Discussion: Reading the Wrong Way


Is there a wrong way to read? 

A few weeks ago, I bristled at a conversation I saw play out on Twitter. I’m about to quote the authors (and disagree with them), but this isn’t really an issue about the exact names attached. Here’s the exchange:

twitter-convo

I am this person. 

At least, I am a person who loves suspense in a story. I seldom reread (except for select favorites) and I don’t watch a lot of movie adaptations.

I think (maybe I’m wrong) that I’m not a bad reader–a person who ignores nuance and demands my truth. But the possibility–maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m a bad reader–has lingered in my mind. So let’s explore.

How I Read

I read breathlessly, devouring books in single sittings, in ridiculous numbers. I immerse completely and at one time. I avoid summaries, excerpts, book trailers, hype (when I can, topic for another post). I’m obsessed with the experience of diving into a brand new universe with no prep. It precludes my analytical brain, my tendency to predict, to be bored. I do not skim, but I also do not take my time. I do not agonize over meaning or nuance. I turn pages rapidly, pursuing the thread of plot or character development (often as/more important than plot!) to the end. Hard stop.

Does that make me a bad reader?

Demanding truth

Do I demand my own truth from books? I am white. I’m middle class. I’m straight (am I supposed to say cisgendered too/instead? I don’t even know). My version of truth is pretty common.

Except.

I’m also from a very conservative Christian family. And my religion and values are not represented (not well) in most literature.

So I’ve read lots of books that do not speak to my truth. Some of them I like. Some of them I don’t. I don’t think I demand my truth from a story, but how would I know?

Conclusion (Not)

I think I’m a good reader. I think it’s a personal preference that I read quickly, obsessively, with a lot of emphasis on newness, on suspense.

But now I don’t know. Am I ignoring depth that I should hunt for? Should my books be dogeared, marked through the margins with notes from extended rereads? Does not doing that make me a shallow person?

I try not to use this blog for a diary (this type of self-analysis and dithering is very diary-like!), but I’m throwing this one out because I hope other readers have struggled with feeling like bad readers and can give advice! And maybe some of you are going through this with me. Let me know in the comments!

An additional comment on Shannon Hale & Mette Ivie Harrison: I’ve read several books by both of these remarkable authors. I have incredible respect for their attention to tough topics and representation in the book world. This post is in no way an attack on them, just an issue brought to the fore through their conversation. 

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6 thoughts on “Discussion: Reading the Wrong Way

    • I’m glad to hear that someone else thinks that. 🙂 As a dedicated reader myself, I’m trying to determine if there are ways I should/could improve my reading habits, but I absolutely think that people in general should be encouraged to read anything any way that they want.

  1. What can I say? Reading has never come easily to me. Am I a bad reader because I have to work for basic understanding and probably can’t pronounce all of the characters names? What about the child who is dyslexic, ADHD, autistic, or has any other learning disorder but still reads because he sees the value in it? Some people thrive on the nuances, others might not have that privilege or simply don’t want to be weighed down by them. Taking one model of reading and elevating it as the ultimate method is ignoring the big picture. The ability to learn is not a formula, it is a spectrum. No matter how you glean from the pages – slowly, or in the crazy, devouring style of my sister – reading should be respected.

  2. I don’t think that a reader who enjoys the suspense necessarily demands a story conform to their truth. (To be clear, Harrison didn’t say she though they always were.)

    • You are right–she did not say they always were. 🙂 The easy thing would be to assume that I’m one of the ones who does not, but I wanted to avoid that self-serving conclusion.

      Are you a re-reader?

      • I think this is a big topic. A big part of reading for me is learning/employing empathy. This runs contrary to demanding that a story conforms to your truth.

        I’ve only re-read a few of my favorite books. There are so many unread books to be discovered!

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