Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Reading Philosophy

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I think it's the byproduct of some articles I've read, some people with whom I've chatted, the blogs 6th anniversary and the fact that my 40th birthday is around the corner. Now, before anyone jumps to conclusions, I have absolutely NO apprehensions about turning 40. I've said before that you couldn't pay me to go back to my 3rd decade, my 4th was the best yet and I'm planning for the 5th to be even better. worries about melancholy or age panic.

But back to the topic at hand.  A couple weeks back I read this article at Book Riot. And I nodded right along and said, "I am the same way." There are people who have been unjustifiably rude or mean to me personally, people I enjoyed reading at one time. I no longer read their books. I have not and will not ever write publicly about these experiences, though, because they are my experiences and I do not wish to taint others' views of the writers because of my experiences. And who's to say everyone would react the same way I did anyway? Others may have thicker skin, be more forgiving or just brush it off as a bad day.

There are people who I view as "monsters" and would never read to begin with, let alone to determine if I liked their books or not. Murderers, pedophiles, rapists, people who are cruel to get the idea.

I read James Joyce's ULYSSES and PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN and was so turned off by his elitism that I've never touched another of his works; I cringe every time I see one of these books on a "greatest list." While I wouldn't call him a monster, I also won't read him...I guess he's not too overly concerned about it, though.

The next week there was another article at Book Riot that offered a different view on the subject. This article's author suggested that we should read books, even if they're written by monsters, because we need to be open to views other than our own. While I completely agree that we should be open to reading ideas that oppose our own and keep an open mind to other possibilities, I don't know that it hit the mark exactly. I think the first author was less concerned with the ideas writers are conveying in their works, and more on the actions they take in their lives. For example in my case, if Michael Vick decided to write a crime novel, I wouldn't buy it, read it or anything else. It has nothing to do with the ideas he's writing in the book, but rather his actions in life. On the flip side, I've read many crime novels, literary works and non-fiction books that expressed ideas contradicting my own. If it's handled in such a way that I don't feel I'm being flogged for thinking differently, then I'm very interested to hear the viewpoint and I can still highly respect the person writing it. If it comes across as preachy, however, I'm likely to give up on it.

Also in the mix, this report was published. I guess it's positive to say most American adults read at least one book last year. But when you look at what that means means almost a quarter of American adults read NO books last year. NONE. ZIP. ZILCH. ZERO. Is that the end of the world? No, it's not. But with all the studies that have found reading benefits not only things like vocabulary and comprehension, but empathy, bias, and even aging issues like dementia, I do think it's cause for concern. Anything we can do to encourage reading should be done. We don't need to help discourage anyone. There's enough of that out there without our help.

And I guess I've been on a Book Riot fancy lately because then I read this article that I thought was really inspiring. It talks about Theodore Roosevelt's rules for reading. I loved EVERYTHING on this list and combined with the other articles and report, it got me to thinking about what is important and what my reading philosophy is.

The first item on the Roosevelt list says, "...there is no such thing as a hundred books that are best for all men, or for the majority of men, or for one man at all times.” Yay Teddy! Be gone all you 100 best lists!

I recently read a critic who intimated that other people who reviewed a book differently from this person were wrong because they thought differently...had a different response to reading that book. I don't care if you're the #1 critic for the most recognized book publication in the entire Milky Way and you've read every book ever written in every genre and can recite them all from memory, that's arrogance at its best. And it's wrong. You are not and will never be the end all, be all authority. On the rare occasions that I post a review that's more negative than positive (like this one), I hope I've written it in such a way that people know why the book didn't work for me. Because somewhere out there is an audience that the book WILL work for. And if a member of that audience stumbles on my review, I want them to know that it will work for them because they are different readers. And that's totally OK!

Number 6 on the list is probably the biggest one for me:

“Books are almost as individual as friends. There is no earthly use in laying down general laws about them. Some meet the needs of one person, and some of another; and each person should beware of the booklover’s besetting sin, of what Mr. Edgar Allan Poe calls ‘the mad pride of intellectuality,’ taking the shape of arrogant pity for the man who does not like the same kind of books.”

