Monday, May 13, 2013

The Reading Rules--Guest Post by Ariel Allison Lawhon of She Reads

There’s a game I play with my children every time we sit down to read. I call it “The Reading Rules” because the four boisterous children I’ve been given need reminding of what is (and is not) civilized behavior while reading a story.

Consider this recent episode:

Me: “Boys, what are the reading rules?”

Boy #1 (ten-years-old): “No talking while you read.”

Boy #2 (eight-years-old): “No asking questions til’ you’re done.”

Boy #3 (six-years-old): “No hitting.”

Boy #4 (four-years-old): “I tooted.”

This, as you can imagine, sent the entire conversation down the toilet (pun intended). Spasms of giggles. One child plugged his nose and rand around the couch. Someone else 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 where they were unmanageable and had to be 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. They are sensitive enough to plot even at this age 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 a national book club, and a contributor to this fine establishment, 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 that come to mind:

Rule #1: No Judging A Book Unless You’ve Read It

I will confess I’ve done this very thing. I’ve read reviews and heard my fellow writers/readers pan a book and formed an opinion on something I’ve not so much as held. 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 on 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. Anything less 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 always a bad thing perhaps, 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 of personal taste. I could give you a list of novels and authors and genres that I go out of my way to avoid. But 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. If we’re going to publically critique the work of another let’s be honest, intelligent, thoughtful. And fair. 

So what do you think? Do you disagree with any of these rules? Or feel others should be added to the list? For the advancement of civilized reading, please do share!


Josey Bozzo said...

Yes, Yes, Yes!
I agree with all points.

Patti Hill said...

Ariel, love the wit and wisdom of your post. This reminds me of something Bonnie wrote some time back about respecting the creativity of others, that we all are on a journey of growing in our craft. Something like that. Served as a good kick to the heinie. Thanks, Bonnie and Ariel.

SusanKPerry said...

Good rules (about the boogers, too). I would add as part of "think before you review," think twice or thrice before including spoilers. If you're at all creative, you should be able to talk about the book without giving away major plot points. One of my first novel's first reviews made me want to, in order, throttle the reviewer, write bad things about the reviewer, write bad things TO the reviewer, and tear my own hair out. And then never write for publication again. I decided to do none of the above and hope for better written reviews in the future. What he did was tell the reader absolutely ALL the major plot points (who lived, who died!). Do not do this to your fellow human being who has worked many years to make her book the best it could be. Please.