If you read Wednesday's review, you'll recall that I liked the story I read a whole lot better than I thought I would. Nothing wrong with that; there've been plenty of other stories which I've reviewed (here and elsewhere) which I liked significantly more or less than I thought I would. But it did get me thinking about what an appropriate level of pre-judgement is when it comes to reading, fanfic or otherwise--as I also said in that review, I never would have read Pipsqueak's Day Off were I not planning to write a review of it. Click down below the break for my thoughts on the line between reasonable and unreasonable pre-reading discrimination.
Being able to tell at a glance whether you're likely to find a particular book (or article, or fanfic, or whatever) interesting is an extremely valuable skill. The reason for this is pretty self-evident: someone with the ability to determine in a few seconds whether or not they'll enjoy a given book with any degree of accuracy will, by virtue of that ability, find that a much higher percentage of their reading time is spent on things they enjoy than someone who lacks that skill.
That skill is also--and this surprises a lot of people--mostly a learned one. Reading and English teachers spend a lot of time, starting in elementary grades and continuing all the way through high school in most districts, helping kids develop their ability to quickly and effectively judge whether they'll find something interesting. This has been particularly true in the last two decades or so, as the advent of the Information Age has made the ability to make those quick and effective judgments of interest and/or relevance ever more important. Even if your English education consisted of the more old-school "feed them classic lit until they learn to love it" approach, I'm sure everyone reading this spent plenty of time at one grade level or another learning the steps you go through before sitting down and trying to read a book: look at the cover, look at the title, compare what you see to other stories you've read, and so on.
When you don't have that kind of discernment, you end up with a child (this is a true story, by the way) who checks out Dragonflight (one of the Dragonriders of Pern books) from the school library for his classroom reading book, then comes back to return it a few days later because he "hated it"... and then tries to check out its sequel, Dragonquest, to replace it. He wasn't stupid, and he wasn't trying to be cute; he just didn't know how to tell if he'd like the book except by reading it.
Okay, so the ability to use past experience and context clues to tell whether or not a particular book is a good fit for you is a good thing, inherently. I read Twilight and, to nobody's surprise, didn't care for it at all. Because of that, I chose not to read the sequels, and more broadly, have mostly avoided the "supernatural romance" genre because I know (based partly on that story, partly on broader knowledge) that I'm not likely to enjoy those books.
But at a certain point, "I know I probably won't like this because it's a supernatural romance" morphs into "I don't like this because I don't like supernatural romances," and that's where things get tricky. Once you discard an entire genre, or an entire field of writing, you close yourself off to ever having your opinion challenged. Since almost every piece of fiction you read is intended to challenge your opinion in some way, this kind of thinking can very quickly turn the beautifully diverse world of reading for pleasure into an echo chamber. I think we all know people who fall into this trap; I'm friends with a man who exclusively reads stories (fiction and non-) set during WWII. And from that, his reading is pretty much exclusively about American soldiers in the Pacific theatre.
On a related note, I was shocked by just how much historical fiction about American soldiers in the Pacific theatre there is; he probably owns a couple hundred paperbacks of the stuff.
Anyway, my point is that when you pigeonhole yourself to that degree, you create a reading space which may be comforting, but which is also ultimately stultifying. Reading for pleasure is, in a very essential way, about exposing yourself to new ideas. Using heuristics to find what interests you is laudable, but we should never be afraid to try something about which we might be dubious.
After all, how much smaller would the world of fanfiction be if everyone went with their gut reaction to the idea of grown men and women writing stories about The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, and yes, MLP?