Showing posts with label reading choices. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reading choices. Show all posts

Jan 18, 2016

Old People Who Read

Note: I was going to call this post "Old Readers," but I was afraid it might bring to mind the original Kindle. I'm looking at those of us who've read all our lives: Old Readers.

My husband started reading in his fifties. My father started even later than that. That isn't me. I can't remember when I didn't have my nose in a book.

Reading is wonderful, but a lifetime of reading leads to a problem: What to read next. When I was a kid, my choices were limited to what books our school library had, though I eventually moved on to reading my mom's mystery novels (MacDonald, Carr, Christie, etc.), and gothics (Stewart, duMaurier, and the like). As a young adult I read historical pot-boilers from Frank Yerby (lots of rape threat) to Rosemary Rodgers (lots of actual rape). I also read a lot of biographies back then, mostly movie stars like David Niven and John Wayne.

Now I'm pretty old, and I've read a lot of stuff. When people gush about the newest prize-winning or best-selling book, I take a look, but often I find it's very similar to something I've already read. Yes, Harry Potter is cool, but have you read The Once and Future King? Unreliable narrators like the one in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time are all the rage, but have you heard of We Have Always Lived in the Castle?

Past reading experience can spoil the "surprise" of many current books, because we've been there before and recognize the territory. And the "ground-breaking" characters aren't so surprising. Yeah the kids in Paper Towns and The Gold Finch feel lost and disconnected from society, but have you read "Paul's Case" by Willa Cather or anything at all by Thomas Hardy?

So what do I read these days? Mostly mysteries, because although they're "genre fiction" and therefore predictable (according to the experts), they present a puzzle to be solved. The characters can be every bit as interesting as those in "literary fiction," and Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, and Sara Paretsky can rope me in as well as any writer can.

I recently finished a "literary" novel and had a familiar response: So? I read hundreds of pages of stuff that was interesting historically, but the story added up to nothing in the end. There was a war. It was tough. Some lived, some died.

If it had been a mystery, they'd have caught the person responsible for all that grief, put him or her in jail, and seen that justice was done. As an old reader almost immune to surprises, that's what I look for these days.

Aug 17, 2015

Check Your Reading

Readers are smart people. We know that. Reading almost anything makes you learn things, even if they're not massively important things. Non-fiction is the most reliable source for learning, although you have to be careful whose nonfiction it is. Recent studies showed that reading fiction can make a person more empathetic, presumably because you put yourself in the place of others and see life from viewpoints other than your own.

Over time we develop reading habits, and that's both good and bad. If you always read one genre and even one sub-genre, you're going to end up in a rut. Publishers encourage this, hoping and expecting that readers will buy the next book in a series by their favorite author, even if it's pretty much the same as the book before it and the one before that. Sadly, they can get sloppy if they think buyers are locked-in to the series. The last book I read by one of my favorite authors was poorly edited and so much like the rest that there wasn't much joy in reading it.

I read mostly mystery, but events of the last few years forced me to branch out, which made me more aware of my reading choices. I read to someone who could no longer read for herself, and that meant scientific stuff I'd never have chosen, Hollywood biographies (again, not my style), and sci-fi/fantasy like The Hunger Games and Twilight (waaaaay down my list of worthwhile reading).

I can't say the time was wasted. I learned a lot about astrophysics, brain research, Tina Fey, and what most of America is reading. I also learned that I don't always have to pick up another mystery. I doubt I'll go back to YA adventure anytime soon, but I do regularly buy something on the scientific spectrum now, because it's interesting to learn what's out there that I know little about. And I've done some reading in other genres, mostly by asking local bookstore people, "What would I like to read?" They're very patient about searching out books for me, and though sometimes it isn't to my taste, other times I'm very interested.

A few days ago a former student recommended the Gentleman Bastards series, so I bought the first one. So far it's kind of fun, though I'm not much into the world-building part of fantasy novels. It's got interesting characters and lots of action, so I'm enjoying the temporary shift from the likes of Lee Child and Michael Connelly.

I recommend shaking up your reading every once in a while. Ask yourself:
Am I in a reading rut?
Have I read outside my favorite sub-genre lately?
Do I explore other genres?

If you haven't, it's like living on chocolate cake. It's really sweet, but it probably isn't the best thing for you in the long run.

May 4, 2015

What Is a Good Book?

Which Are the Good Ones?
I've read a lot of books, but we probably won't agree on which were the best ones. Why? Because each book speaks to us as individuals: where we come from, what we value, and how we want our leisure activities to go.
Reading requires commitment: time for sure, concentration (some books more than others), and a degree of background preparation. The ability to read is the most basic level, but requirements build after that. For example, a person isn't likely to enjoy a book about modern immunology if she doesn't understand the vocabulary used or a book about WWII if she doesn't know or care who Winston Churchill was.
Reading serves different purposes. Many people read to escape from hum-drum, daily stuff. They want to escape reality, and they don't mind how wild the plots get as long as they're entertaining. Others demand that their fiction be realistic, with characters who could be real and plot-lines that might actually happen. People who read to become enlightened usually choose non-fiction and often have little patience for books that are offered just for fun.
Lots of readers. Lots of reasons to read.
As a former English teacher, I have to tell you I'm not thrilled with a lot of what sells these days. Bad writing, bad plots, and lack of creativity seem like glaring faults to me. Much of what's billed as non-fiction is actually fiction, with the authors either so biased or so deluded that I have no interest in what they claim is truth.
But not to the people who are reading those books and thinking they're really good.
So what constitutes a good book?
A good book is one that captures and holds your interest, whatever that interest might be. If it's panned by people like me but you enjoy it, read it. If nothing on the Best Sellers list does it for you but you have favorite authors you can't wait to get back to, that's okay. Keep reading what you like.
Keep reading.

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