10 Things Not to Say to a Reader

This post isn’t for my fellow readers. We share the same struggles, like having way too many books that need to be read and yet still longing for our favorite authors to write a little bit faster.

No, I’m writing this for the people who wouldn’t classify themselves as dedicated readers, but who know and love at least one. If you’ve ever made a casual comment to a book lover and received an angry comeback, glare, or snarl accompanied by the reader clutching a book tighter and you don’t know why…read on. (If someone posted this on Facebook and tagged you…definitely read on.) Here are a few things you should never say to a true lover of books.

One: “You spend too much money on books.”

Listen, I get it. You’re advocating for a sensible book budget. But let’s start with the fact that the standard for “sensible” is probably set by those average people in statistics who read 1.5 books a year. (Who are these people, I ask? How do they survive?) Which is to say…it’s significantly too low. Come on, we’ll spend $4 on a Valentine’s Day card. That’s about 6 cents per word, compared to $0.0002 cents per word for your average full-price paperback, and you get hours of entertainment and re-reading pleasure. What a deal! Also, chances are good the reader in question makes regular trips to the library for a while before blowing all their savings splurging on the occasional bookstore trip. So they’re trying. Probably. Maybe.

Two: “Oh, you’re reading [TITLE]? I loved how [major ending plot twist].”

NO. Don’t even consider it. What sort of a monster are you? Even if you’re just joking and saying something implausible, like their latest Western romance ends in a nuclear apocalypse where everyone dies, this is still a bad idea. That might still be too much of a shock for a true reader’s heart to take. Better not to risk it.

Three: “I see you have a [genre] novel there. I only read real books.”

Um…okay, so we all have different tastes in books, and if you prefer literary biographies on Italian Renaissance stonemasons, whatever. That’s cool. But try not to imply that other readers are shallow or uninformed or otherwise less-than because their Goodreads list is very different from yours. General rule: mocking/belittling something that another person enjoys is not very endearing.

Four: “Don’t you have enough books already?”

This may be well-intentioned, especially if the reader in question lives among large mountains of unread books that could fall at any moment and crush the cat in an avalanche of TBR tomes. But a better alternative would be, “Don’t you need another bookshelf already?” (The answer is probably yes. Start that Christmas list early.)

Five: “The problem with fiction is that it’s just a bunch of made-up lies.”

I could insert lots of quotes from great writers like C. S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle about how fiction is capable of revealing truth, often better than any nonfiction. But if you genuinely believe that fiction is a paperback falsehood collection, I probably won’t be able to change your mind. Maybe you just haven’t read a novel that connects with you, one where the dialogue is almost a transcript of things you’ve said—or wished you’d said—and you turn the last page thinking that now you can understand others more deeply. I hope you find that book soon…and in the meantime, pass me another bundle of made-up lies.

Six: “Shouldn’t you be [insert household task or project here] instead of reading?”

Some people have the strange idea that dust, which accumulates seconds after being cleared off, should be regularly removed from all horizontal surfaces in a home. And that there are only so many times you can re-wear clothes before laundry becomes a code-red need. Or that meals should occasionally come from the oven rather than a delivery vehicle or microwave. To which I say: priorities, people. Unless your to-do list contains something about smuggling nuclear codes, the stakes are probably higher in whatever book your loved one is reading. Just leave them alone. The dust will still be there after they’re done with the last chapter.

Seven: “What’s your favorite book?”

Maybe a few rare readers out there have a ready answer, but this can be a paralyzing difficult decision for most. The key to this is editing the question to make it more specific. Try “What have you read this month that you’ve enjoyed?” or “Do you have a genre that you gravitate toward?” or “What is your favorite historical novel set in Nebraska between 1860 and 1873 that features a seamstress, a mysterious illness, and a loveable horse?” Those are all questions readers can answer without feeling disloyal to dozens of other beloved titles that will stare at them accusingly as soon as they look back at their shelves and remember all the ones they didn’t have time to list.

Eight: “So, one of your hobbies is reading? Cool. I haven’t read a book since I got out of high school/college and they stopped requiring them.”

Wow. Okay. We know that not everyone is a reader. No judgment here. But an announcement like this might shock your reader friends so deeply that they will be unable to do anything but stare in bewilderment, leading to a long, awkward pause while they try to decide whether or not you’re joking and think about how to respond. Kind of a conversation-killer.

Nine: “That movie was great on its own. I don’t need to read the book.”

Since there are exceptions to everything, I’m sure I can think of a movie adaptation that was better than the original book. [Thinks. Thinks more. *crickets*] Anyway, regardless, the book will always be different than the movie, just because of what it’s able to do in exploring the inner lives of the characters that a screenplay just can’t give you. If you enjoyed a movie, it’s worth at least trying the book. And if you didn’t enjoy the movie, don’t necessarily blame the book—they might be totally different. (And sure, readers can sometimes be snobbish about this, but for good reason. We’ve had our dreams crushed too many times by high expectations and sub-par adaptations. Underneath that bookish superiority is a broken heart. Tread lightly.)

Ten: “Those people aren’t actually real, you know.”

Yeah, we know. Most of the time we can sort our real friends from our fictional ones. (There are exceptions, especially for long ongoing series.) But it is still perfectly and completely justified to expend emotions—tears, rants, joyful exclamations—on the ups and downs of people who don’t actually exist. Like, at a certain point if things go too far, you might need to intervene, but mostly it’s better to ask, “Oh, what happened to your characters today?” Especially if there are tissues balled up on the carpet, giving you two options: either be sympathetic or run.

