In Defense Of Lit-Shaming
Even though the term “lit-shaming” is relatively new, I’ve been aware of it for a long time. As a kid who read comic books, I often got lit-shamed by adults who thought I should have been reading actual novels. In college, I had a few girlfriends (not at the same time) who lit-shamed me when they caught me reading Mickey Spillane or Robert E. Howard. As an adult, I even got lit-shamed for reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in public.
Lit-shaming exists today, but most people don’t think about it. A few weeks ago, a columnist for Slate tried to lit-shame adults who read YA literature like The Fault in our Stars. I don’t know if the author was sincere or not. Sometimes columnists say controversial stuff just to get noticed, and this might have been what happened. She got noticed for a few days, but I don’t remember what her name is anymore, so maybe it didn’t work. Most critics seemed outraged at her comments. Some of the critics who said they opposed such lit-shaming then called the author a bunch of derogatory names, which to me was worse than the lit-shaming.
Most book readers claim they’re against lit-shaming, but I’m not so sure. When the Twilight books and the Fifty Shade books were popular, there was a lot of anti-Twilight/50 Shades lit-shaming. I too was a lit-shamer. I admit it. I thought the 50 Shades books were beneath me (I actually read part of a Twilight book, but 50 Shades?) I even made fun of 50 Shades a few times, but I haven’t made fun of the women… I mean… I haven’t made fun of the people who read 50 Shades.
I don’t think lit-shaming is necessarily bad. Readers should have high standards, and shame is one way (though not ideal) to maintain those standards. I think maybe James Patterson should be lit-shamed. He’s writing about 10 novels a year (while using a bunch of co-authors), and I think he should be ashamed of himself. No author is capable of writing 10 high quality novels a year, even if he has a co-author (or a bunch of them). I would never lit-shame somebody who reads James Patterson because most readers don’t know (or care) about his scheme. But I’ll lit-shame James Patterson for writing (or putting his name on) so many books a year.
One of the college girlfriends who lit-shamed me read The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. She knew I liked King Arthur stuff (like The Once and Future King), so she strongly suggested I read it. I tried The Mists of Avalon, but it gave me a headache (which King Arthur books shouldn’t do). When I told her I wasn’t going to finish it, she lit-shamed me. She said she was “disappointed” in me, and then mocked the books that I was reading at the time as “childish.”
I’m partially to blame. I called The Mists of Avalon a woman’s book, and that might have sparked the lit-shaming. I didn’t mean “woman’s book” in a bad way. It makes sense to me that some books would appeal to women and some would appeal to men. I didn’t mean it as an insult. But she said my books were stupid (she might have used synonyms with six or more syllables). She called me “small-minded,” but that was the only “small” reference she made toward me, even when we broke up. Still, her insult was uncalled for, and I felt deflated. I felt shamed.
Speaking of The Mists of Avalon, I recently found out that the author of The Mists of Avalon Marion Zimmer Bradley has been accused of committing horrible crimes against her daughter. I’m not going into the details because the details are pretty bad, and it depresses me a little, and this isn’t that kind of blog. Bradley has been deceased for a while, so she can’t be prosecuted, but I really don’t want to read The Mists of Avalon now.
If I had known 25 years ago about this author’s past (nobody knew back then), I probably would have brought it up while my ex-girlfriend was lit-shaming me over reading Stephen King books (back when his books were actually good). I would have said something snide like “Oh yeah? Well, at least Stephen King hasn’t…. insert horrible crime against a child… like Marion Zimmer Bradley.” I would have engaged in lit-shame retaliation. Even if I believe lit-shaming is wrong, I believe in lit-shame retaliation if another lit-shamer starts it. But I’d feel guilty about it. I don’t like using somebody else’s traumatic experiences just to win an argument, so maybe I wouldn’t have mentioned it at all.
What do you think? Is lit-shaming ever justified? Is lit-shame retaliation justified? Would you read a novel if you knew (or suspected) that the author had done something horrible or was a horrible person? Is that fair to use in a lit-shaming argument? Have you ever been lit-shamed? What books would you lit-shame a person for reading?