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On The Concept Of A Book For Someone Who Doesn’t Like Reading: An Argument Against

A photograph of a copy of Jane Eyre with a lock and chain around it

The photograph above was taken by Joanna Paterson.

I don’t remember ever feeling particularly against the idea of ‘a book for someone who doesn’t like reading’ – to use the phrase that first gave me this post idea, but thinking about it recently, I was a bit ill at ease, and although I’m still to make up my mind on the whole thing, I wanted to explore it from this angle of unease.

There are of course good goals to be found in getting non-readers to read, goals such as having children read more, which leads both to their own enjoyment in a new hobby and inevitable education benefits. There’s also the occasional – I’m guessing here, as I’ve not seen it happen – adult convert to reading, as well as people who fear reading for various reasons but might take it up with support.

But the idea itself, of getting someone who doesn’t like reading to do so seems a bit passive aggressive, a bit manipulative. We all have our interests and passions and I don’t think there’s ever an age at which we’re not susceptible to becoming a preacher of something we love, something that another may not feel similarly for. But, or especially in this case, if the person is an adult, you have to respect their interests are different.

I’d say that if someone says categorically that they don’t like reading, you’re not going to find a book for them unless, perhaps, they like the idea of picture books and graphic novels that have few or no words. (If you give them a graphic novel you might be putting in place the pieces for an argument when they tell you yet again.)

An argument in favour of the idea of a book for someone who dislikes them, is the similar idea, ‘if you don’t like to read you haven’t found the right book’, to which I expect the person who is looking for an answer to the initial question would respond ‘bingo!’. (We probably don’t want to get these two people together with the non-reader.)

We could consider the idea of ‘the right book’ strange, because it surely infers that there is one, or just a handful… so what do you do after that? It of course depends on what a person doesn’t like about reading but if by chance they find the metaphorical unicorn, what happens next? Are they now a reader, with one book behind them and no more on the horizon? And is there one or a few books that could really suit everyone?

I love finding or suggesting books for/to people who like a particular genre, or just books in general, but I’m yet to come across anyone who doesn’t like reading be open to the idea. It’s like ‘a car for someone who doesn’t like driving’ or ‘a mountain for someone who doesn’t like hiking’ – nowhere near as extreme, but it shares the same basic premise.

I love books and reading, but there are lots of things I don’t like that others do like, and even if reading is linked to health and education and betterment and many other hobbies aren’t, it still shouldn’t be forced. (And most other hobbies are linked to betterment by their hobbyists, anyway, as would be expected of those with different personalities.)

What do you think of the concept and do you have any anecdotes on the subject?

 
How Can We Make Literature Less Intimidating?

A photograph of a copy of Jane Eyre with a lock and chain around it

When I sat down to brainstorm this idea, I found answering the question hard, until I decided to reverse it. Thinking about how could we make literature more intimidating immediately brought to mind that to do so would mean having to keep doing what we’re (general) doing, stick to the status quo rather than continue down the paths a few people and publishes have started to take. Which then answers the first question.

To look on the idea of making it less intimidating, one of those paths that have been created is Quick Reads, the handful of short, easy reads, that are published each year, written by well-known writers. I’ve only read one, but it was enough to see the idea fully in action; I would presume the thought is that after some of these books a person might try something longer and more complex. Might – they don’t have to of course. (A note: Quick Reads is just as much about time constraints as it is making literature less intimidating, I believe.)

The ‘problem’ with the idea of less intimidating literature is that you have to look at specifics rather than the broad picture or it becomes controversial, for example, if ‘literature’ means classics and literary fiction, the argument would be that they ought not be ‘dumbed down’ in any way (and indeed to do so would mean current readers may not like them). But if applied broadly, then we can consider all the genres, which includes fantasy, science fiction, and crime, which often seem the most intriguing and most likely to be read by non-readers. With fantasy there’s less you need to know, in terms of facts, going in because it’s all to do with making things up.

