REASONS READERS READ THE BOOKS THEY READ
© 2011, Vicki Hinze
Every now and then, readers and writers are subjected to comments from other people about the reading material they have selected. Some of the comments are from people we know, others are from total strangers.
For example, the person sitting beside you in the doctor’s office that you have never seen before and never will again, who happens to notice what you’re reading and feels compelled to tell you why you should or should not be reading that particular book.
Most days, I find that amusing. After all, a total stranger knows nothing about you or your life yet feels absolutely comfortable in advising you on what is in your best interests. But there are times when that is not so amusing, when it is anything but amusing, like during the first radio interview that I ever did on one of my books. A gentleman called in and took exception to me wasting my time writing a romance novel when there were so many admirable women in the world I could be writing about.
He hadn’t yet read the book, but that didn’t slow him down. He hadn’t yet heard what the book was about, which was that we all make mistakes, and when we do, we have to have the courage and fortitude to pick ourselves up and try again. Didn’t matter. No, he heard the words romantic suspense, drew conclusions that were inaccurate but embedded in his brain, and stuck with his advice.
The interesting thing, if he knew me, he’d know I’d never write a book about a woman I didn’t consider admirable. But he didn’t know that, either. He spoke his piece, I spoke mine, and for the most part, it was amiable and we moved on to the next caller.
That incident happened over two decades ago—and again several weeks ago. Isn’t it funny how some things never change?
But some things do. I have. You have. Books have. One constant that I don’t believe has changed much is the reasons people read the books they read.
What we read isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition.
Just as we go through seasons in life, we go through seasons in reading. A season can be for an extended period of time, or for one book. My point is that we look for different things at different times in books and, fortunately, we live in a time where we have a broad array of books from which to select books that fit our needs at any given moment.
Readers read for many reasons. Here are a few:
Entertainment. Whether we need down time because we’re going through difficulties or because we just want to relax, we read for entertainment. We don’t expect to discover life- altering information, we don’t expect to be educated. We expect to be entertained. There’s value in entertainment. Whether it allows us to release stress, or unwind, or to forget our troubles for a time, entertainment is valuable to us.
I often share a story about my own need for entertainment during my mother’s deathwatch. While she lay in ICU, and was in and out of consciousness, for five minutes here and there I could lose myself in the story and forget that I was losing the woman who gave me life. Those five minute breaks enabled me to deal with all of the rest of the 60 minutes in that hour, and from hour to hour and day to day. You tell me the value of a five-minute escape in a situation like that. I know the value I found in them.
Experience. Readers are armchair adventurers. We want to experience something new and different and outside of our normal daily life. And we love experiencing it from the safety of our armchair. We can be adventuresome, take risks, and participate in exciting, thrilling experiences without guilt or feeling the need to condemn ourselves as fools for taking risks that impact our ability to fulfill our responsibilities to others. We can also work through our troubles by participating in a story journey of someone going through similar problems. Maybe we couldn’t find a way to overcome our challenge on our own, but the character in a book can and does, and we see from her experience that we can, too.
Maybe were at a crossroads and we’re not sure which way to go. Maybe were confused, or feeling helpless or maybe even hopeless. But we pick up a book, and in that story we journey down one path or the other. We see what that character encountered, and apply it to what we might expect. We gain experience from our journey. If the end result is a positive one or a negative one, we still gain. We see the value in making the journey and it offers us clarity. We can apply the story situations to our situations and gain from the experience.
Education. We learn reading books. Both fiction and nonfiction can offer us many opportunities to learn about new places, cultures, and traditions; new ways of thinking and coping and handling specific situations. We can see how problems were addressed and what the outcome was, and then we can decide whether that is the outcome we choose. If it is, we have a plan. If it is not, we have the base of a plan and the knowledge to know what not to do in our own situation.
We stand to learn as much from fiction is nonfiction. In a way, often we can learn more from fiction because we get beyond the facts and into the emotional impact, the spiritual impact, the impact on other people directly affected, and more. The canvas is broad, the effects far-reaching. Very often in stories twists and turns occur that we would never anticipate in our own circumstance. The education offered has value.
Today you might want to read a book because you’re seeking an answer to a question. Tomorrow you may want to read a book because you need downtime, time to just be. Next week you may be looking for information and seeking education, or you might experience something totally outside your sphere that scares your socks off, and you want to read a book about it to see how someone else who went through it or had the same experience handled it.
Readers read for many different reasons. They read different books at different times for different reasons. And no one knows better than the reader what he or she needs at any given time from a book.
We’ve all heard the old saying that there is good and bad in everything. I would say that books are not exempt. But I would also say that what is deemed good or bad is subjective.
I am a writer, but I am also a reader. In shorthand, I’ll say I read to mood. But a more accurate description would be to say that I choose the books I choose, at the time I choose them, for a specific purpose. I am seeking something. It might be entertainment, education, experience, or something totally different. And I will venture to say the same is true of other readers.
For that reason, I’m hesitant to make a judgment call on what other people read. I do believe that they’re drawn to the books that they choose for reasons beyond personal preference. That’s not to say that if you read a book you really enjoy, you can’t recommend it to other people. Book recommendations are totally different from what I’m talking about in these situations where judgments are made for her against books that you’ve selected to read. It’s the judgment call that creates the challenge.
This might seem unrelated, but it’s not. An interviewer once asked me a question that has stayed with me. She wanted to know if I got upset about publishing delays. I said that I did not then shared an experience that happened to me many years earlier. A book had been delayed eight years from the time I wrote it until it appeared on bookshelves, but it appeared at exactly the right time—the perfect time—for a reader who needed to hear what it had to say.
Once you’ve had such an experience, and you’ve seen all the dots connect so that readers and books find each other at just the right moment, you don’t question things like delays again. Instead, you trust that the book will reach the people it is intended to reach.
Perhaps that is an experience that would serve well those who issue judgments on the value of what others read. Perhaps they too should trust and recognize the value in the books readers read.