Q: What are you reading? A: Does it matter?

I recently asked writer Annie Evett to swing by with a guest post about reading preferences, and she came through with a great one. More about Annie after the post.

Here she is:

Guilty Pleasures….. in reading.
Do you read books you are slightly embarrassed about? Would not dare open in public or let others know you indulge in that genre?
I am not saying that these books are ‘bad’, or poorly written, but for some reason, on any normal circumstance would never get past your front door, much less have a place in your reading pile. Perhaps they are books or genres your family or friends may tease you about.
My guilty pleasures run a mile high – from epic fantasy tomes ( Terry Brooks, Sara Douglass) to circumspective high brow romance Georgette Heyer novellas. They represent comfort reading – like a large slice of warm chocolate cake and a mug of cocoa and marshmallows, served in the snuggly warmth of a fluffy blanket on the couch…. in the middle of the week when everyone else is at work.( now THERE is a guilty pleasure worth getting embarrassed about!)
At its best these guilty pleasures whisk you away, suspending any belief or brain cells you may have had, relaxing your usual literary standards, and quashing your normal cynical authors (or readers) voice into a contented squeak; whilst your intelligent brain quietly melts out of your ears.
I own all but the latest Wilbur Smith books – devouring them incessantly when I first discovered them. In truth, I was ‘totally’ in love with one of my friends older brothers – who collected and read these novels. The family had recently emigrated from South Africa and in my deluded state believed that if I knew more about where they had come from (as obviously Wilbur Smith was an undisputed historical expert on the matter) then perhaps I might have had a chance to be ‘seen’ as more than a daydreaming 15 year old school girl. (like that ever happened!)
I understand that there are both readers and authors who would consider “genre” fiction potentially lower in ‘quality’ than literary fiction. This has been a topic of discussion amongst writers in the past. But I think that depends more on the author than the genre. If its poorly written fiction or poorly executed literature – it still has the same outcome – readers who struggle to grasp the meaning and message.
For parents and educators of the young, finding age appropriate material can bring the worst literary snob out. Many will lean towards ‘literary’ texts to encourage an expanding vocabulary or a broadening of the mind. Most readers are then likely to either be bored by inappropriate material because they don’t understand it, or they simply skip it. I remember as an 11 year old feeling left out as I was the only one who hadn’t read Lord of the Rings. I think I got through the first chapter and was so bored with it, I didn’t pick it up again till I went to Uni – and was completely engrossed by it then. I wonder now if those other 11 year olds had been told that they aught to read certain books as a mark of intelligence and if they had actually enjoyed or even understood most of it? Its my belief that the right message or book will become accessible to you when you need it.

English classes for teenagers are usually populated with dreary and out of touch texts. As much as I personally adore Shakespeare and writers such as Shelly and the Bronte sisters, enormous tomes such as Jane Eyre or King Lear are not  accessible to teenagers these days. I’d argue that something perhaps more upbeat and culturally appropriate might serve the outcome of literature being accessible for teenagers. I say – bring in guilty pleasures for kids – Harry Potter, Sweet Valley High, dare I say it….Twilight? Surely the goal for educators and parents is to engage young readers into the habit of reading, rather than batter them with inaccessible text?  Allow students to explore genre and build thier reading experiences through a journey of success and enjoyment, rather than pain and disgruntled obedience.
I also wonder if there really is such thing as a guilty reading pleasures. The literacy rates in most countries are dropping substantially. Our society is bombarded with dribble passed off as entertainment on the television, internet, and video-games. I would suspect in the near future that if you were able to read a book without pictures, you may be hailed as a near genius.

My take:

Reading has no rules. It is subject to people’s tastes, and even those individual tastes vary from day to day, minute to minute. I can read “War and Peace”, then sit my kids in my lap and read “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” and enjoy both stories to the same degree. Annie’s message is dead on – the reader chooses what they like – and I would argue that those guilty pleasures are not ‘guilty’ at all.

The truth is that this is a conversation for writers and publishers. The American reader knows (or cares) very little about what genre their reading tastes fall into. Annie’s (and my) view is skewed with constantly having to understand what category this or that story falls into, where the audience is, what is the niche market, etc. It’s much like the theology student who, at some point, begins to struggle in having simple conversations about God.

My wife devoured every book in the Twilight series in about a week and a half. She’s a reader, so she reads, and it’s just as it should be.

Q: What are you reading?

A: Does it matter? I’m reading something, and that’s better than dedicating my life to Netflix.

Check out Annie’s work if you get a minute. She’s good. More about her:

Annie Evett

Annie is a prolific scribbler of characters, weaver of stories and wields a balanced editing razor .  She infuses her eclectic writing with years of teaching, traversing the corporate landscape and motherhood. The creative energy behind the collaborative writing project CYOA, she is a contributing editor in a number of publications. For more info, start on her website – http://annieevett.com

Annie Evett



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3 responses to “Q: What are you reading? A: Does it matter?

  1. Thanks for your kind words Jeremy! It was a pleasure to ‘visit’ your site!

  2. I’ve gotten to a point where I no longer have guilty pleasures. I’ve always read fantasy and sci-fi books along with “proper” literature. To the people who automatically pooh-pooh genre fiction as a lesser being, I say they haven’t read enough of it. There is some genuinely fine writing that can be recognized even if the subject matter isn’t your cup of tea. I don’t enjoy horror as a rule, but I’m not going to sneer at someone for writing it because that’s the story they have to tell. Like you said, it’s ultimately the quality of the writing that matters. Someone can call their book “Literary Fiction” all they want, but if I’m spotting spelling errors, the wrong homophone being used, poor punctuation, and sentence fragments, it’s not a good book.

    • Annie-glad to have you.
      Heather – agreed, and the best part is that you get to decide what’s good and what’s not. And you vote with your wallet, which is fairly important.

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