A different point is the importance of letting people read what they want to read and come to their own conclusions. School English lessons, when part of the mandatory curriculum don’t often help with this and if it puts people off that’s a problem. It’s important that someone is allowed to interpret a book through their own experience, no matter how much, or little, or relevant or not, it might seem to others.

I think we do a good job with covers – lots of variety, though obviously trends stay in place for each genre – and in having books that relate to the audience that the shop serves; there are a few specific genres in supermarkets here. You rarely find literary fiction in them but the ‘easier’ books that are stocked must have an audience they wouldn’t be on the shelves. (I know there’s dislike for supermarkets and knocked-down prices, but it’s surely a very good place for fiction if you want to reach those who wouldn’t normally go to a bookshop, whether due to intimidation or price, and it’s easy to find yourself in the aisle whilst looking for something else.)

I do think a lot of it comes down to support and accessibility – accessibility of conversation and a good welcome to it – more than the books themselves. If you feel included in the conversation and able to ask questions and make mistakes, then you’re surely going to be more interested in the idea of picking up something that might be challenging.

How do you think literature could be made less intimidating, and do you have any stories of converting daunted non-readers?

 
‘[Book title] + summary’ And The Likelihood The Book Will Not Be Read

A photograph of a pile of books

Looking through my stats, I’ve noticed a lot of people searching for ‘[book title] summary’ in Google. (They rarely reach my site, presumably because I don’t provide full summaries, but I see them all the same.)

My first thought was that these people would mainly be students, secondary school age, looking to do what my classmates and me did and get away without reading the book, but increasingly the searches involve modern books. Some of these books I can see being placed on a syllabus but many wouldn’t be. And we’re not talking books that have necessarily been turned into films, either (which might have suggested people wanted to know the differences between the mediums).

I worry because it strikes me as likely that it’s just that people don’t want to read the book. If you get the summary, and thus know the main features of the plot, you can potentially hold your own in a conversation, but you likely wouldn’t get characterisation aspects without a different search and it can often take reading the book to know whether it’s character-driven and so forth. And is pretending really worth it? What happens when the person or people to whom you’re pretending ask about something that isn’t related to the plot? (I know this situation is similar to those times you’ve read the book but forgotten it and therefore can’t talk about it much, but it’s easier there, and likely comes across as honest, if you say as much.) I may be biased – I’d prefer to say I’ve not read a book or not yet read it; then again, I’m used to talking to bloggers and similarly-minded readers who know that the number of books out there is limitless.

Of course another possibility is that of a reader who reaches the end but doesn’t quite understand what they read. Usually those are apparent through more specific questions, but not always. Sometimes it can be hard to find what you’re after with specific questions because you have to get the words correct in terms of how the internet has referred to the subject. I looked up The Bell Jar‘s summary after reading the book to see if there were more clues about Joan’s role than I’ve noted. But when that didn’t work I added ‘Joan’ to my search, which made my intent obvious.

Lastly, if you’re studying another book and that book references another you feel it’d be good to have context for, I can see that being another reason to opt for a summary rather than a full read.

What do you think of summaries online and the use of them? There are quite a few study-sort of sites, but not all of them include commentary – I’d say commentary alongside the summary adds a real reason for it.

 
Planning For Christmas 2018

Book cover

Over the last month I’ve been musing over the end month of the year. Every year I say I’m going to add some seasonal books to my reading list but it doesn’t happen as well as I hope. This is partly because I leave it too late – I’m making up for it here – but it’s also because it can be difficult to find Christmas books that aren’t romance.

Finding Christmas romances are easy, they are everywhere and it makes sense that Christmas would be a priority because of the cosiness, mistletoe, and just general seasonal mood. Most of what I’ve read so far at Christmas have been romances. I like settling down beside my tree with such books but I also want to read in other genres too.

Book cover

And that is difficult. I suppose with literary fiction it’s the case that most books set at Christmas may sport some good cheer but at some point in order for the literary-ness to be included, the character’s lives will be upended… and that’s not really what you want at Christmas. It’s also just hard to find such books; most often those with ‘winter’ or ‘Christmas’ in the title move swiftly on.

