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Bad Books: To Read or Not to Read?

Like it or not, social media has irrevocably changed the way we approach literature. The star of this process is undoubtedly ‘BookTok’, where the so-called ‘book influencers’ recommend and review books in seconds, influencing their sales exponentially. 

This phenomenon has become so influential that we can now find dedicated BookTok sections in bookshops, displaying the titles of the moment. Even if some of the recommended titles are indeed very interesting, such as My Year of Rest and Relaxation (Ottessa Moshfegh), The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller), or The Secret History (Donna Tartt), others are often judged as trivial, badly written, or containing harmful messages, especially books written by influencers or YouTubers often only for commercial purposes.

The idea that reading such books is simply a waste of time, as they do not lead to any kind of mental or cultural enrichment, has therefore become increasingly widespread. Many people argue that it would be better to use the time to enjoy other products with more study and care, even just a TV series like Never Have I Ever or Stranger Things. Although intended for general entertainment, at least in these productions the work behind the actors' performances, direction, and soundtrack is better, creating something artistic, and valuable.

I can see the reasons for this statement and part of me agrees with it, yet I realise the intellectual snobbery it contains. After all, reading ‘bad’ books is a recreational activity like any other, and I don't see how it is ‘worse’ than watching cheesy Hallmark movies or scrolling through social media. I don't see the need to rail against a way of relaxing and having fun. On the contrary, I actually think it is this judgmental attitude that often drives people away from reading and the idea of the pleasure it can produce.

The issue becomes more complicated when it comes to books with offensive and potentially dangerous content. These books, which often achieve enormous fame, are not simply superficial or poorly written, but often deal with extremely sensitive topics such as domestic violence or mental health in an ignorant manner, perpetrating the wrong messages. This is even more serious when considering that their audience is often very young, usually tweens between the ages of 11 and 15.

An example would be the extremely successful book It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover. I know many loved the story, but the way it deals with domestic violence is simply shameful. The fact that for a time the story was also meant to be turned into a colouring book speaks volumes. Unsurprisingly, after the publication of this book, the topic was romanticised all over social media, becoming almost ‘trendy’.

In this case, if possible, I think it would be the task of parents, booksellers, and teachers to inform themselves about this kind of book and try to explain the issues they contain to young people. They could also recommend books of the same genre but that are better written, without trying to steer them directly towards the classics, if that is not what they are looking for, but by informing themselves about the YA genre, which is rich in very good titles. After all, learning to read well is often something we do together, through conversations and connections with loved ones. I believe this important social aspect cannot be replaced by TikTok or any other platform.

Ultimately, I believe it is always better to read than not to read. True, some books are of questionable quality but reading is nevertheless an activity with undoubted benefits for language, memory, and concentration. In addition, certain books can introduce someone to reading and then encourage them to explore other, more complex titles. At the same time, however, it is important to approach certain viral books with caution and a critical eye, recognising their problems.

So whether you're diving into the depths of literary greatness or just skimming the shallows of the ‘bad books’ sea, remember: a book in hand is worth two on the shelf!

Illustration by Maya Marie

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