I play a game with my children every time we sit down to read. I call it “The Reading Rules” because my four boisterous children need to be reminded what is(and is not) civilized behavior while reading a story.
Consider this recent episode:
Me: Boys, what are the reading rules?
Boy #1 (eight-years-old): No talking while you read.
Boy #2 (six-years-old): No asking questions til’ you’re done.
Boy #3 (four-years-old): No hitting.
Boy #4 (two-years-old): I pooped.
This, as you can imagine, sent the conversation straight down the toilet (pun intended). Spasms of giggles. One child plugged his nose and ran around the couch. Another flailed on the floor. But now they were inspired. And hyper.
Boy #1: And no picking our nose.
Boy #2: And no eating our boogers.
Boy #3: Boogers taste yucky.
Me: Please don’t tell me how you know that.
Boys 3 and 4 had, by this point, twisted off to the point of unmanageable and were sent to bed. It took an additional five minutes to corral the attention of the older two back to the task at hand: learning which of the four houses the Sorting Hat assigned Harry Potter. Even at this age, they are sensitive enough to plot that they rooted for Gryffindor. And of course, by the time we reached the end of the chapter, they were not disappointed.
What does this have to do with a literary blog you say? As a novelist, avid reader, co-director of She Reads, a national book club, and a contributor to Novel Matters, I wanted to suggest that my children are not the only uncivilized readers out there. Many of us could use a few Reading Rules as well. Here a few:
Rule #1: No Judging A Book Unless You’ve Read It
I confess I’ve done this. I’ve formed an opinion about a book based solely on reviews and how my fellow writers/readers panned it, even though I hadn’t so much as held the book in my hands. This rule can be tricky considering my role at She Reads. I have the opportunity to read dozens of books every month. And the truth is that I often find myself in the position where I do not care to finish them. But if I’m being honest, that does not put me in a position to judge the entire book – only the portion I’ve read. I could name more than one novel that began better than it ended. Or vice versa. Recently I was so irritated by the first line of a novel that I snapped it shut and haven’t picked it up again. By doing so, I disqualified myself from all intelligent conversation about that novel. So the rule that I apply to unread or unfinished books is to say, “I’ve not read the novel,” or “What I read didn’t interest me.” And I leave it at that.Any other judgment is unfair to the author and the book.
Rule #2: Think Before You Review
This rule could also be stated “think before you request.” With programs such as Amazon Vine and mass blog tours, readers are now in a position to acquire books they would normally never purchase. Not a bad thing, but it’s easy to request a novel when there is no personal cost, only to toss it aside later or give it the dreaded one star rating because it fell outside the bounds ofpersonal taste. I could give you a list of novels and authors and genres that I go out of my way to avoid. I know not to read those books for review. To do so would be unfair. See Rule #1.
Rule #3: If You Don’t Like A Book Tell Us Why
There are few things less trustworthy than a book reader/reviewer who loves or hates every book. I’ve found some blog tour participants to be guilty of this and I would wager it has to do with workload. Much easier to slap up the book cover and a few sugar/acid coated thoughts about the novel. Yet honest critique is invaluable to an author. I believe that most authors go into publication already aware of the weak points in their novel. Thoughtful critique that mentions her thin narrative or contrived dialogue can help her hone those skills on the next book. To read that it was “awful” or “useless” or a “waste of time” (all popular review phrases) does little to help her understand or apply critique. Nor does it help to see a glowing but bland review. If we’re going to publically critique the work of another let’s be honest. And fair.
So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with any of these rules? What others ruleswould you add to the list? For the advancement of civilized reading, please do share!