Historical fiction is a possibly good bet but you have to accept that any Christmas time will likely be fleeting, and quite possibly unlike the season we know. Then there are classics. A Christmas Carol, which I’ve read; The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe which I’ve also read and is somewhat fleeting unless you include the endless winter into the Christmas time… which wouldn’t be right because as Mr Tumnus says, it is “always winter, but never Christmas”; and finally Little Women which I’ve added.

Then there are these: L Frank Baum’s The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus; E T A Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker And The Mouse King (which, something I didn’t know, was first re-written by Dumas before being turned into a ballet – Dumas’ re-write informed Tchaikovsky); Nikolai Gogol’s The Night Before Christmas; O Henry’s The Gift Of The Magi; Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. I believe the Henry is an adult short story; I’d not heard of it before but it sounds famous.

Book cover

I’ve seen a Dilly Court’s The Christmas Card looks like a possibility, but I’ve read a couple of books in that Victorian-to-early-1900s-historical-sort-of-romance-always-with-similar-set-ups-in-terms-of-family and not liked them. (Is there a specific term for books like hers? They’re a particular sort of historical but are generally placed away from ‘regular’ historical fiction, and are instantly recognisable. I’ve noticed supermarkets here have tons of them but they are rarely on display in bookshops. Historical chick-lit perhaps?) I’ll probably give the Court a go for variety’s sake.

So that’s where I am in my planning at present: Dilly Court, Alcott, a contemporary romance or two (likely by Shannon Stacey because whilst I find her work hit and miss it’s always got the escapism factor) and a few children’s fiction options. When I looked for Dilly Court’s book cover I found this list of Christmas books on GoodReads that’ll be worth looking into, especially as it’s a list of other lists.

Do you have any Christmas book favourites? And have you anything I could add to my list of classics?

 
On Referencing And Changing It

Bibliography, split into three pieces, and typed in grey on a white background, with a dotted effect on top

I’m getting either studious or pedantic about referencing. I really can’t say which it is, perhaps it’s both. As I find myself wanting to write more academic, or at least more studious, posts – that word again because who am I kidding on the academic front – there’s been a parallel increase in desire to use a referencing system, and, more to the point, to do it properly. In the past I’ve used both in-text links and end-of-text references, but the pedantic part of me is looking at the benefits of standardising the whole thing except perhaps in cases when it would look silly (I can’t see myself always referencing a regular blog post academically for example, and in-text links are the standard for websites).

I’m very aware right now that I’ve been spending too much time with techy people who use newfangled vocabulary.

This idea of standardisation has occurred mainly due to my own folly; the first several times I used end-of-text referencing I did it in a different way each time, enough that when I’ve recently looked to use my own posts as a template there was no template. I’ve tried various university systems for referencing and done a lot of research; sometimes there are no options for the sort of reference you need to provide. It was bad enough when I was taking university classes and went to cite a quotation that was a quotation itself.

So I want to standardise and the easiest way to do it on this blog looks to be a sort of amalgamation of various styles with my own ideas thrown in for good measure. Less continual comma…isation…, more brackets, and less reliance on web links that will almost certainly lead to a 404 error a year later.

I’m also getting far too excited about the idea of using footnotes for their intended purpose, and recently went and added a useful contextual note for a recent further thoughts post. Oh dear. (On that in-text link note, my own posts will remain links. Anything else is unthinkable.)

All this may make the blog look pretentious. It may mean that on the surface it looks to newcomers to be the work of a scholar in a book-lined room who knows what she’s about rather than the reality of a girl who over thinks literature and is unfortunately aided by the existence of Google, but that will hopefully just be a minor downside. Footnote: I have found evidence of people quoting my posts in essays and hope they research what I’ve written to check it works!

The question you fully expect: do you or have you used referencing in a non-university (and so forth) manner and how did it go?

 

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