I love crime novels, obviously--and most of you do, too, otherwise you probably wouldn't be reading here. My sister does not. Not at all. And let me tell you, she's a very smart woman. I've always, always admired how smart, educated, passionate and thoughtful she is--I don't feel differently because she chooses to read different books than I do.

But I digress, I also enjoy reading other books and have been doing more of that lately: humor, non-fiction, general fiction, etc. However, I still don't care so much for romance or romantic suspense and most cozy mysteries aren't my cup of tea. I would never, ever want anyone to tell me I was ignorant, stupid, or worthless because I don't like to read in those areas.  It's not that I think they're bad, it's that they don't make reading enjoyable for me. So I'm certainly not going to say someone else is ignorant, stupid or worthless because they don't like the crime novels I do. There's a saying about glass houses and stones that would fit here...Are there great elements to crime novels?  Of course there are (even if there weren't, it would still be o.k. to like to read the books)! And I'll be the first person to help you see them if you're unaware of what they are. But there are great elements to other realms of writing as well. I don't look at this as an exclusive club. If you want to give it a try (and I hope you will), I welcome you with open arms--no entry fee, no secret handshake, nothing. If you don't like the same books I do, we can still be friends!

The same goes for individual writers. Sometimes I think there's an element of jealousy in some of the snark about successful people, but if you enjoy a certain author, don't let others make you feel guilty for reading that person...or like you're "less" for some reason. Here at Jen's Book Thoughts, I don't care if you like reading Shakespeare, Stephanie (Meyer), Seuss, Steele or Sakey...all I care about is that you read and enjoy reading. You don't need to view any kind of reading as a "guilty pleasure." Because you know what? You're far more likely to take on books and authors who challenge you if you've established an overall love of reading first...and continue to nurture that love by making your experience mostly fun and not a chore. You'll make time for reading if it is enjoyable, you'll make excuses if it isn't.

And the last item on the list is a goodie as well: “Books are all very well in their way, and we love them at Sagamore Hill; but children are better than books.” In my case this would probably be "critters" not "children." I love books, I love reading, I taught to share my love of reading. I believe reading is important in the whole scheme of one's life...and in the whole scheme of a culture. However, I also know that it should stay in its proper perspective. If you're living in extreme poverty and fighting just to have enough to eat each day and someplace safe to stay, books are an extreme luxury. So if I spend all my time and energy campaigning for people to read, but completely ignore the issues that legitimately prevent people from being able to read, I don't feel I've done the right thing. Not for me, anyway.

I often get the question of how I feel about ebooks. And I think that falls into this philosophy post as well. I love stories. I don't care how they are delivered. I have an ereader, I use my ereader. I also read print books and listen to audios. It makes absolutely no nevermind to me how you get your stories. If you like print books, Yay! If you adore your ereader, super! Like listening to audios, ME TOO! Here's usually what rubs me the wrong way, though. "I hate audiobooks." --"Oh really, did you listen to a bad one?"--"No, I've never listened to an audiobook, I just know I wouldn't be able to." Uh huh, so you aren't willing to give it a try, but you are willing to knock it? Yeah, I don't like that. I also don't subscribe to the idea that audiobooks aren't real books. But other people's philosophies aren't within my control, only mine is.

What I hope you will always do, though, is respect the rights of the creator. In other words, please get your stories legitimately, otherwise, the stories will go away. Granted, that's the extreme situation, but writers don't do performances that rake in lots of dough from ticket and souvenir sales. Plus, it's just the right thing to do.

Now that being said, I also don't judge anyone based on where they get their books. I've been sad a few times when people have said to me, "I hope you don't hate me but I get my books at [fill in the blank]." I would never hate someone for such a reason. I have several independent bookstores that I enjoy visiting and supporting and so I provide links to them on here. But if you go to Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Half-Price Books, Better World Books, THE LIBRARY!! I'm not going to look down my nose or pass judgement. Do what works for you (provided, of course, it's legal).

