I just had the most amazing thing happen to me and I have to tell everyone because I love it so much. So as you probably already know, I am an English teacher. Yesterday in a department meeting, we were discussing some new novels to add to our library so that we can breathe some fresh life into our curriculum. We love a new book to teach. These are my favorite kinds of meetings, because we are just a bunch of nerds, discussing the things we love the most – books, teaching, and our students.
For the past couple of years as we’ve had these types of discussions, I’ve been a vocal advocate of using the novel Ready Player One. Now, if you’re familiar with this book, you know that it isn’t exactly the peak of high literature.
It’s cheesy, easy to read, and dripping with pop culture references. And yes, I have to dedicate actual class time to teaching my students who Max Headroom is, which feels bizarre at best. But it’s worth it to me.
Anyway, after our meeting, my neighboring English teacher and I were chatting about our book choices, and I mentioned to him again how much I love teaching Ready Player One. This man smirks, reaches into a manilla folder he’s holding, and hands me a paper. He tells me he had these remarks prepared and that we just didn’t get time to go over it during our meeting.
It is a scathingly negative review of Ready Player One, the book I want to teach.
Let me give you some quotes from the review:
“The book’s most infamous passage is basically a multipage listicle of 1980’s detritus that Watts [the main character] musters to explain his own righteous militancy against a corporate threat. It makes no sense at all. It read more like a Toys ‘R’ Us shopping list left under a couch for decades than like a novel.”
“See the movie if you must, but Ready Player One is YA fiction at its worst.”
I laughed out loud. This colleague wasn’t being mean-spirited, not in the least. He and I have a wonderful relationship and I value his insight. It’s no secret that we have wildly different approaches to teaching and that’s okay. I even told him how much I loved the review and we joked about the fact that the criticism is perfectly valid. This interaction has brought me genuine joy. (You can read the whole review here)
And now that I’m reading the review again, it makes me want to teach the book even harder. Why, Kayla. Why are you like this?
Because I love garbage books.
In my free time, I listen to audiobooks. I don’t have the time or attention span to sit down with an actual book, and even if I did, I would get about two pages in before the rallying cry of “Mama, Mama, Mama, MAMA” would make me yeet the book into eternity never to be picked up again. So I already toe the line of what is considered an “avid reader”. Do I read actual physical books? No, not really. I can only consume books while doing the dishes or folding socks or putting macaroni and cheese with sausage into a tiny, brightly colored plastic bowl for the eighteen millionth time.
Someday, I’ll have the ability to pick up one of the many, many books collecting dust on my bookshelves. I’ll cozy up on the couch and use a beautiful bookmark and keep a novel on my bedside table and drink chamomile probably. But for now, I settle for audiobooks, because it’s the best I can do. There are those who would argue that this isn’t reading at all and that I should be ashamed that the last physical book I actually read was a John Green novel I greedily consumed at 2 am during a manic episode almost two years ago. I’m an English teacher. I should be in book clubs and reading books at the library and keeping Jane Eyre in my purse to read in line at the DMV. But I don’t, and I’m not even sorry about it.
Additionally, the audiobooks I read are… not impressive by literary standards.
I am currently reading City of Bones, a young adult fiction about a 15-year-old who suddenly realizes there is an entire secret world of demons, fairies, vampires werewolves, warlocks, etc. Standard fare garbage book – the romance subplot is far more fleshed out than the fantasy worldbuilding, and I literally just finished a chapter that had a makeover scene. The protagonist is so cliche not-like-other-girls that it hurts.
But you know what? I’m enjoying it.
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I read these books because they’re fun. I’m not trying to do any deep literary analysis while I’m picking dry play-doh out of the playroom carpet. I want fluffy, enjoyable reads in the most accessible manner. That does not make me less of a reader. (By the way – you can get free audiobooks through your local library with the OverDrive app. You’re welcome.)
This opinion is definitely not one I’ve always had – there was a time that I would have scoffed at myself and gone back to trying to read Great Expectations like I was doing something intellectually superior. I hated Great Expectations. It was boring and hard to read. I eventually gave up and read some random Amish romance novel instead. I liked it much better. This is when I had my “aha” moment – if you’re reading for fun, it should be a fun read. You don’t have to read anything you don’t like. Those lists of “100 Books You Should Read Before You Die”? They suck.
Literature is subjective, and it’s okay to read something considered bad literature if you like it.
When I was in college, I finally mustered up my courage to read the Twilight saga. All through high school, I had fought so hard to be not-like-other-girls that I was vehemently team I Hate Twilight and if You Like it You’re Dumb. But I was studying to be a teacher, and I felt I should probably read the most popular YA novel in existence at the time. I picked up the first three books at a thrift store for like ten bucks.
I read them all in 36 hours. Y’all, those books are long. I could not put them down. I had to go out to a bookstore and buy the last book the very next day. In my heart of hearts, I knew that these books were terribly written. They were by no means intellectually superior. I didn’t care. I slurped those books down with a ferocity I haven’t felt since. I then watched all the movies. They were stupid too, but I loved them just the same.
And why wouldn’t I? I’ve always loved garbage entertainment.
I think I’ve written about this before, but one of my all time favorite movies is Van Helsing (2003). A campy, cheesy, awful movie. Once I told someone that was my favorite movie and their response was “You know there are other movies, right?”. But I love it. And I love the Bee Movie (even before it became a meme). It’s cheesy and dumb and I love it. I love garbage movies. It of course makes sense that I would love garbage books.
So, even though it is “poorly written” and “mangled by a lack of real characterization” according to the article from my colleague, I am going to teach Ready Player One because it’s fun. I’m probably going to have my students analyze the review too because it’s important to understand that you can love garbage sometimes. Lord knows I do.
That is all.