Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What I Learned at Book Club

I belong to a mother-daughter book club at my local library. We have about a month to read a book then have a meeting where we discuss the book, do a craft, and eat a treat; sometimes we watch a corresponding movie. My girls and I love it.

I keep my writing life and my personal life pretty separate, so the other people in the book club don't know that I'm an author. I like that because then I get to see very honest responses to books.

We had one of our meetings last week. The book we were reading had been written around eighty years ago. It's still a very popular kid's book today and the start of a series that has had several spinoff series made and a huge extended world of movies, games, merchandise, etc.

What struck me as we discussed the relevance of the story to today's readers and how it pioneered some things and at the same time reflected the age in which it was written, was that the other women and girls who had read it said that they liked what an easy read it was. The story was intense in places (it's a mystery book) but everyone agreed they liked how they weren't running into one twist after another in order to complicate the story. Relationships between people were pretty straight forward. The book took a piece of the main character's life and displayed it without feeling the need to have ominous undertones in the ending. The author didn't have to wonder what to do with their character at the end.

For me, as a writer, this was my opportunity to sit up and listen. We writers get so caught up in what others in the writing world are saying books need to be that we don't see the disconnect between us and normal, every day readers. These readers were saying they appreciated that the book we'd read didn't have all the flash, bang, and pop of modern novels - especially for a children's (technically YA) novel.

I've been thinking a lot about older books versus newer ones and how it reflects upon society then and now. Being a writer and seeing what agents, publishers, and readers seem to be clamoring for, and being someone who loves to read older books, I confess I feel a little sad. We live in thrill-seeker times, a time when we want more as fast as we can get it. People join reading groups like Goodreads and then churn through novels as if they were eating potato chips. Some people are fast readers, but stop for a second and think - are we tasting our food or simply devouring it? Modern books are tailored to be inhaled, not savored.

Why is this?

Compared to eighty years ago, our world has become very complicated, fast-paced, and competitive. We have so many options for leisure and entertainment no wonder we've become gluttonous and easily bored. Writers are often expected to turn one book into an entire series and then churn them out yearly to sate the insatiable appetites of voracious readers. And if we don't? No big deal. There are millions of other books and writers out there. Books have to compete with TV, movies, games, sports, fine arts programs, contests and competitions, thrill chasing, and so much more. Most people don't plan on spending more than a few hours a week reading, if at all. So books have to be choppy, condensed, pared to the bone, but super exciting and full of twists and turns to keep the easily distracted readers from straying.

Yes, it's sad.

Eighty years ago, people didn't have a plethora of entertainment options. No computers or TVs. They were lucky if they had a radio or could go to an occasional movie (which was still a very new technology). Books were more valuable then and readers liked meat on the bones of their stories. Books helped them wile away the free hours. Authors could describe more back then. Books were an escape to other worlds most people had never been to or couldn't begin to imagine. People didn't have the advantage of easy travel or the internet for looking up information and pictures or video footage. Books didn't have to have shocking twists, or a lot of extremes to keep readers' attentions.

My challenge to you when you next pick up a new novel to read, is to slow down and try savoring it. Don't think about your ginormous to-read pile. Don't think about giving reviews and ratings. Decide to block out all the other options for entertainment. Just read to enjoy a book. Don't see how fast you can whip through it. Take your time and really explore the story as you go along.

If you take me up on the challenge, let me know in the comments. Did you enjoy your reading experience? Did the book seem too thin when you slowed down? Think about the kinds of books you are reading and buying. Will you pick them up again, or are they really thin potato chips? Did you learn anything about your attention span? Did you notice a difference in your weekly routine by blocking out other forms of entertainment? Good results or bad?

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