Prejudices, or how we pick what we want to read now, next or never

My sister attended Conservative rabbinical school here in L.A. back when I was a California greenhorn, still getting confused because the ocean was to the west instead of east, that people called flip-flops slippers and jimmies, sprinkles. At the time, I was exploring Orthodoxy, but shared many of my sister’s friends from the UJ (now American Jewish University) and her Conservative synagogue. Despite my move to Orthodoxy, I remain friendly with many of her friends and colleagues.

Recently, one of my sister’s classmates came out with a book. Naturally, I was excited, so I checked read the synopsis on Amazon.

Within 30 seconds, I decided that I couldn’t and wouldn’t read the book.

I felt terrible. We’re talking about a really nice person. A person whose congregants rave about. The person is really and truly a doll, with a lovely spouse and kids. But the book they wrote is based on an old theological conceit that does not hold up against any rigorous questioning, reflecting the same lack of intellectual honesty that caused me to leave the Conservative movement in the first place.

But I still feel guilty.

There are other books I can’t bring myself to read: I very much enjoyed Randa Abdel-Fattah’s Does My Head Look Big in This? and Ten Things I Hate About Me but can’t bring myself to read Where The Streets Had A Name because previously I’ve read books by Muslims about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and found them completely unbalanced in their depiction of the situation (frankly, almost all Jewish written books about the conflict disappoint me, as well).

I can’t bring myself to read any Thomas Pynchon book longer than The Crying of Lot 49 because I can’t deal with that level of weirdness for too long.

I read almost nothing in the Romance genre, except the odd Georgette Heyer (although don’t get me started about how much I hate the extremely antisemitic The Great Sophy, and would hate it even if there were no antisemitism present).

When people rave about Philip Roth, I just don’t get it. I have never successfully completed one of his books, so at a certain point, I gave up. Definitely a matter of taste and philosophic disagreement.

Despite a love of Neil Gaiman, I can’t bring myself to read The Sandman series. Too dark. Too creepy.

Many books go into my personal rejection pile because they simply drop too many F bombs.

I feel no guilt whatsoever about not reading 50 Shades of Grey.

There’s also a whole host of books that I always mean to read — The Red and the Black, Ulysses — but somehow never get around to it. They’re long, or the jacket material sounds boring, or they get forgotten when I’m selecting my next library book.

But tell me that a new book is coming out by Philip Reeve or Dara Horn, and I’m eagerly watching the New Release shelves at that aforementioned library.

My choices in reading material reflect a whole host of prejudices and proclivities that probably reveal a lot about my personality, my place in society, and so on.

What do your biases say about you?

Please share your own literary prejudices below in the comments.

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7 thoughts on “Prejudices, or how we pick what we want to read now, next or never

  1. Bias? Prejudice?
    I think (and feel!) that you are being hard on yourself.

    You have values, legitimate values and ethical and moral standards. So that doesn’t sound so nice? It makes you sound stuffy, stuck up, critical, a prig, intolerant. Ignorant! Stupid? Yuck.
    But where would you be if you didn’t have those values?

    I went thru this about 10 years ago. Maybe it had something to do with turning 40, but I just decided that I wouldn’t read,watch or listen to something/one that was in conflict with my values anymore. I know what I know and value and cherish, so why do I have to compromise in my entertainment, reading, etc?

    I guess where you feel guilty, I feel anger.

    Flip this on its head: Who are all those “people, experts” to tell me what to like? Are they the Thought Police? What makes them “RIGHT”?

    I have 3000 years of Torah behind me. Writers are more like the flavor of the month at the ice cream store. And remember: ice cream melts.

    Michal in Israel: band aids on my dragging knuckles, hugging my gun and religion.

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    • I guess I went through it 5 years early! At 35, I remember reading a book that people had raved to me about and 5 pages in, I chucked it to the side. I just didn’t want to waste time on someone else’s tastes/priorities/agenda in my (very minute amount of) spare time anymore.

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  2. Not as in detail BUT know you are not alone with 50 Shades of Grey. I will NEVER read that book. I don’t read books with big followings either, like the Harry Potter series or Twilight. I can see why my 13 year old daughter enjoys them but they’re not for me and maybe because so many are reading it that I don’t feel like it’s mine (hard to explain). I enjoy old authors and old books. I enjoy books that describe a place and make me want to go there and that the book doesn’t have one image in it but its description lets you know where it is. I guess I’m boring. Oh and I love books that scare me. I know right? Scare you (me) but I love a good ghost story. It seems we all in some way like or dislike different types of books or books by a certain author. That’s what keeps us all interesting and gives us something to chat about. Even if online.

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    • I love hearing what other people read!

      I like illustrated classics, too, but I also like wacky postmodern graphic novels.

      I remember you telling me how much you like being scared! I like a little scary, too, but very scary is too much!

      I was happy I read Coraline during the day…at night, I would have gotten nightmares. And that’s a kids’ book!

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  3. Some rather un-deep responses:

    Please don’t ever reject me for loving the F-bomb (though I do my best to respect your preference).

    As you’re aware, I’ve lately realized that my title (“senior writer”) belies my abilities…still, I’m fairly certainly I could write something “better” than 50 Shades.My proclivities make me a snob. Oh well!

    Sometimes, just the idea that I “should” read or like something can create a pressure that disrupts (or maybe negates is a better word) my ability to lose myself in the material.

    I find it frustrating and disappointing that people seem to increasingly resent differences in taste. I certainly wish my friends would enjoy the things I enjoy, but even if they don’t, can’t we enjoy the discussions of why we disagree?

    Anyway, I didn’t really answer your question. Well, I sort of did but it’s buried.

    I’m tempted to answer, “My biases say I’m a snob.” But even that’s not sufficient. Other snobs would reject my application after hearing of my enduring dedication to Stephen King.

    Thanks for this…I think it’s interesting to contemplate the kinds of subjects/formats that attract and repel us. My husband I have recently had an unhappy realization that the kind of TV that relieves his stress is comedy, while mine is drama.

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    • You keep your F-bombs away from me, hear! 😉

      Really, I don’t care if other people write them, read them, or speak them…so long they don’t expect me to do so.

      And yeah, peer pressure definitely plays a role. There’s nothing that quite kills my desire to read a bestseller or “classic” novel as hearing so many people rave about it that I’m afraid that if I read it and hate it, people will think I’m nuts.

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