When people ask me about my hobbies, I often scold myself for using "reading" as my go-to pastime. Though it's true that I love pouring through books whenever I get the chance, reducing my bibliophilic habits to the simple word "reading" feels like something of a deception.
When people ask me about what I like to read, I generally fall back on fantasy as my genre of choice. The fact of the matter is, I will read - and usually finish, too - anything with pages. I may not what's inside, but the process of churning through a dry novel still somehow brings me pleasure.
What I rarely share is that my true literary passion lies not for the books that keep me rooted to my seat or leave my mind reeling with newfound revelations, but the books with story elements that make me grit my teeth and scream and complain to whoever will listen. Yes - deep down, I am a hate-reader.
A casual so-bad-it's-good read every now and then wouldn't be so terrible in and of itself, but my obsession extends to an entirely different level. Not only do I possess an extensive audiobook collection of notoriously terrible young adult novels, but I meet every week with my friends to read particularly atrocious ones out loud. Despite the fact I find the portrayal of women in The Wheel of Time to be truly appalling, I somehow made it to book nine in a fourteen-novel saga and literally wrote a passionate college application essay in which I enumerated several of its flaws.
I can't explain the enjoyment I derive from immersing myself in literary train wrecks. Perhaps it's that I have so little confidence in myself as a writer that I take a perverse pleasure in criticizing the work of others. Perhaps it's some odd quirk in my sense of humor that draws me to them. To a certain extent, both of these may be true.
But as I grow older, I have to wonder if my strange passion for these books simply stems from a desire to express myself in a way that feels safe. In both my home and among some of the friends I had growing up, I remember being unable to defend my assertions about world events and personal interests against the criticism of my friends, parents, and sister, to the point where I no longer even share music I enjoy listening to out of fear that my companions will eviscerate me for "shit taste." Though I certainly have my own ideas about the current state of our society, I rarely ever make them known, automatically expecting ridicule even from those whom would probably agree with me. I come up with so many ideas for what I'd like to do with my life that I never act on because of the judgement I know I'll face if I do.
It's much easier to identify and defend what you dislike about a book than put what made you love it into words. And so when I say I enjoy "reading" as a hobby, I know I'm telling the truth, but I'm also denying myself the opportunity share my other passions with the world. Maybe it's time for me to leave hate-reading behind and spend my time doing something I can love.