So I’m at the post office today waiting to mail a package (containing a book I’m sending to a Bookmoocher). There’s a bit of a line, nothing crazy, but enough that it’s worth getting out a book to read. (For the record, my threshhold for when it is worth it to get out a book is very low – if it looks like it will be more than a minute, it’s worth reading.)
Today I was reading The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. I read tons of Lowry books as a kid, and when I heard that she had a new children’s book out that plays on all the conventions of classic children’s books in dark and funny ways, I couldn’t wait to read it. I finished it at lunch, and I can tell you I was not disappointed. Anyway, that was what I was reading when the gentleman behind me in line decided to talk to me.
Gentleman: Lois Lowry, is she related to Malcolm Lowry?
Me: Not that I know of.
Gentleman: You should read Malcolm Lowry, it’s a better class of book.
A better class of book? Really? First of all, do you even know what I was reading? The Willoughbys may not be classic Brit Lit, but it was a great children’s book. And Lois Lowry is no slouch – she’s won the Newbery twice.
Malcolm Lowry and Lois Lowry write totally different stuff, but what makes something a “better class”? I’m assuming the fact that Malcolm Lowry is a dead, white guy helps. Now I’ve never read any of his stuff, so maybe he is an interesting, engaging writer, but the way this guy said it definitely made me want to avoid Malcolm Lowry in the future. Annoying, elitist guy liked him? I think I’ll skip it.
Also, this is not the first time that some middle-aged white guy has told me that I should read something “better” (which so far as I can see seems to mean more literary or academic), so I would just like to state for the record: This is never a good call. It does not make me think: “Ooh, who is this well-read, interesting intelligent older gentleman? I should listen to what he has to say.” It makes me think: “Ugh, creep, how do I best get out of this situation?”
Finally, as a librarian, I take issue with the idea that there are “better” or “right” things to read. Anything that a reader enjoys and wants to pick up is the “right” thing for them to read. Period.