What is a *Reader*?

This started as a comment to Bluestocking’s answer to a question, and got, well, long, so I moved it here and it got longer.  I don’t do the meme she’s responding to, but it got me thinking and writing…. so there you go.

I must have a… gentler definition of “reader,” most likely because I wish to include myself in the categorization.

I think anyone who loves to read, can get lost in a story, can draw connections between stories, and between stories and life, can be described as a Reader (with a capital R, since I understand this isn’t a discussion of mere ability).

Now, I’ve never tried reading “chick lit” or “romance” much, but I believe there are smart people who write both, and they write well and what they know will sell (part of being smart and making a living.)

Should one argue, from experience or stereotype, that those genres are “shallow,” that would be irrelevant even if it were true.  If it provides an alternate world, an escape, and builds a vascular system (i.e. those connections I tried to allude to above), it has served its purpose: both to entertain and cause the reader(s) to think.

I’ve just started reading a textbook (for pleasure.  Yes, I was the kid who curled up with encyclopedias): A Critical Handbook of Children’s Literature, by Rebecca J. Lukens, and I love how she talks about “classics.”

The sacred terms “classic” and “award-winner” frequently get us into trouble.  Perhaps it is wise to remember how as children we were sometimes bored by the classics of our parents’ generation.

I’ve mentioned a couple times how some of my favorite books would have no chance of getting published if they were submitted this century, and that I have never been able to work up the interest in some of the most basic “cannon” of femininity (namely, Austen, Alcott and the Little House series).

Please, nobody hate me or question my femininity.

I appreciate how Lukens points out that, especially for the individual that has not learned the language of analysis (e.g., most children), it is basically not possible to describe how a piece of writing affects you, and that might help us understand (or take less personally) when something we regard as “a classic” is not received with the reverence we feel it deserves.

~ ~ ~

Ultimately I think Reading is about two things: entertainment and learning (aka, making us think).  Books can be primarily one or the other, but if they fulfill either role, they have served their purpose.  Another way I may state my definition of a Reader fits here:

We are Readers if we can both learn and be entertained simultaneously.

~ ~

Naturally as a reader and writer I think there are things more worthy of spending time on, but, as I observed to my Brother-in-Law at Christmas time:

Anything we enjoy and spend time on “merely” for our own enjoyment can be (and probably has, even by ourselves at some point been) called a “waste of time.”

I don’t have a lot of patience for “twaddle” books, as I’ve heard them called, but the appeal of those books isn’t their depth, so to attack them on that ground is to miss their point completely.

In the case of children it is very often the familiarity—of the characters or situations, especially in a series— or (this is a new thought that occurred to me tonight) the desirability of the connections they want to make as part of being human.

Those connections we adults get, and feel a satisfaction at our own perceptions or cleverness, I believe that is what my children feel when they see a DORA movie at their aunt’s house, a DORA book at Barns&Noble and a DORA shopping cart at the thrift store.

They are making connections between important parts of their world: relationship, story and play.  As much as I would like to blame it on marketing, I’m beginning to think they are simply seeking connections the only way they can at their level.

Not that I’ve given in yet.  We own *no* DORA.  Other than a couple card games their cousin gave them as a party favor.

All that to say (perhaps to excuse myself) that I respectfully disagree with using “The Classics” as a weighted balance to determine a *Reader.*  At this point in my busy life if I see the only reason I am sticking with a story is “loyalty,” I quit and move on to something that is less work.

And this isn’t to say I don’t make myself think (hey, I’m reading the Bible and other textbooks), but apparently I’ve been working my husband’s model with reading before I ever thought of applying it elsewhere.

I love what C.S. Lewis has to say about Reading, here about the classics:

An unliterary man may be defined as one who had read books once only. There is hope for a man who has never read Malory or Boswell or Tristram Shandy or Shakespeare’s Sonnets: but what can you do with a man who says he “has read” them, meaning he has read them once, and thinks that this settles the matter?

That there is still “hope” for one who has not read these works is a pleasant thought. I’ve hardly heard of the works listed, much less digested them. I like to salve my literary ego by reminding myself that there are also good books written today, and that age isn’t everything… But mostly I like just to be left alone to enjoy a good story wherever I find it.

And when my 5-year-old is begging for the Barbie or DORA book, I suppose I should remember that.  Not that they need more “familiar faces” on their book covers, but that they should never not be surrounded by good stories.


For me, I’ll just call myself a Reader, because I know I am.  And for a subjective queston like this, that is, quite honestly, a long enough answer.  ;)

4 thoughts on “What is a *Reader*?

  1. Heehee. You’re cute, Blue.

    I was more focused a few weeks ago ;) . Wouldn’t have worked. You caught me in a procrastinating mood with a textbook on my mind.

    The post I’m dying to write, that I haven’t yet figured out how to make interesting, is a survey of what I am reading– or “browsing” may be a more appropriate word, as I’m finishing many stories but not whole books.

    God has blessed me (there’s no better way to describe it) with an incredible collection of folktale books. I *adore* them. In another “procrastinating mood” some time back I entered a bunch in LibraryThing.

    (My “user name” there is SnowFairy if anyone wants to check out my books.)

    Anyway, glad you weren’t bothered by my using you as a springboard.

  2. Sometimes the bestest of posts are the springboards. I am headed over to visit bluestocking so I can understand this post.

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