There are plenty of great books which involve people reading, and there are plenty of great books where a character will mention their own favorite books in passing. But books about people who own book shops or frequent libraries and who wax poetic about the beauty of reading and the wonderment of Jane Austen or the Brontes (interestingly, almost no fictional heroine loves both) and who own more bookshelves than real furniture and who love to inhale the sweet musty smell of books are — without fail — total shit.
Let's be clear: I used to have this relationship with books — when I was about 14. And then I grew up. Because the more you read, the more you should become a discerning and critical reader, so even a great book doesn't make you necessarily "fall in love" the way you did when certain genres or writing styles were brand-new. Most people, having graduated from University, are — or should be — in a post-honeymoon state with reading. It's a companion, but it's not a whirlwind lover who can do no wrong.
And it's this idealization and romanticization of reading that is the problem — not every book is amazing, and yet this "love of books" or "love of the power of reading" seems to imply that even a 25-year-old woman can be transported to a dreamworld with every novel she picks up. Particularly the ever-romantic and ideal 18th/19th Century. You know, minus the lack of the vote, lack of inheritance rights, the TB, the sexually transmitted infections, the corsets, the oppressive marriage laws and everything else that would've made this a hellish existence for women. It also ignores the fact that — as romantic as, say, Jane Austen's canon is — most of the match-ups had more to do with money than love. But hopefully there's a way this author can inject these magical 18th/19th Century values into modern day dating!
Ultimately, the fictional book lover trope is a way for the author to attempt to immediately endear a character to her reader, which feels arrogantly conspiratorial: "we're not like those other girls," the ones who would rather be shopping for shoes. We're book girls — the special magic snowflake girls. Yet somehow we brave, independent, smart, spiritual magic snowflake girls are still waiting for our princes, because ultimately that's the outcome of these books, no matter what era they're set in. We will find our sensitive prince who will take us away from these fake blonde bitches who pollute our lives and we'll live together in a small little house in the English countryside and read together in front of a fire and run a book shop in town.
Because what's more progressive than that?
Originally posted here.