Let's discuss: What Makes a 'Good Reader'?

Sunday, 21 August 2016

So the last couple of months I've been struggling with my reading habits. I've been feeling almost torn between what I want to read, what I have to read, and what I feel like I should be reading. 

In June I was lucky enough to go on a residential Creative Writing course in Cambridge. Whilst the course  was possibly the best academic experience I've ever had, I've found that a few issues have arisen after my stay. 

On our first day, we were all asked to disclose what we were currently reading, and suddenly, I felt like I was under an immense amount of pressure to give the RIGHT answer. And there isn't one, right? But still, I couldn't shake the feeling that what I would say would really shape everyone's opinion of me. And it really got me thinking. If I was in any other situation would I have felt the same pressure? Or was it just because I was in an academic environment surrounded by other bookish people like myself? At that time I was reading A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas, and Dracula by Bram Stoker. I think we can all guess which one I said.

But it got me thinking. What would the reaction have been if I said ACOTAR? Would I have been shunned? Or would everyone else have just nodded and moved onto the next person? Since then, this feeling has stuck with me.

We learnt about writing in a few diverse genres. We meddled in scriptwriting, poetry, prose, nonfiction essays- it was extensive and broad and I loved the approach we took- an open one. It was great to bounce off other writers who were both similar and entirely different to myself.  Other than all these assignments and tasks and stimulating discussions, the one thing that I feel has most impacted me was something that one of the tutors said time and time again.

'To be a good writer, all you need is to read and write. You have to read like a writer.' 
I love this concept. It's so simple, yet so true. How do you learn a craft without studying it? But somehow this still raised a couple of inconvenient questions for me. WHAT does a good writer read? What books? Is there a particular author, or time period or genre that makes me a good writer? And even below that, on the most basic level, how do I even assure I'm a 'good' reader?

As someone who's always read a wide variety of genres, I'd like to think I'm a pretty wide reader. But lately, I've been beginning to doubt if that's enough. I have three reading sides of myself, that I feel somewhat impact this dilemma. 

Firstly, there's my academic self. The reader who wants to study Literature in the future, and who's main aspiration is to attend Cambridge University next year. This reader wants to devour all of the classics she can get her hands on, but finds herself battling the sense that maybe she doesn't understand or appreciate them enough, or that perhaps my interpretations are too juvenile and out of touch with academic readings?

Then, there's my Social self. The reader who loves to discuss books and share the reading experience with others both through my job, and this amazing worldwide discussion that the online book community allows. But does that mean I have to read all of the most popular books? That II'm required to read the hottest new releases, have my reading life defined by the schedules of upcoming book review deadlines and those books that arrive on my doorstep? Does being a teen book blogger mean I should only read YA? 

Finally, there's my individual self. And that is the reader I love the most. The one who explores each and every section of a bookshop, knows her likes and dislikes, and investigates the written word just because that's what she adores doing, and not because she has any restraints or rules to guide her passion.

There seems to be so many different components that impact reading, and everyone has their own idea of what makes a 'Good' reader.

Is it that you've read all of the Brontes? That you can recite poems, or read four books a week, or that you cry and laugh out loud and feel every single page?

Or is a good reader one who knows facts- that the initial dialogue between Romeo and Juliet forms a perfect sonnet when the stage diirections are removed? Or that you can reel off the publication dates of the majority of titles commonly included on '100 books to read before you die' lists?

After thinking this through for the past couple months, I've decided that a 'Good Reader' is a person who reads because that's what they want to do. Who can connect with words and perhaps feels more wise after it.

But that's just what I think. So I took to Twitter to ask some of you guys what you thought a 'Good Reader' is, and this is what you came up with:

 Melinda Salisbury 
 (Author of 'The Sin Eater's Daughter', 'The Sleeping Prince', 'The Scarecrow Queen' & 'The King of Rats')

'I think it means a reader who goes into a new book with an open mind, and an open heart. Which is tough to do! Hype, reviews, other people's opinions, the cover and the blurb can affect how you go into a book. I think also understanding that characters might do things differently to you! I see a lot of reviews where readers say "I didn't like this because I wouldn't have done it." Which is fine, but unless it's your biography, it's an odd stance! So yeah. A good reader enters a new book with an open mind, and an open heart, and a willingness to buy into the story. But equally, a good reader knows when a story isn't working for them and can walk away from it. t's ok to not connect with a story, or a character. It doesn't necessarily make the book bad, or the reader bad either! I feel good readers are probably very self-aware!'

On a shift in the perception of what makes a good reader:

'There seems to be a need to "prove" you're a good reader! Now loving reading isn't enough - you need a GR, a blog, Instagram etc. You have to document it. High profile readers have a strong social media presence, and readers feel that's necessary now. Buying books isn't enough - you need to get proofs, you need to be ahead of the game.I see readers feeling deflated about reading when their blog isn't getting the hits.'

Sue Wallman
( Author of 'Lying About Last Summer')

'"A good reader" is a phrase I've only heard in schools to indicate a kid is fluent/quick. I'd say an adult was a big reader. I love big readers - people who're always reading. They have fave genres but often branch out when a book is recced e.g my mum.'

Eve Ainsworth
(Author of 'Seven Days' & 'Crush')

'I'm not sure I'm a "good reader". I just love readers and want more of them. open minded. Questioning. Interested in people and what makes others tick.'

Andrew Aston
 (Author of 'Stone Mind's Folly', 'Stone Mind's Masters', 'Gingerbread.' & various other short stories in anthologies)

'Too analytical a reading of a book, whilst interesting from a scholarly POV, is a bit like dissecting a magic trick. In fact, when I was in uni, there was this shift away from focus on the canon, which is a bit of an imposition on a reader. I think being able to communicate your views is good too, so others can see what worked for you and didn't and why.'

What do you think?

Happy reading, love


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