August 18, 2015 2:10 pm

My name is PJ and I’m a recovering Book Snob.

Being a book snob is complicated, because to become one, you have to read everything, and then once you reach a certain level of snobbery, you do a 180 and start to reject most books. When I was in elementary school our library had a strict two books for 5th grade and under, and three for 6th graders rule. By 4th grade, I had weaseled my way into getting three books, and had an agreement with the librarians that the goods would be brought back as soon as possible in the best condition possible. I chose books from all genres, starting from one end of a humongous book shelf, and weaving my way around the room. When I close my eyes and think back to my childhood library, the place seems vast and magical, so filled with possibilities. When I was that age, I read everything I could get my hands on; I read all the books in my school library — even nonfiction! I didn’t care, at school, at daycare, at public libraries, even in waiting rooms I would bring my own books. My point is, books were my drugs, and I was way in.

When I got to Junior High, things started to change; the librarians weren’t all as sweet, and the library was more crowded, ruining my experience. As time went on, I learned to go before school started, or during my lunch break, sometimes I would even go between classes and get a pass to my next class. But here in Junior High, I was introduced to a new dilemma. Back in elementary school I never had prior commitments or a busy schedule, but 7th and 8th grade were a vastly different scenario. I was now having to pick and choose, and everyone I asked for advice seemed to think I should handle my newfound lack of reading time differently. Some told me to read just one genre, so I’d have an in-depth knowledge about a particular kind of book. Others told me to read whatever the librarian recommended, as if she couldn’t give bad advice. Then, one person gave me some really great advice: “Read what you don’t know.”

And, with that, the chase was on; immediately I understood. What was the point of reading the same fantasy books if I knew how every single one was going to end? I began to read a lot more non-fiction, branching out and trying biographies. To my surprise, because I went so left field, I found a niche group that I still love today. I was growing not only as a reader, but as an awkward preteen, and trying to open my eyes to the unknown is what kept me grounded and less judgmental.

And then I got cocky. I was “spreading my wings,” but I still wouldn’t venture into one big territory: romance. Now, hear me out, I was under the preconditioned notion that all lovey-dovey books were mindless and dull. I would see my classmates reading Sarah Dessen and grimace; what could these girls find so riveting in a story about a boy and a girl falling in love under some ridiculous circumstance? I just wouldn’t do it. Now, looking back on it, I think I was so scared of love I wouldn’t let myself get too close to it. Reading about it, I feared, would make me like the extreme teenage girls I saw pining over boybands. I had always been pretty “chill” about boys, and I was scared I’d lose that once I started reading romantic books.

There were others books I wouldn’t touch — we all have some we just know we won’t enjoy, and that’s fine. The problem comes when you limit your choices because of some arbitrary/inaccurate/nonsensical idea of what you “should” read. What good was it that I could read Agatha Christie unflinchingly, but couldn’t come within two feet of a YA “chick lit” without losing my mind? In the end, being so picky was only so good until I cut myself off from other possibilities.

Now, I have a new philosophy, one I think is much better than the other. Read what you need. When I feel lost, I’ll go back to a good memoir, because I like reading about other people’s struggles and their eventual triumph. When I feel antsy, I reach for something fast-paced and bloody. And when I feel lonely, I love to read something comforting that warms the soul.

One of my all time favorite books is Eleanor and Park, a beautifully written story about two unlikely lovers in the 80s whose tale leaves you in tears. This book not only taught me to see the beauty in love stories, it showed me the talent in them. Being a book snob doesn’t make you better than everyone else. You don’t win some big fancy award for being judgmental, and you don’t get to enjoy books as much. If you’re so focused on choosing the “right” story, you might miss out on the good story. Not all forms of entertainment are equal, and you shouldn’t expect the same outcome from all of them. It’s fine to read a classic, but it’s just as good to read a “junk foody” book. Embrace everything in moderation, and don’t revert back to the old ways!

(Image via iStockPhoto.)