Thursday, September 1, 2011

Reading Expectations

Have you ever had the experience when someone else's ideas of your reading taste differed from your own? I've been thinking lately about these expectations we have - of ours or others' reading, and how that frames how we think of them as readers, or not.

I had two experiences recently that brought this to mind. The first was when I told someone I was reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. She loves the book, so I expected enthusiasm, but her response was, "'s different from what you normally read." (Now, having read both Crime and Punishment and Twilight and quite a few books in between, I was a little surprised.) "What do I normally read?" I asked her. The answer: middle school fantasy. Which is true, to a point. It's a favorite genre of mine, and I read a lot of it. Plus, in many of my interactions in the children's room where we both work, I've recommended a lot of fantasy titles to patrons looking for ideas, because I am the librarian that reads that genre.

The second experience was at my other job, where my supervisor made a comment that I read poetry. I thought to myself, "Sure, during National Poetry Month, but not regularly." This time, I didn't bother to argue since at that very moment I had a collection of John Donne's poetry in my hand to check out. I figured that argument would sound a little weird: "Yes, but generally only once a year. This book? No, it's nothing, not a large Norton Critical Edition of a famous poet's work."

But neither of those interactions really capture what I read. I think it both cases, people have seen a part of what I'm interested in and made more general assumptions of what I like and what I read.

I wonder if we do that to our patrons, to our children. How often has a parent come in looking for a book to read for their kid who "Doesn't read" or "Only likes..." and talking to the child himself (or herself) brings up a totally different picture? I've had many an interaction with a patron who wanted recommendations for their child, and what they really wanted wasn't what the child wanted to read, but what the parent wanted them to read. Making both patrons - parent and child - happy is a balancing act that I admit I haven't fully mastered yet. Because I think the main issue - the expectations parents have of a child's reading - need to be treated carefully. I've thanked my mother several times lately for never telling me "That book is too easy for you" or "You've read that series five times now, let's look for something else." Rereading is a joy in itself. Reading books that are "too easy" boost confidence and still help children become stronger readers. But how do I communicate this in such a way that I'm coming alongside a parent trying to encourage their child to read, instead of placing myself at odds with them?

I still reread. I read children's, young adult, and adult books. I read classics and I read fantasy. I read broadly enough that I can be "mistaken" for both a fantasy and a poetry reader (and, granted, neither of them are fully off-base). Most of all, I'm thankful that I was given the freedom to explore books without expectations.

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