It’s a war. It really is. The vendetta between my family and my books remains strong 17 years after I first learned how to read. It’s a fact ladies and gentlemen that I don’t think is ever going to change.
In my old and now forgotten blog I had written a post very similar to this one where I talked about how my family always criticized the books I liked. My mother happened to read that post and she was very angry with me that day. I knew that if she ever read it she would get angry, but my goal with that post had not been to please my mother. My goal had been to reach out to other people facing the same problem and talk about how I’m dealing with it…
It all started when I was in kindergarten. That was when I first learned how to read. That summer my father suggested that I should start visiting the library and borrowing books to read. I think his goal was to not only make me start reading books and encourage my love for literature, but also to help me not to forget how to read, since I had just learned how to during that summer.
So, I did go to the library and I got a library card of my own and then went to look for a book to check out from the library. As soon as I had chosen my book, I ran straight to my mother and told her that I was finished. She took one quick look at my choice and told me to go choose something else, implying that it wasn’t a good book.
To any of you who are trying to make your children learn how to love literature, I have a piece of unsolicited advice. Allow your children the freedom to choose what they are reading. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a say at all on what they are reading. Especially if it’s something inappropriate, then you should definitely have a say on what they are reading. What I’m saying is that you should allow your children to make their own choices on what they read according to what they like. For example, take them to the library and allow them to choose one book that they are going to check out. Look at what they chose and if you don’t think it’s a good choice then go on and look for something similar to it that you think is a better choice. Show the book that you think is better to your child and tell them that they can borrow the book they have chosen as long as they borrow the one you’ve chosen as well. That way you are giving your child the freedom to be him/herself and at the same time you are encouraging them to read better books that they wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. In other words, you are not force-feeding your kid what you consider ‘good literature’.
But what do I know? I don’t have kids, how can I give advice on things I don’t know about? Well, I don’t have kids, but I do have cousins currently at the ages of 10 and 8. I may not be a parent, but I certainly have my own experiences with my own parents to draw from.
When my mother practically told me in a public library that what I wanted to read was rubbish at the very tender age of 6, not only was I hurt by her look and tone, but it also started to build a wall between me and her. By rejecting in such an ugly way something that I was so obviously excited about, I felt like she was indirectly judging me.
I never went to the library with my mother ever again. I always went alone or with my sister and I always avoided showing her the books I was reading. If I knew that she was going to know what I was reading then I would take into account what she would have approved of more than my own personal preference. I always avoided talking about my books to her and I avoided reading my books in front of her.
A few years later, she started telling me that the books I read were not good enough and started saying that there are better books than what I usually chose out there for me. “For example, she said once, why don’t you read Harry Potter? I’ve heard it is a great book for your age.” Of course, I didn’t know who Harry Potter was until the first movie came out. So, of course I remembered that my mom had told me there was a book called Harry Potter and begged my father to buy it for me. So, my father took me to the bookstore and bought it for me. But by then Harry Potter was not a good book anymore.
Yes, that is correct. My family may be the only family in the entire world who considers Harry Potter a pile of rubbish. But I didn’t let that fact prevent me from reading the books. I’ve read every single one of them, own every single one of them, and have watched every Harry Potter movie out there.
But what, you might ask, is ‘rubbish literature’ for my family? Anything that had to do with: vampires, dragons, werewolves, and wizards. In other words, almost everything that I liked reading about as a kid. Of course, I also loved books like The Odyssey and The Three Musketeers, but even Alexander Dumas’ masterpiece was not good enough. The Odyssey was acceptable.
Ending my little journey through time, let’s talk a bit about how the war between my books and my family is doing today.
My mother: She is the most vocal about my book choices. I doubt that we have ever both read a single book other than the ones she used to read to me and my sister. She obviously has no idea what books I like, why I like them, and whether they are good or bad. However, she still disapproves of most of my books, but has admitted once or twice that this or that book was actually a good one. Gasp! She reads poetry from people like C.P. Cavafy. (I swear we were the only children in primary school to not only know who Cavafy was, but also have read some of his most popular poems like Ithaka.) She also likes melodramatic novels by Greek authors that are bound to make her cry and are way too melodramatic for my tastes and from foreign literature her favorite book is The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I thought it was kind of meh.
My father: He is the least vocal about my book choices. Mainly because he must have forgotten that he actually can speak sometime after he mumbled his first words. Still, he has this very special look that let’s you know he strongly disapproves of what you’re saying/doing/reading/etc. without ever uttering a word. He reads books like The Art of War by Sun Tzu, How to Travel With A Salmon And other Essays by Umberto Eco, and How to Become Rich by I-don’t-want-to-know-who. Seriously, I’m not kidding these are some of my father’s favorite book choices. To tell you the truth, we have very similar tastes in books when it comes to certain genres, and very different tastes in books from other genres. The problem is that the only book of mine that he has ever bothered to pick up was The Golden Compass and he only read the very first part that even I can admit that wasn’t nearly as good as the rest of the book and the rest of the series.
My sister: Helen is in my opinion the worst of the three. I don’t really know if the fact that she is younger than me makes the situation better or even worse, but if I were going to play it safe I’d go for the latter. What’s frustrating is that she is only two years younger. She could have not only liked, but loved L-O-V-E-D loved some of the books I’ve read. Instead, she has never even picked up up one of them to read the synopsis in the back. The only things she knows about my books are what she’s learned from the Harry Potter movies and -even worse- the Eragon movie. She hasn’t read very many books, so her literary horizons are at the very least very limited, but she’s still quick to judge what she doesn’t know. Helen is one of these people who need up to several months to finish a book. How can a person like that judge someone who reads as much as I do about their book choices?
Of course, I’m not saying that my family are tyrants. They just have very strong opinions on things that they don’t know about.
To summarize this very long post, what I’m trying to say is that the people that are the closest to me have judged something that I have loved for years -something that is a very important part of what makes me ME- without actually knowing enough to have the right to an opinion about it.
So, what should I have done? Should I have started wearing black on black, stopped bathing, and rejected society and its rules? Should I have stopped talking to them and removed myself from anything to do with my family? No, this is not a healthy behavior. What I did instead was to simply remove that part of myself that they judged from their lives, only giving them little sneak peeks into it. I rarely talk to them about a specific book I’ve read and actually mention its name, they don’t really know what books I’ve read and what kind of literature I like. They don’t really know a lot of things, while many other come to them edited down to the bare minimum. They don’t really know who I am, but their behavior up until today has proven that they don’t really want to know who I really am. They think I am anti-social, I simply tell them that I am introverted, but how can you explain that to a group of extreme extroverts who don’t want to know the difference? You don’t.
I truly love my family. My sister is my best friend in the world. But truly loving someone means that you know their flaws and still love them not only despite of them, but maybe even because of them. It’s sad that they don’t know about a very big part of me, but that is who they are and this is who I am. I can’t force them to change. I can only accept them as they are. My principle for every single relationship I have with the rest of the people in this world is this: “You take me as I come, or you will only get the part of the deal that you can stomach”.
The moral today is this:
Be who you want to be. If someone tries to change you, listen to their advice and then decide if it is good enough to use or not. Read whatever makes you happy and then try to read something that makes you uncomfortable. That is the true meaning of a well-read person.
-Eleonora Lydia Choursoulidou
Now it’s your turn…
What is the relationship between your family and the books you read? Have you ever been criticized for your tastes in literature? Have you ever been criticized for your preferences in general? How have you dealt with it? What are your thoughts on what I’ve shared with you today?
Tell me all about it in the comments below…