Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Should reading be work?

The latest issue of Newsweek has in it an interesting article about reading and about Jodi Picoult, in particular.

Titled 'Why is it a Sin to Read for Fun?' the article considers the "'gateway drug' theory of literature":

"that once introduced to the pleasures of reading, a child will work her way through increasingly difficult and, presumably, increasingly more edifying texts.....Implicit in this theory is the idea that at some point reading should stop being a pleasurable diversion, and start being work."

I find this an interesting notion, correct in some ways, but flawed in the idea that reading should necessarily be work. Indeed, I think ones idea of 'pleasurable reading' changes as one matures, gains more experience in life and with books. My idea of a fun read is probably someone else' idea of drudgery.

In regards to Jodi Picoult, the article asks 'has she become too successful to be taken seriously?' Interesting question. I have enjoyed some of Picoult's books, others not as much. She has a distinctive writing style that obviously appeals to many people. In all honesty, I have to say that in my own mind I do sort of 'grade' books in level of difficultly, so while Picoult may write about heavy topics, I still generally consider her books lighter and easy reads.

It's an interesting article if you get a chance to read it, and if you happen to come across the print version, there is a great photo of Picoult from behind as she looks out over her many fans at a reading.

18 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I used to find reading textbooks work, but these days if a book is too much work, I generally don't stick with it.

Ti said...

I know what you mean about Picoult now that I've read one of her books (Nineteen Minutes).

From what I've heard, she seems to be a "package" writer in that she delivers the entire package, chock full of controversial topics and always, always includes a twist at the end. I think a lot of readers like that "full circle" approach.

She delivers what her fans apparently want so that's success to me.

Debbie said...

It was an intersting article.... kind of snobbish, tho, don't you think? I read everything, some lighter, some harder, mysteries, chick-lit, as well as literary books.
It's all okay. I just like to read.

booklineandsinker said...

i tend to change my reading habits with the weather--the warmer the weather, the lighter the novel.

i've read several of jodi picoult's books and they have entertainment value--and she uses figurative language beautifully. that said, her books are a bit formulaic. i prefer to 'read' them on audio book--i swear they are better that way! :)

christina said...

Thanks for posting the article. I'm a Picoult fan, but I see it like a Sunday afternoon, the windows are open allowing a cool breeze to come in, and I'm sprawled on my couch watching a Lifetime Special. Yup. That's Picoult for me!

Staci said...

Reading is never work for me...I just love to do it, whether it's informational text or pleasure reading. As for Picoult, I wasn't that wild about her newest book. I'm starting to fade a little with her.

Bybee said...

I agree with your assessment of Jodi P.'s work.

softdrink said...

Interesting article. I'm not a big Picoult fan...after a couple of her books they did all start to seem the same. But I think it's a good thing that different books appeal to different people. Whether someone reads romance or mystery or Picoult or Tolstoy, they're still a reader to me.

And I think Zadie Smith sounded like a total snob in the article. Not impressed by that at all.

Cath said...

I suppose it's good that journalists are writing about reading and books but why oh why do they try to create a problem where there isn't one? I have friends who read literary stuff, friends who read genre fiction, friends who only ever read YA fantasy. I treat them all the same. We all love *reading* and can all learn from each other. I agree with Debbie in that the article was snobby, even elitist, in tone. Personally I read *everything* because I really hate to miss out on a good book, regardless of the pigeon-hole it's been shoved into... low-brow, high-brow, no-brow-at-all: it's all just 'reading' and I love it.

Gentle Reader said...

Such an interesting idea--I did work my way through increasingly difficult and edifying texts, but I've never considered reading "work", unless I was reading something for school or work that I didn't choose to read! I haven't read any of Picoult's books, but I must admit I've steered away from them partly because they are so popular, and I tend not to like big bestsellers...not fair, I know!

Tara said...

bermudaonion, well, yes, but textbooks are supposed to be work, right? I agree with you.

Ti, you are spot on in your assessment of JP in my opinion. For me, often I just don't find her books as satisfying as others and feel there is too much 'padding' to the stories.

Debbie, I definitely think so! Esp. Zadie Smith - I couldn't believe her remarks. I just like to read, too.

booklineandsinker, I think JP has entertainment value too - but so often I don't want to put the time into her books - they are long after all! Interesting idea about the audio books! If I am ever looking for one, hopefully I'll remember that.

christina, exactly, exactly! Glad you liked the article.

Staci, I'm interested in JP's latest book, but have passed on the last couple and the few before that felt pretty so-so about. I wonder if she's writing too fast these days, as I liked her older books more.

Bybee, thanks!

Softdrink, I was pretty surprised by the ZS quotes! Sheesh!

Cath, you make a very good point. What's the point of writing an article to make people potentially feel bad for reading lighter books? I say if people are enjoying reading, whatever gives them satisfaction, great.

Ali said...

I see a progression for kids, towards seeking out more complex plots and characters. I think that's part of the popularity of the Harry Potter series, is that Rowling gave readers a pretty complicated plot and setting with an easily accessible reading level.

Nan said...

I didn't read the article, but for me reading should never, ever be work. If I don't love it, I don't read a book. There are so many things in life one 'must' do, one 'has' to do, and reading for me is a freedom from them. It is a pure pleasure. I'm not a crafter, a knitter, a job-holder - I'm a reader. For me, JP would be work - having to read those subject matters wouldn't be pleasure for me at all. Thank God we have the freedom to read what we want, and that no one can ever tell us we have to read something. I'd just watch tv if that were the case. Okay, hopping right off that soapbox now!

Vintage Reading said...

Very interesting post, Tara. I agree with Nan's comment that reading should always be a pleasure. I've given up one of my 'real-life' book clubs because I didn't always fancy the choice of book and it was getting to be hard work. As a reader, I just like to meander down my own path. Never read Picoult but I may try her novel.s

Lisa said...

I've always disagreed with the notion of categorizing books into edifying and fun. Tara, I agree with your assessment that reading tastes grow and change as the reader grows and changes, but reading should always be enjoyable.

J.Danger said...

I always feel funny when I saw I am reading for work, verses reading for pleasure, because even when I read for work I find it enjoyable. And I agree with you, reading should require a little bit of "work". One should always be an active reader I think.

Danielle said...

I wasn't really sure what to make of that article. I see all reading as fun/pleasure--even the challenging books. And I read such a variety of it. Like Cath said--why are they trying to create a problem where there isn't one. And I agree--as a reader matures they do tend to look for different things--different kinds of books. Thanks for the link.

Tara said...

Ali, really good point about Harry Potter, and of course the books become more complicated as you read them.

Nan, well said!

Vintage reading, I too like to read what I want when I want. I struggle at times with my own book club and our choices, but the people keep me coming back.

Lisa, it should, shouldn't it!

J.Danger, good for you! I do think I am always evolving as a reader, even from year to year.

Danielle, the article does seem to want people to take sides, or have people judge the reading choices of others. I think reading is great obviously, whatever one chooses to read!