O.k. so my ridiculously long stream of consciousness post here...what does it all mean for my philosophy. Here it is summed up:

1.) I love reading, and the reading is what's most important to me.
2.) I will always share what books I have loved because I think that's what encourages people to read more and that's always been my hope for this blog.
3.) I will always be open to discussing different perspectives or reactions to a book, provided it's done in a mature, respectful, non-threatening manner. No one is right or wrong in how they felt about their reading experience. However, they can be wrong in how they behave about those feelings.
4.) I will not judge others for liking or not liking "kinds" of books or specific writers of books. If it works for you, JUST READ IT!
5.) I will not judge others for liking or not liking  certain modes of delivery for stories.

And above all else, my promise to myself is to keep everything in perspective. Life is too short and I'm too old to sweat the small stuff.  This world is divided on too many issues already, the perceived "quality" of one's reading choices doesn't need to be added to that list. Thanks for tolerating my ramblings today. Happy Reading!!


Les Blatt February 5, 2014 at 8:34 AM  

Good post, Jen, and I'm in complete agreement with your five-point summary.

For heaven's sake, what we are doing is READING FOR PLEASURE. Like you, I rarely write a negative review on my blog because there are a LOT of books out there to talk about that I enjoy (or have enjoyed or will enjoy) reading. Your taste and mine differ in some areas. So? Neither of us is "right" or "wrong" in this context - what would be wrong would be bad-mouthing those who disagree with us.

PLEASURE is the key word here. If reading is NOT pleasant, why are we doing it?

Keep up the great work.


Kristopher February 5, 2014 at 9:10 AM  

Great post Jen.

I agree with every point you have made.

Every book has a reader and no one has a right to judge what others are reading. All we can do is express what we ourselves enjoy (or don't, if one wishes).

I don't write negative reviews, mainly because I just don't enjoy talking about things I don't like. I'd much rather express my joy about something that I did enjoy.

Certainly, there are many books I don't like or authors I prefer to stay clear of, but to express that in a public context might sway a new reader from finding that book or author and that just isn't who I am.

Also, having already made it into my 40's, I can promise you that the years are just as wonderful. And like you, each decade has been better than the previous and I plan for that to continue for a long time.

Thanks for the excellent post!

Mark Baker February 5, 2014 at 10:04 AM  

I agree with all your points, but I'm going to discount you now for not liking cozies.

I'm kidding.

I'm of the mindset that I read for fun. I like cozies, so that is the majority of what I read. But when something else catches my eye, I read it. And if I don't like something, I don't go back and read any more from that author.

I can't think of any authors I won't read off the top of my head, but that's probably because my to be read pile is so huge (as always), it's hard to see much else.

Karen B February 5, 2014 at 11:05 AM  

Fascinating stuff!!

Thanks to you and Lesa for introducing me to Brad Parks.

I'm with Mark - I LIKE cozies.

You always make me think - and that's a good thing.

Jen Forbus February 5, 2014 at 11:12 AM  

Hey everybody! Thanks for stopping by and reading my ramblings today. I so appreciate all your comments and love that you cozy readers still hang with me despite my deficiency. :-)

Yay for reading!!!

SuziQoregon February 5, 2014 at 11:13 AM  

Great post - love it. Teddy Roosevelt's rules for reading are fabulous.

Joe Barone February 5, 2014 at 11:16 AM  

I'm a bit older than you are. (Try 32 years older). I read for pleasure. I read what I want to read. And I agree that if I have stopped reading a book or totally feel the need to trash a book, I don't mention it in my blog. I respect those who do otherwise and understand why they do it. But my blogging is mainly for my own sake, to help me recall the book (after all, I am almost 72!). I find some of the good books I read by reading in blogs like yours.

Beth F February 5, 2014 at 12:52 PM  

Great post, Jen!

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