Sometimes when I run into acquaintances or old friends, people I’ve stayed in touch with via social media, one of the first things I hear is “I’m sorry I haven’t read your books yet!”
My response is usually something like, “Why are you sorry? It’s not your job to read my books.”
I’m constantly surprised by how sorry-not-sorry people are, though. They’re very sorry they haven’t read my books, they assure me, but when I assuage their fears, they’re wildly relieved. It’s not, “Good, I’ve bought myself some time.” It’s, “Thank goodness, now I don’t have to read it at all.”
Not only do they no longer have to feel guilty about not having read my books yet, they also are immediately unburdened of the responsibility to read my books in the future. It turns out, not only have they not read my books, they were not really ever planning to read my books.
And guess what?
That is totally fucking A-okay by me.
I’m not offended. I’m not mad. I’m not going to accuse anyone of being a bad friend, not even people I’m very good friends with. Hell, my partner of a year and a half hasn’t read my books, and aside from letting him know that there were copies available if he wanted them, I’ve never really encouraged him to do so.
Reading a book is a time commitment. It takes me between five and twenty hours to read a single book, depending, obviously, on a lot of extraneous factors. Even on the very low end of that spectrum, that’s a lot of time that could be spent doing other things.
Reading is also a matter of taste. Not everybody likes to read the type of book I write. Young adult novels aren’t for everybody. Nor is science fiction. Nor are books about booze.
I personally don’t read thriller or horror novels. They scare the shit out of me. If my BFF wrote a thriller-horror story, there are very good odds I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. Sorry, not sorry.
And finally, not everybody likes to read.
At the end of the day, I don’t want anyone to struggle through my book just for my sake. I don’t want them to read my book just because they’re my friends. (Unless they genuinely want to!) I want to put my book in the hands of readers who will love it. Who are passionate about that genre. Who will engage with the characters. And that ever-expanding group of people doesn’t have to be a Venn diagram with my best friends.
I’ll agree that for some people there might be exceptions for family members or very close friends. But outside that inner circle, I am quite firm in my belief that no one is obligated to read anyone else’s book.
Or see anyone else’s art.
Or listen to anyone else’s album.
Or watch anyone else’s movie.
Of course, if you want friend brownie points, these are all very good things to do. Showing up indicates mutual support, reciprocity, and admiration. But this should be thought of as extra credit, not a make-or-break grade.
One big exception to this is if your artist friend has a legitimate reason for asking you to show up. Such as, “this is a big gallery opening, and I’m nervous, and I would appreciate your support.” Or, “the more people are in the crowd, the better chance we have of getting funding for our next movie.” If you can’t show up when your friend asks for your support, you might be kind of a dick.
(Because, let me tell you, the courage it probably took your artist friend to ask for your help is a big fucking deal, and that trust should not be betrayed.)
Friendship should not be conditional on whether we like each other’s art. It should be conditional on whether we support each other when it counts, value what we have to say, and tell the rest of the world how awesome our friends are.
This post was inspired by SorryWatch’s recent post, “Sorry I Didn’t Read Your Book.”
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