of the relationship between romance novels and feminism. Romance novels were originally seen as very problematic because of the dominating presence of the alpha male hero and a lot of rape or attempted rape scenarios (tropes that unfortunately still exist), but they're also seen as something positive, in that they allow for women to claim their sexuality without having to apologise for it.

*breathes*

Phew. Anyway, I love this post!

May 22, 2013 at 4:59 PM  
Blogger KM said...

This. All this.

*fist pump*

Good post, friend! And I'm surprised the author said "just another YA"...if that's what he/she writes. That sounds like awkward self-deprecating that makes me want to tell that person to write in a different genre. :-/

May 22, 2013 at 5:32 PM  
Blogger Giselle said...

This is what I love you! <3

My favorite saying is by that Game of Thrones author "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once"

Booya!

What am I doing here? This is just my life! *robot dances in slow mo*

May 22, 2013 at 5:42 PM  
Blogger Kailia Sage said...

First of all, this is a great post and I agree completely! Secondly, I don't honestly think I've used "it's just a book" before BUT I've heard it said before. I'm one of those readers (and book bloggers) who tends to be very critical of the books I read. It's not a bad thing but it's just who I am and how I read.

Also. How do you read 367 books in a year??????

May 22, 2013 at 6:06 PM  
Blogger Kara_Malinczak said...

I love this post. Thank you for being the person that you are.

May 22, 2013 at 6:40 PM  
Blogger Kara_Malinczak said...

LOL I love you so much. No seriously. No one comments like you. ROFL.

May 22, 2013 at 6:41 PM  
OpenID tigerlilyrachel said...

I LOVE THIS POST. One of my coworkers told me today that YA was her guilty pleasure and I wanted to stab her with a fork. Not exaggerating. Books aren't "just books" or something to feel guilty about. To a large number of people, books are very important. I hate whenever I get all emotional about something in a book and someone tells me I should calm down because it's "just a book." Just..no. They don't understand and it makes me angry. How would they feel if I said it was "just a football game." They'd be pissed. No one thing is better than any other. Ugh, Christina. You have me all worked up now.

May 22, 2013 at 7:44 PM  
Blogger Amanda Caldwell said...

This post was great!

May 22, 2013 at 8:10 PM  
Blogger Ashley said...

Amazing post! Books have meaning and add value. They help you learn to think critically and analyze and expose you to a myriad of circumstance. Even if they're not the most literary book they add something to your life. Basically, everything you just said I totally agree with. I like referring to "guilty pleasure" reads as candy reads.

May 22, 2013 at 9:46 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Bahaha, yeah, I mean, I think it's fine not to take them seriously, too, but I think it's safe to say that whether you unpack it line by line or devour it swiftly we all love them and that books are important to us.

May 23, 2013 at 9:13 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

:) I need to watch Gilmore Girls. Like for real.

Yeah, that whole thing was idiotic. The person in question was self-contradictory, pissed and defending books against snark but saying books didn't matter. This argument has no legs to stand on. Books are wonderful, but we can't love every single one. It's impossible.

May 23, 2013 at 9:19 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh wow! That's so wonderful that your brother a) understood and b) is converting to bookism. That's outstanding. I've been converting my parents to love YA fiction, and that's been a lot of fun. I make them reccs and then we can all talk about them.

Exactly, I think it's absurd that someone would say X genre isn't worthy of analysis, when I bet there's a course somewhere that does just that, and people pay good money to take it.

Precisely. No matter how talented you are at empathy, you can't feel it for cultures you've not heard of or known anything about. Increasing your knowledge of what it's like to be in the head of another broadens your own mental horizons.

Ha, I'd not heard about that, but I like the focus on the good aspects. Yes, many of the romances are troubling, but I don't think women should be shamed for wanting to read that. Just because you enjoy reading about something doesn't mean that's what you actually want either. With teen fiction, the creepy heroes upheld as ideals is a bit more upsetting, because they've seen less of the world, but eh. Yay for claiming sexuality!

May 23, 2013 at 9:27 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yeah, I mean, perhaps it was intended to be self-deprecating, but it's not just the self being deprecated. I can't know the author's intent from such a brief statement, but it does worry me. If you don't love what you're writing, then why write it?

May 23, 2013 at 9:29 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Lol.

That quote is FABULOUS.

May 23, 2013 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yes, there's nothing wrong with reading seriously or casually, and it's often not like you have a choice. If I'm in the mood to breeze through a book, it can be really hard to focus and nitpick, and the reverse is true too.

Dedication.

May 23, 2013 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

*hugs*

May 23, 2013 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

She has no idea how close she came to attack with a deadly fork. I make it a point to review everything I read, no matter how weird or potentially embarrassing it is, because I don't think I should have to hide it. I'm proud of my reading, even if people might judge some of the things that I choose.

Yes, they would be pissed. I know from experience. :-p

May 23, 2013 at 10:05 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Fantastic post!! Very well said!! My hubs says stuff like that to me all the time and it makes me irrationally angry with him that he thinks of books and my love of reading as some silly thing and a waste of time. He just doesn't say anything anymore because it's bound to start a fight neither of us want to be in.

May 23, 2013 at 10:06 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Delicious candy reads. I used to really be embarrassed by them, but what's the fun in that? And, yes, I think even the simplest of books expands your mind, even if you don't notice at the time. It's a largely cumulative effect.

May 23, 2013 at 10:10 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oooh, yeah, if I dated a guy with those opinions, he would have to learn to keep them to himself or that would be a total dealbreaker. RESPECT THE BOOKS. :-p

May 23, 2013 at 10:27 AM  
Blogger Princess Ash said...

