30 March 2012

Reading like a reader, for once

It's a good thing I'm not dating my book club, because they would have broken up with me for all the times I've stood them up.

This book club--with varied tastes in literature and both genders represented--has taught me a lot over the last few years. Aside from the great books I've read at their recommendation, it has been fascinating to witness so many perspectives from readers. Actual, live, they-don't-know-the-author readers. People who want to read and have an opinion about what they've read, and don't want to write. This stuff is gold.

I'm too close to writing to ignore the writing in any book. If the prose is weak I'm already put off. If I'm not totally compelled I'm good at figuring out why. The characters are bland, the story doesn't move forward. These are what bother me about a book, and I have a hard time pretending not to see them.

People who aren't writers are allowed to enjoy themselves while they read. Not that I don't, but they have absolute freedom. After they've finished a book they'll express an opinion if a book club asks, but while they read they're unshackled by the thousands of hours I've spent trying to figure out how to write. They don't care what Vonnegut or Orwell said about the craft. At my book club we discuss characters, realism and believability, whether it was boring, whether it was racist or sexist. Yet we seldom have a conversation that contains any of the writer buzzwords: pace, plot, conflict, blah blah blah. Thank goodness for that.

I once talked someone around to disliking a book she'd read because I knew the writing was bad, and afterwards I felt terrible. What was the point of that? It didn't stop her from enjoying the thing while she'd read it (why would I want to ruin someone's enjoyment, anyway?) and her opinion while she'd read it was that it was great. So it was great. A book that entertains, gives a bit of joy, and sells well is a success no matter how poorly it's written. Don't make me bring up The Da Vinci Code. Again.

Writers are encouraged to read like writers, and I do. I always do. But it is really nice once in a while to see that there are still readers out there who know how to read like readers.

Photo: Book Drop: No Books, Please by mtsofan on flickr


  1. Very good point - I often find myself proofreading articles instead of actually reading them for what they are!


    1. It's a skill worth having (especially if you spend any time online!) but it definitely gets in the way of a relaxing read.

  2. Excellent points. And The DaVinci Code immediately came to mind for me too. I haven't even read it, but one of my English teacher colleagues went on at some length about the poor writing in it. Several times.

    BTW, You're missing a "v" in para 4, "...thousands of hours I'e spent trying to figure out how to write."

    1. I wrote this post sensing the inevitability of a typo, grammatical error, or something else to show the thousands of hours might have been for nothing. Of course the typo would show up right there, in that particular sentence! Thanks Tim. :)

  3. New reader of your blog adn this post immediately resonanted with me because finally letting myself be just a regular reader is what's now allowed me to actually be a writer -- of romances. I've essentially given myself permission to entertain, instead of trying to edify, say something important, redefine the genre...all the high-faluting literary stuff that can be taken to extremes, just as with any other dogma.

    In considering the success of bad writers, I think what I was missing was that it doesn't matter as long as they are entertaining. Non-writers don't notice technical details -- just as non-gourmands may be fine with dinner entirely from a can -- but what the mass market is after is entertainment, first and foremost...and with all the high-minded writing workshops I'd forgotten that most basic fact of all, that I'm an entertainer first and foremost (even literary fiction entertains, after its own criteria), not a polemicist (even of good form and correct literary theory)!

    1. Well said Aminka: taken to extremes, the most serious endeavour loses potency. And if we lose sight of the entertainment aspect of writing I suppose we may as well be writing Literature 101 textbooks.

      Welcome to scribo!


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