I have been on a recent classics kick in my current and planned reading. I recently read Catch 22 and just finished 1984, both of which I somehow evaded in grade school. In addition, my “to read” list for next year (yes, I have created a 2013 “to read” list…) includes Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
I recently started thinking about why I chose these books and realized that it is not completely out of personal interest. I have felt Reading Peer Pressure. We have all seen those lists of “100 Books to Read Before You Die” or the emails claiming “the average person has only read 7 books off this list”. Maybe it is just me, but I feel the need to crush the opposition when I see those lists and prove my reading and intellectual prowess.
This phenomenon of Reading Peer Pressure is not restricted to the classics – it happens with new releases too. Who hasn’t heard on of these:
“What do you mean you haven’t read the Da Vinci Code?!”
“You have to read The Hunger Games, it’s the new Twilight!”
or, in my case:
“Now that Bringing Up the Bodies has won the Man Booker Prize you have to forget that it took you 6 weeks to struggle through Wolf Hall and read it!”
I am a big fan of the website Goodreads, and for this blog post I went through my “read” and “to read” lists. What I noticed is many of the books on those lists were chosen because I felt I should read them (they won a prize, a classic, a bestseller, etc.), not because I picked it on my own. Now, this is not to say that I didn’t enjoy them (in some cases they are on my list of favorites), but it is an interesting situation. What surprised me even more was my ratings of these books; some books I remember struggling through, or not really enjoying, yet I still gave them generous star ratings. I think for some I felt I could not give too low a rating because of their influence on society, and for some (I will admit it) I just wanted to look smart – hey, who doesn’t! But really I should have given those books a rating based on my reading experience. I have since gone back and actually adjusted some of my ratings.
I cannot decide whether Reading Peer Pressure is good or bad. On the one hand, it motivates me to read books I might not otherwise choose or that have had a significant influence on society at some point. It has also led me to some of my favorite books – for example The Book of Negroes and (yes, I will also admit this guilty pleasure) Twilight (what can I say? I am a sucker for shiny objects).
On the other hand, with so many books and such a short lifetime in comparison, should I not just read the books I want to read? Either way I am going to boost my pride and continue crossing books off that “most people have only read 7” list and hopefully enjoy a few of them!
There is also another bright side to my peer-pressured classics kick: the next time someone makes a Big Brother comment to me, I no longer have to hang my head in shame and mumble an insincere comment about what a great book 1984 is – now I can mean it!
Have you even felt pressure to read a certain book?