Deep down, I am a very shallow person. That’s why I was appalled to find that some books have age limits recommended on the back cover.

I may not be the perfect middle schooler those authors have in mind, but since when are adults discouraged from reading James Patterson? What kind of dystopian society do we live in?

I know what you’re going to say. Books have age limits to prevent children from seeing content that might turn them into smokers, humor columnists, or other drains on society.

It’s not to keep the adults from reading children’s literature. Duh.

All right. Maybe you’re right, you deep, intelligent person. But there was a time when I, at least, thought of limits on books rather differently.

I remember having literacy tests in school. You received a grade from A to Z. My teacher said that an F wasn’t low enough for me, so she had to adjust the scale a little.

You had to read a page or two aloud in front of the teacher. Then she’d mark you based on how well you read. I got a Q.

I never got a perfect score on a reading assessment. I missed points once for not reading a chapter header out loud. “You have to read everything on the page,” the teacher told me.

The next time I lost marks for reading out the page numbers. Go figure. Some people are never satisfied.

We had shelves in the classroom labeled with your reading level. You had to pick books from your shelf.

There were interesting books on other shelves. I wanted to try them. But I was told to shelve the idea and go to the right book. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

I thought that was stupid. Those rules were stupid. The teacher was stupid.

I didn’t have a “limited vocabulary.” Whoever said that was… well, they certainly weren’t very nice.

But I was stuck with shelf Q. Sometime after that, my brother took me to the library. I picked out “Peter Pan.”

My brother stopped me. “Haven’t you already read it?” he asked.

Sure I had. But it was a Q-level book. There were only 10 or so of those on the shelf back in the classroom, and I had had it drilled into me not to pick up any others.

My brother didn’t let me leave the library until I had picked out a new book, even though I protested the whole way home that it wasn’t allowed and I’d be demoted to W, or worse.

My brother told me I wouldn’t learn best by reading books at my reading level. I’d learn best by reading books above my reading level.

If I tried, I could learn something from any book, no matter what it was. Except if it was a James Patterson. Then it was just cheap entertainment.

Well, okay. Maybe his books have value, too. Especially as kindling.

No matter whether your grade is a Q or W or some letter that hasn’t been invented yet, my advice is the same. Read anything you want, as often as you can, so long as you learn something.

It doesn’t matter what reading level you are. If you care about that, you’re… well, you can fill in the blank.

Alexandra Paskhaver is a software engineer and writer. Both jobs require knowing where to stick semicolons, but she’s never quite; figured; it; out. For more information, check out her website at

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