Is it all right to admit I'm in love with you? In a total girl-crush-on-a-blogger kind of way because this is all so beautifully said and I wish you'd been there delivering these like blows to all the people who've ever greeted my obsession with mocking cynicism.

"In fact, the whole "just a book" thing seems to relegate reading to the position of a guilty pleasure."

Reading isn't supposed to be something you're ashamed of, nor is the obsession with it that follows suit. It's as legitimate a passion/hobby/love as sitting in front of the TV screaming at the umpire on behalf of a favorite sports team, and I hate that people feel like they have to defend themselves or downplay it's significance, in general and to themselves.

May 23, 2013 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Hahahaha, I'm totally okay with that. ;) And I'm glad you agree. I'm never sure if it's me being too particular or if it's a real thing.

Right, there's also this whole culture that being a nerd is somehow shameful. We're supposed to view nerdiness as a largely negative thing, when I think it's pretty much the best thing ever.

May 23, 2013 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger Ellis said...

Haha, he has his moments, but then he decides to leave me for a year because he wants to study in Ghana. Well, at least I have my books.

How amazing is it that your parents started reading YA! I can't even convince mine to read a respectable number of books, because they see it as a holiday activity ... And of course, when I argue, my father ends the conversation with "I'm a man of science." as if that magically explains everything.

I'm not much of a romance reader myself but this was a discussion we had in one of my lit classes and I thought it was very interesting, so now and then I read one. I agree that those tropes are very disturbing in YA lit. That's why it's so wonderful that there are things like blogs and GR to expose these trends.

May 23, 2013 at 4:39 PM  
Blogger Mel@Thedailyprophecy said...

Okay, bonus points for adding the Belle gif <3

Books are indeed not "just books" to me. They are an escape, a way to travel without travelling, a way to connect with people who are like me. I've learned so much from reading books and it help me grow in a certain way. I'm proud to be a book nerd.

May 23, 2013 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I love this post! I agree with all points that you make, and definitely with your analysis on the last two examples. Especially the point about speculative fiction! I argue with those who won't read spec fic books all the time, although you've put it much more eloquently than I have. :)

The one consideration I'd like to add is that I don't think saying something is "just a book" is necessarily always intended to be condescending. If that's how an author chooses to describe his/her upcoming project, I personally don't see a problem with it. It's his/her own project, and therefore should be free to describe it however he/she wants. Keep in mind too that it appears this author has written a lot of YA books, so I'd hope that the author still respects the genre to some degree, or else why continue to write for it? I think it's most likely that the author just had the words pop out of his/her mouth and didn't think about negative connotations. And that's fine with me. I don't need everyone to be aware of all possible negative connotations all the time, especially when they're talking about personal projects or thoughts.

I guess after reading this post, my thoughts are that a person should be able to believe whatever he/she wants, and if that includes noting that something is "just a book," so be it. As long, of course, if that person doesn't then try to push his/her beliefs upon others to just in general be condescending and rude.

May 23, 2013 at 9:13 PM  
Blogger Mel McEwen said...

This was a great post and I agree with everything you said. The "Oh it's just a [insert genre here] book" really bugs me. I often get "Oh you're just reading a middle-grade book" or "Oh its just a YA book" because I am in my twenties and some people think I should be reading adult fiction (which I do). It makes me feel like they look down on me for what I read, not that I am actually ashamed for reading what I do.



I am really glad that you covered this topic. I guess that books mean different things to different people, but for me a book is never "just a book", to me a book is a way to escape everything, a way to learn and a way to explore new worlds.

Mel Reviews Books

P.S. Can I just say, well done on reading so many books last year and already this year!

May 24, 2013 at 1:41 AM  
Blogger Ashley @ The Bibliophile's Corner said...

Very well said, ma'am!

May 24, 2013 at 3:26 PM  
Blogger Renae M. said...

Delayed comments, but: RIGHT ON. I really fail to see how people who immerse themselves in books so far as to join a book-dedicated social media site can they dismiss the object of their obsession with a wave of the hand and a sniff. Seems counterintuitive. Sure, not everyone takes books super seriously, but I do. And I have that right, just as people have the right to not take books seriously. But anyway.

May 24, 2013 at 11:54 PM  
Blogger Morgan said...

I love this. I totally agree with everything you said. Many people don't understand why I spend so much time reading instead of out in the "real world." It's not like I am hiding away. I have a life outside of reading. At the same time, reading is something that I love to do and every book is special to me. I learn so much from reading. I love that every book is special in it's own way, and I love getting to discover that book by book.
Thanks for sharing!

May 26, 2013 at 3:09 PM  
Blogger Sharon (A Book Barbie) said...

YES YES YES. This is probably one of my favorite posts ever, because you put into perfect words what I've felt for years.

Though I admit that I do enjoy the phrase guilty pleasure, and do still sort of like to use it, I don't actually believe that you should feel any guilt about the books you choose to read.

Exactly! When discussing books, television, and movies, the idea of guilty pleasures comes up quite a bit. I've frequently told people, "I don't believe in guilty pleasures." Because, like you, I don't. I don't believe I should feel guilt about choosing to read what I enjoy, nor should anyone else. At the same time, I really like the phrase "guilty pleasure," but I try to keep from using it lest it encourage the idea that anything should actually BE a guilty pleasure.

I'm definitely with you on the "just a book" thing, too. Not cool. I could go on about this, but you already have, so I'll just shorten it to this: Well said.

In short, this post is all kinds of awesomesauce. :D

May 27, 2013 at 10:17 AM  

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