For years I received an odd feeling of accomplishment when I told people that I had never read Harry Potter. Better still was when I could assert that I’d read a popular series before the rest of the crowd. Ah what perverse pleasure it was to think “Ha, Harry Potter, I’m much too busy reading A Wizard of Earthsea” or to realize that I’d been facing inner turmoil over who Katniss should be with while the rest of my peers were still occupied choosing between Team Edward and Team Jacob. Avoiding books that were popular became a bizarre way of differentiating myself from the crowd and asserting my tastes as a reader.
It wasn’t until the final HP movie came out that I finally did read JK Rowling’s wizarding opus, and then it was only because someone had told me that there was no way I could read all the books before I was supposed to go see the film. What I realized afterwards was that instead of proving myself to be too cool or too well read for everyone’s favourite wizard, I had simply deprived myself of a great story and of being part of a community. There’s a whole generation of kids (now adults) that grew up with Harry Potter, and while I am the same age as them, I’m not really part of that group.
My second realization about the negative effects of being a literary hipster came when a friend pointed out that liking The Hunger Games before it became a bestseller didn’t necessarily mean I had better taste than others, just that I had the same taste a bit earlier. This forced me to admit that scorning those who read the Hunger Games after it became popular (which is, I realize now, a rather arbitrary measurement – it’s not like one day it wasn’t popular, and the next day it was) didn’t prove anything about my taste in fiction, it just made me a bit of a snob, which again kept me separated from participating in a literary community.
So now when I choose what to read next, I try to challenge my tendency to be a literary hipster. Because of this, I’ve been able to read great fiction like The Fault in Our Stars or American Gods. It’s still difficult at times, especially given my university career as an English Major – a major which, at times, prides itself on reading lofty ‘literary fiction’ over the latest YA dystopian novel. Even so, I have learned that there is satisfaction to be found in reading popular novels, in finding a group of people to nerd out with.
I still don’t read things just because they are popular (I didn’t get past the first Twilight book and I’ve never even picked up 50 Shades of Grey), but I’m more willing to give popular books that sound interesting a chance and that has opened me up to far more than I could have imagined.