Okay, readers who shared this with the non-readers in your lives: which of these would you least like to hear? Can you think of anything that I left out?

52 thoughts on “10 Things Not to Say to a Reader

  1. Great post! I’ve been told I have too many books. Oh well!

    By the way, I find the exception to the “book is better than movie” rule to be The Wizard of Oz. I like the movie so much better! But, that is the only exception! 🙂

    • Don’t listen to the skeptics, Jen. You can never have too many books!

      And I realized that I liked the movie Princess Bride more than the book, although I know some people who would say the opposite. (I haven’t actually read The Wizard of Oz, but that seems like a good choice!)

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  2. I have heard all ten at least once in my life. The one that response I didn’t see came from my husband : ( ” Didn’t you read that already, you’re reading that again?”

    • That’s a good one, Sandra! Some people just can’t understand re-reading books. (Either they have a better memory than I do, or they read more for information than experience.) Enjoy many re-reads!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  3. We have been married a long, long, time and my husband finally gets it – or wants to avoid the reaction to asking those questions. So he’ll ask, “Hey, what are you reading about?” or “Read any good books lately?” And has pointed out I may need a few more shelves.
    I absolutely cannot relate to people who say they haven’t read a book in a long time, since they “had” to, as if not reading is something to brag about.

    • Good for your husband, Sally! That’s true love right there. And I’m with you on the lack of understanding. (Then again, I also don’t understand people who work out unless they are forced to, so maybe that’s the same kind of thing.)

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  4. I have heard quite a few of these .. . . . . especially from my hubby, who can’t understand why I have no understanding of what is going on around me when my nose is in a book! 🙂

    • Good point, Rebecca. If it actually teleported/time-transported you, no one would question why you wouldn’t be noticing what was going on around you. Too bad we haven’t developed the technology to literally step into a book’s world!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  5. What a great list! And it made me laugh out loud the whole time I was reading it. I do try to enforce the “read book first then watch the movie” rule in my house with my children….but that usually results in global war amongst the children who’ve read the book versus the children who’ve given up on finishing the book versus the child who isn’t old enough to read/comprehend the book but wants to watch the movie anyway….

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it! And I could see how that would be particularly difficult with kids. I remember reading The Giver when I was too young to understand it and totally misinterpreting the ending. 🙂

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  6. This was just great. Hubby does say #4 a lot. But I don’t spend a lot of money on books. Mostly win them or am an influencer for my fav authors.
    How about: “But you have an ebook of that title. Why do you need a paperback, too?”
    The movie vs book conundrum: Wilkie Collins The Moonstone! That book was so long and involved that every adaptation picks up on something different. Did you know it was the first “detective” story?
    Happy reading from under our out-of-control TBR piles. Thanks!

  7. ((gives thanks that most people I know aren’t *that* tacky)) As a bookseller I get a lot of “I can’t read” or “I don’t read any more.” Often said in a testing manner, as in “So, you from the family with all the teachers in it, have you been in the city so long you *believe* everybody back here is feeble-minded?” I’ve learned that the actual meaning is “I’m between prescription glasses.”

    What people *do* say that annoys me is, when they can see I’m not even halfway through a book, “Is that a good book?” Like, bleep would I know yet?!

    Visitors to this site should know: If you’re in my home, and I’m reading, the best thing to say is nothing at all. “The house is on fire” or “Your sister just went into labor” would be acceptable things to say if true. Anything less urgent can wait.

    I don’t usually read in public for this reason–except on the Metro, in the city, where the same rule applies.

  8. OMGoodness! All so excellent. I thought I was yhe only one who froze to the “what’s your favorite book” question. And you nailed it. When I find a new favorite, I feel intensely disloyal!!

  9. Never, ever tell me the friends I meet in books aren’t real. I love them. They get me and I get them. Sometimes with a stand alone novel, it’s hard for me to go on with life without them. And with a series, I’m so concerned about them until the next part of their story is available.

  10. Such a great list!

    I was talking to someone the other day, and she said she had so many books that she “literally has THREE bookshelves!” I just smiled and didn’t mention the nine bookshelves in my office. Or the five in my living room. Or the two in my dad’s room. Or the four in my sewing room. Or the seven in my bedroom. Or the books stacked everywhere else because there’s not room for them.

    And, yes, I need each and every one of them.


  11. This is a great list. The only other thing that my husband used to say to me all the time was, “Why are you getting books from the library when you have so many you haven’t read on your bookshelves?” He just didn’t understand.

  12. I love these. I’ve heard most if not all of these and more. And I don’t know whats going on around me, I’ll read a book so I don’t have to know whats going on.

  13. Pingback: 10 Things Not to Say to a Reader – Stories By Gina

  14. The Princess Diaries – the movie was much better than the book! I highly recommend not giving that book to your preteen to read.

  15. Oh my! You totally nailed it on these!! 🙂 I was smiling to myself the whole way through…just the other day, I was having a conversation with my one daughter (who’s not a reader) about how she thinks I should maybe consider getting rid of some of my books…uh yeah–sorry darlin’, that ain’t happening! 😉
    My hubby is also not a reader, and I know he has thrown several of these at me on occasion, but mostly he is used to and has come to accept my need to surround myself with lots and lots of books…

  16. Pingback: Things you never say to a reader. | The Novel: UnHoly Pursuit: Devil on my Trail

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