Tag Archives: about: readers

On What We Read

I read…well, a lot.  I’m keenly aware of this.  It’s a subject that often comes up with friends and co-workers who see me reading and have taken to asking “What are you reading now?” or “How many books have you read this week?”  But it’s just something I do.  I get enjoyment out of reading that is different from watching a movie or playing a video game (though I certainly do those things frequently as well).  It’s just another (albeit wonderful) form of entertainment, but it’s one that I also think triggers my imagination and memory in ways that other media just can’t quite achieve.

A few months ago, I had a conversation with one of my roommates in which he told me he doesn’t like to read.  The way he said it made me think he was either ashamed to admit it or he thought that I (as someone who usually reads every day) was going to judge him for it.  Of course, I said that’s totally his prerogative.  We all have our interests and things we enjoy.  While I definitely think reading is important, I’m certainly not going to go around forcing other adults to read if they’re not interested in doing so.

This weekend, though, there was a bit of a change.  I came upstairs in the morning and stopped in the kitchen for breakfast.  My roommate was awake (early for him) and sitting in the living room with is iPad.  When I came into the room he said “Oh, hey, I need to show you something you probably won’t believe.”  He flipped the screen around and I could see he was reading a book on the Kindle app.  I simply smiled and nodded.

After I settled in on the couch I asked what he was reading.  The response I got was that same face he made before he told me he doesn’t like to read and then he quietly admitted “It’s a World of Warcraft novel.”  I laughed but then I simply asked “Is it good?”

What I realized in that moment is that many times when people are encouraged to read, they’re encouraged to read specific texts.  In my roommate’s case, he said that he figured someone who reads like I do would think a Warcraft novel wasn’t a “real” book.  This is so far from the truth for me, and we had a conversation where I explained my view that reading is reading and I would never laugh at someone or shame them for what they read.  Heck, I read things that I’m sure some of those same people who consider only high-brow literature worth reading wouldn’t consider “real”.  I’ve read some Doctor Who tie-in novels.  I read a fair amount of m/m romance novels, some of which I’m sure are right up there with the Harlequin titles my mother used to carry in her purse (not to disparage those books at all, simply to draw comparisons to a similar stereotype).  But they’re still stories.  They get me reading.  They stir my imagination and memory and they engage me.  And even if they’re poorly written (which is probably the only type of criticism I would offer of someone’s taste in books, while still recognizing there’s an element of personal taste there, too), they still contain those elements.

So, I say: read.  Read whatever you would like.  And encourage those around you to do the same.  Don’t laugh at someone for reading Warcraft novels or Harlequin romances or graphic novels.  Who knows, they might even be able to recommend something from that genre that you’ll enjoy and expand your own horizons at the same time.

Authors in “Reader” Spaces

Recently I’ve seen multiple authors make comments about how they don’t go on Goodreads or spend time on review sites because they don’t want to “invade reader spaces”.  Hearing that caused me to do a bit of a double-take.  I totally understand an author not wanting to read reviews of their work–there are varying personal preferences there–but the idea of authors not being welcome in the same space as readers is one that baffles me.

Writing is art.  And while artists, at their core, often produce art to fulfill a need for expression, it is in its consumption that art realizes the full potential of its meaning.  And all artists, regardless of medium, should be entitled to at least a glimpse at all of that if they so desire.

Writing is an art form, however, that does not lend itself very well to the artist observing or engaging with consumer while they are appreciating the art.  Musicians can perform live concerts and have immediate feedback and interaction with concertgoers.  Filmmakers can hold screenings with audiences where they can watch how they react and easily engage in dialogue with them after the film.  Live tweeting and live blogging have become ways for television producers to see viewer reactions in real time.  Visual artists can be present in their galleries to watch people take in their creations.  And, of course, any sort of live performance art (theatre, dance, etc.) has that live audience component as well.

Such an opportunity doesn’t really exist for a writer.  I suppose if an author wanted to sit for three hours and watch me read her book, I might say “Okay, sure.”  But even if that did happen, I’m not sure how valuable it would be in terms of an experience.  What would be more valuable is if the author wanted to engage with me after I’d finished the book.  I could talk about what I particularly liked, where I found meaning, and possibly even those little things that maybe didn’t work so well for me (I think it’s that last part that always makes it a bit more difficult to engage about writing).  But an author so inclined doesn’t have time to go sit individually with 100 different people who have read her book.  Maybe she could try to get together a focus group of people who have read it all in the same place, but that’s still a fair amount of time and effort that needs to be expended.  Especially when we have amazing technological tools available to us right at our fingertips.

Maybe some readers really do feel that places like Goodreads or their book blog or their Twitter account are “reader spaces”.  But they’re out there on the internet.  They’re open for people to read, discuss, and engage.  And some of those same readers expect authors to make their Twitters and blogs and Facebooks and everything else available and open for their viewing pleasure.  Personally, I welcome authors into any of my spaces.  I relish the opportunity to engage with the author of that great science-fiction novel I read last week.  I’m excited to say “Hey” to the writer of my favorite m/m romance series.  And I even value the opportunity to interact with the author of that short story I didn’t care for because I recognize that no one can love everything they read and she has just as much to contribute as the rest of us.

And speaking of contribution…let us not forget that most of these writers (you know, the ones that aren’t “welcome” in “reader spaces”? Yeah.  Them.) are readers, too.  Why should they not be entitled to the same experiences and platforms as the rest of us simply because they were fortunate/skilled/lucky/brave enough to put their work out there and get it into print (or e-print as the case may be).

So I say to authors: Join us at the table.  This medium we love wouldn’t exist without you and you love it (and are entitled to it) just as much as the readers.