Monday, October 27, 2008

What kind of a reader are you?

If you aren’t overly fond of the book you’re reading, do you continue to the end anyway? Or do you quickly put it down – without a single twinge of guilt – and pick up another?

Only recently did it occur to me that there might be various schools of thought* on how to react following the realization that a book isn’t as good as expected.

The revelation came while listening to Joe Hill, author of the best-selling “Heart-Shaped Box” and the new “20th Century Ghosts,” who told readers at my local independent bookstore that he nearly always reads a book to the end – even if he doesn’t like it that much. His wife, however, quickly decides whether a book is for her and throws it aside if it’s not.

In my house, it’s my husband who begins and rejects books so quickly that I’m never sure what he’s reading. I usually keep plugging along unless the writing is beyond wretched or the plot is so convoluted that I’d rather poke myself in the eye than try to figure it out.

After listening to Joe Hill**, I wonder if how we pursue our reading is merely habit or something deeper, like a personality trait that someone should be studying. (I'm sure hoping it's not one of those things that requires therapy, though.)

I hadn’t thought much about it before, but I believe I keep reading because I’m afraid I’ll miss something good that might be still to come. Or maybe I just want to give my fellow writers the benefit of the doubt that they’ll eventually enlighten and/or entertain me.

After all, it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to write a book and get it published. If a book makes it to the store shelves, it must have some redeeming value, right? Unfortunately, I’m often disappointed in my quest to find it. Aren't you?

I recently learned that 411,000 new book titles were sold in America last year. That’s an average of 1,126 new books published every single day. Those numbers alone should be enough to convince us a) we can’t read every new book and b) odds are not all of them are great – and maybe a whole lot aren’t even good. How to find the best ones is a topic for another day, however.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to try to train myself to quickly put down bad books and only keep reading the really good ones. Life’s just too short to read mediocre books. Don’t you agree?

After posting this blog, I received e-mails from people who say that if they're not sure they like a book, they read the ending and then decide whether to go back and read the entire thing. But why read the book if you already know how it ends? I suppose some of us enjoy the journey while others focus on finishing. And I suspect there are as many ways to read a book as there are to write one. Maybe that's what helps make reading so satisfying to so many people.

(**Joe Hill, by the way, uses the inside blank covers of the book he’s reading to make his own scorecards of Red Sox games. Like his father, Stephen King, he is a Sox fan and also brings along the book he’s currently reading to enjoy during breaks in the game.)

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