Do I think being “well read” just means you read a lot? No. Because if all you read is allocishet white abled neurotypical middle class (or higher) men then you are not well read. It isn’t about how much you read, it’s about what and who you read. How many viewpoints are you getting?

Schools often make students read dead white dudes, and i’m not saying some of those books aren’t good, sure they are, but there is so, so much more out there. What’s most popular? White dudes. I’m not saying don’t read white dudes. I love R.L. Stine and Stephen King, among other white dudes. I’m saying if you want to be well read you need to read more than just allocishet abled white dudes.

Growing up I struggled with reading comprehension and despite that I still really really wanted to read. I enjoyed some Goosebumps and Fear Street and some Stephen King but I was disappointed I couldn’t find any character like me. Disabled, chronic pain, queer, feeling like an outsider. Couple that with my reading struggles and the boring and difficult (to me at the time) books they had me read in school, it killed any joy I had for reading. I’d hardly read a thing from the time I graduated in 2007 until late 2015 at 26 years old.

I wasn’t allowed to read Harry Potter growing up, something I really wanted to read (another thing that helped to kill any love of reading) and by the time I could I thought I was “too old”. I thought it was “too late”. At 26 I finally realized I was being dumb and decided to try reading Harry Potter. I did and I loved it.

Side note: I haven’t reread it yet because of JK Terfling. I do believe in death of the author, more on that later, but it does make me not want to pick it up again even though I also do want to, and by the way, i’m trans. It’s like, I FINALLY get to read it, and right away, she fucks it up, so i don’t get to really enjoy it. Fuck that shit! I’m going to reread it one of these days and read some fanfiction and make some fanfiction maybe and make all the characters queer and trans!

Ahem, anyway, after reading Harry Potter I had no idea where to go next. What do I read now? I searched Harry Potter reviews (I think) on YouTube, found BookTube, and it spiraled from there. I found diverse characters. At almost 27 years old I found my FIRST (to me) bisexual character in Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz and was crying from happiness. I’ve known i’m bisexual since I was 13.

My love for reading has only grown since and I seek to read more diversely, not just to see myself finally, but to see others as well.

Reading is also what lead me to learning i’m autistic. I related to character after character after character where autism was never stated (probably by authors who didn’t know they were autistic) but the autistic community would point to them and say “They are autistic!”. To be honest, for awhile I only knew stereotypes about autism and misinformation so i kept thinking “what the hell?” and was confused by the whole situation until finally I went “Fine! I’ll look into it!” and wouldn’t ya know .. hi, i’m autistic!

I know how important it is to see yourself reflected in media. Those who don’t see a problem with media are the ones who always see themselves in it. And by extension, it’s important to see others to. To see just how beautifully diverse this world is. Everyone deserves to feel seen and heard. You can learn so much from others viewpoints.

Now I try to read diversely and will always strive to. Am I perfect? No, but it’s a journey and one i’m glad to be on and I can always keep striving. Reading diversely and being well read to me means reading books by queer authors, authors of color, disabled authors, authors from around the world, translated works, Neurodivergent authors, authors from different religions, as well as books in many different genres: Horror, Nonfiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Contemporary, Romance and more.

Reading books with queer characters, characters of color, disabled characters, Neurodivergent characters, characters from different backgrounds …

There is no end goal. No destination. The journey can be lifelong, and it’s a beautiful thing.

I do want to do a side note and say i’v seen people demanding authors spill private information, like their sexuality, to “prove” they can write a book or to check off their diversity checklist. That is not okay. Authors don’t owe you that information. It can even be dangerous for them! I’ll look at an authors Twitter or whatever to see what is publicly available. If there is no information, so be it. You can still read whatever book you want.

There is no list of “you must read these exact books”. There are so many books to choose from!

I even made a “well read lie” list for myself, because I think being “well read” isn’t 100% achievable but I mean that in a good way. It’s possible to be well read in comparison or be on the “well read journey”. My list is a list I made of different genres and different kinds of authors (authors of color, lgbtq+ authors, disabled authors etc.) and topics. It’s just skimming the surface of everything and it’s over 600 books! And while i’m reading books from it i’m not solely just reading books from that list. It will take me many many years to complete it, and then, will I be “well read?”. No. I’ll be more well read than I was but there is no destination, the journey continues onward.

Death of the author – everyone can take away something different from a book. That doesn’t make anyone’s opinion invalid necessarily as we all have different experiences that we’re coming to the book with. For some reason many teachers teach their interpretation of a book as if that is the only valid opinion, helping to kill any love for reading in children even more.

I’m aware death of the author isn’t black and white. Some authors are dead, making it easier, some are still alive and causing shit. But I also know that if one goes to the point of having to always agree with an author in order to read their books, suddenly you can’t read anyone, because you will never agree 100% with anyone. You can disagree with an author and still read their work. It all depends on what you’re comfortable with and the situation. Sometimes it’s helpful to read opposing points of view. Again, it depends on the situation but if you’re always in an echo chamber, that isn’t healthy.

When you do know information about an author, like sex, gender, sexual orientation, race etc. if can help shed light on the book. It can help give insight into it because all that stuff colors how they see the world and we can pay attention to that. Again though, do not force authors to out themselves!

Will I ever feel comfortable saying i’m “well read”? Probably not. Maybe, i don’t know. I think i’ll stick to “I’m on a well read journey” or something like that. Because it’s a journey and one I never want to end. I’ll be on it until I die, and that’s wonderful. No destination. Just books, viewpoints, worlds, learning, and more.

4 thoughts on “Thinking about what it means to be “well read”

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