Friday, August 13, 2010

What the reader brings to a story

I just finished reading Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie. Like all of Albom's books, it speaks about our connections with others and really made me think about what's important in life. So I rushed over to GoodReads to give it 5 stars and was surprised to see its ratings cover the spectrum. Some readers (probably the ones who cried when Bambi's mother died, like me) loved it and gushed over the message saturating every page; while others likened it to a Hallmark greeting card and slapped a single star on it. I figure the latter must be cardboard cut-outs devoid of souls.

There have been many times I've loved a book and been shocked to hear others hated it. Hated, as in used it for smashing cockroaches and then tore out the pages and fed them to the fire for kindling. Then again I'm the sort who doesn't continue reading a book if it doesn't suck me in within the first 25 pages. Why bother finishing a book if it isn't enjoyable - unless it's required reading for schoolwork? My time is too valuable to invest hours in a book that I can't relate to or don't find interesting.

A conversation on a book forum recently really stuck with me. The talk wandered onto asking writers whether they read their reviews online and how would they react to a bad review? Every writer gets those from time to time. I've had a few myself. The first ones knocked the sunshine right out of me for a good week. I fantasized about writing acidic retorts, pointing out that the reader obviously didn't 'get it'. But I resisted (read I'm too timid to be that assertive) and nowadays, while I can't say I'm not disappointed to get them, I do accept that the story just didn't work for that reader. Not everyone loves a particular genre or writing style. I understand and I'm totally okay with that. There are certain books that just don't work for me. Actually, being a picky reader, I'd say most books don't work for me. But when I find one I really, really like, I rave about it.

Some books are going to resonate with more readers than others. Some cause strong feelings - and not always the good kind. But why is that? Why can I read the same words, in the same format, and interpret it differently than someone sitting right next to me?

Because ultimately it's the reader who determines the quality and value of a story and they can only read into a story what they bring to it. What we, the readers, experience throughout our lives and ultimately come to value has everything to do with whether or not a story has meaning to us. Some folks like descriptions so detailed you could paint a picture based on them. Some like a lot of action so the book plays out in their head like a movie. Others (meaning me and likewise enlightened individuals) like stories that make us feel something, be it fright, longing, compassion or hope. My husband likes a good how-to book - which is a wonderful thing, because the man can build or fix just about anything under the sun. (Personally, I find how-to books booooring. Heck, I don't even have the patience for instruction manuals.)

There's a reason there are soooo many books out there. We aren't all going to love the same ones. But every now and then, I pick up a book that carries me away. I'm entertained, interested, learning something new or am just plain dazzled by the rhythm of the words . . . and sometimes I even find meaning in it. Aren't books a wonderful thing?

P.S. Stop by Historical Novel Review by midnight Eastern (U.S.) time Aug. 14th to enter the giveaway to win a copy of Ann Weisgarber's The Personal History of Rachel DuPree. You can read my review there, as well as an excerpt and an interview with Ann. Just leave a comment on any of the posts to enter.

Happy reading,


Josh said...

Hi, hope it's OK to contact you here. We would love to include your blog on our giveaway search engine: Giveaway Scout ( Have a look and if interested, use our online form to add your blog ( ). thanks, Josh

Claudia said...

Hi Gemi,
I love the photo you used for this post. I think it's a coincidence you wrote this post. My best friend and I were just discussing over the phone that some of our friends couldn't finish reading the book Eat Pray Love. My friend and I bought the book when it first came out in 2006 (before all the hoopla). We just watched the movie and loved it. I think we'll judge a book based on whatever experiences we're going through at that moment. I think our mental state or moods can influence how we read a book. I don't let other readers or critics dictate what I'll read.
Great post!
Hope to see you in my neck of the woods ;)

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Hi Claudia,

Yes, Oprah has influence and whenever she talks about a book it makes you feel like you're missing out on something.

Thanks for stopping by!