Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Reading for Pleasure

Image of statue children reading thanks to Hans at pixabay
It seems like, every few months, we get some exhortation about reading classics, literary fiction, and similarly "highbrow" offerings. I've read lots of blog posts sneering down at "genre" readers, and I have a co-worker who likes to tease me about reading "children's books," after I struck up a conversation with another co-worker in the office about Hunger Games.

I read a lot, and very few of the books I read are literary fiction. Precious few of the books are reviewed in famous publications. I don't read for validation, or because everyone else is reading it. Chances are good that, if everyone loved it, I'll find it off-putting, at best.

When I read, it's to enjoy the story. Unpleasant things can happen to the main character, and the narrative can be full of events I don't enjoy, but, overall, if I'm not enjoying the words on some level, I'm not going to be happy. That slows down my reading pace overall, and then I need something fun to wash out the bad taste. I went almost a year without reading after college, because I'd had so many unpleasant narratives that were supposedly good for me crammed down my throat. When I hear "good for you," I think vegetables, and I don't like those, either. I'm a supertaster, and vegetables register as poison to my poor, bitter-sensitive taste buds.

That's not to say I don't read classics. I'm still surprised how much I enjoyed Crime and Punishment and Grapes of Wrath as assigned reading in high school, and you can have my Shakespeare only after I've thrown the rest of my library at you in defense. I didn't read any Jane Austen until after college, but I've loved everything of hers I've read, and The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my all-time favorite books.

Those are the exceptions, though. For the most part, I steer clear of literary novels, and I regard most books marketed toward my demographic warily. Technically, those are another genre, that of "chick lit," and today isn't the day for a rant on the division of "real" fiction and that enjoyed by women.

It turns out that there's a precedent for my reading preferences. This article in the NYT strikes me as having a fair dose of Missing the Point. It skitters over the notion that we experience the characters' lives as if we're interacting with them, socially, and mentions that people who read generally have more empathy. But does that finding not suggest to you, dear fellow readers, that we experience the events of the book as if they're happening to us? Therefore, perhaps there's nothing at all unseemly about wanting a pleasant narrative to be carried through. The article suggests our lives are more enriched by more literary writing, but I think stimulating the imagination is important no matter how it's accomplished.

My point about reading to write still stands. It's important to read, especially in your chosen genre, if you want to write. But I'm not suggesting that as homework. It so happens that everyone I've ever spoken to about writing also loves to read. I think the two go hand-in-hand. If you enjoy a genre, you'll want to write about it. I find it curious that bloggers and writers feel a need to prescribe reading like a pill. I think it helps to look at books with craft in mind, and that's helped me untangle a lot of problems with my own prose, but I don't see them explaining that part. Apparently, it's only important to read in the first place.

Well. If you're anything like every writer I've ever spoken with, it won't be a problem for you. And, if you're like me, and you're reading for pleasure while you're at it, I can't say I blame you one little bit.

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