H. M. L. Swann
#1 READING: An Introduction
Updated: Mar 9, 2021
As an aspiring writer one can surmise that I enjoy reading, but what about non-writer folks?
This month is all about reading. Why do people read? Why don't people read? What genres work? What tropes don't?
I've surveyed readers of different ages and backgrounds to see what they had to say!
I'm really excited to share their thoughts with you and hope you find it as interesting as I did! So let's dive in!
*These interviews were collected and compiled in 2020
First Name: Ashley
Profession: Loan Underwriter
Studied English, literature, or writing formally: No
Favorite Genre: Historical fiction; Fantasy; Satire
Genre you NEVER read: murder mystery
Fun fact about you: I’ve recently gotten into baking and canning
First Name: Pam
Profession: Retired environmental public health professional (toxicologist)
Studied English, literature, or writing formally: No
Favorite Genre: Mystery fiction; Suspense/thrillers
Genre you NEVER read: Romance or Westerns
Fun fact about you: I lived in a tipi in a field for a few summers; I am a backpacker and paddler who brings audiobooks into the wilderness
First Name: Sam Townsend
Profession: ESL Teacher
Studied English, literature, or writing formally: No
Favorite Genre: Epic Fantasy
Genre you NEVER read: Romance
Fun fact about you: I beat Haley at Magic: The Gathering (we let him think this...)
Questions, Questions, Questions
What's your favorite genre?
Ashley: Historical Fiction: the story can usually keep me hooked while there are still interesting places and major events that have happened that I can look up the actual history on.
Fantasy: I’ve always been into mystical creatures (dragons, unicorns, werewolves) so I’m mostly drawn towards books with mystical creatures or magic.
Satire: It really makes you think. Sometimes it’s almost scary how authors can make you think about the world around you by painting a completely fabricated story. My favourite satire’s usually include a dystopian theme.
Mystery. I love puzzles and love that mysteries are solidly constructed around a puzzle, and so a mystery will never disappoint entirely. I like trying to find the clues and sort them out. However, most fiction includes a puzzle to be solved, so I can be just as happy with dystopian or science fiction (The doomsday/oxford time travel book was an oldie but prescient pandemic book I enjoyed), psychological thrillers (The Woman in Cabin 10), supernatural (Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts), and general fiction (Miss Benson's Beetle).
Sam: Epic Fantasy. I think a large part is because I've just spent so much time reading this genre, probably because the novels/series are so huge. I have a hankering for adventure and these scratch that itch. Often seeing a huge cast of characters develop and getting caught up in some epic storylines, really excites me.
2. What is your favorite book and why?
Ashley: Eragon by Christopher Paolini because it was his first book that he wrote when he was young and I was also young when I started it. I feel like I grew up as his writing advanced and matured through the Inheritance series. Also, it involved dragons and magic and main character with a boyish charm so what’s not to like?
This will be weird, but the books I have read and reread over the years are Jane Austen's. I read annotated versions to continue to better understand the original intentions in the writing. For example, I never correctly understood concerns about timing parties/balls to occur during a full moon until I read about difficulties in traveling by coach.
Sam: My favourite series is 'Malazan Book of the Fallen' a 10 part fantasy series. My favourite of them all perhaps being 'The Bonehunters'. This book encapsulates everything I love about the series and the genre as a whole: interesting and three-dimensional characters, twists and turns, wit and all of this happening on a grand scale.
3. Do you have a favorite author?
Ashley: Christopher Paolini. I started reading Christopher Paolini when I was young and he had just come out with his first book, Eragon, in 2003. He continued to write and ended up finishing the Inheritance Series with Inheritance in 2011. He published a short story about the characters of the Inheritance series in 2018 which I immediately bought and read and at that time his writing style did not seem to have changed much, but in a good way. I loved his easy writing style and the way he builds his characters so picking up those short stories was a breath of fresh air. In 2020 he came out with a completely different type of book (Sci-Fi vs. Fantasy) which I immediately bought and read. With that new book I did notice that his writing style had changed. He really did his homework writing that book looking up Faster Than Light travel, how gravity works around planets and space stations, how ships would battle in space, and much more. It was almost a shock when I started it because you could tell his vocabulary had increased significantly but his writing style had stayed the same with how he builds characters and has them create relationships with each other
Too many! My book club asks the same question and I have given this much thought. My newest way of identifying a favorite is when I drop other books in mid-read to start the newest release of an author. Jane Thynne and her well researched books about England and Germany leading up to WWII; Louise Penny and the Inspector Gamache books; Dan Silva and the Gabriel Allon series; Elly Griffiths and the Ruth Galloway series; Laurie King and the Russell and Holmes books. I could go on and on. As a young person I fell in love with the Sherlock Holmes canon--so mysteries are something I loved early.
Sam: Steven Erikson, the author of the Malazan series. I started reading this series long after it first started, but the series itself has been published over the space of more than 10 years. Seeing as it's all part of a series I think his style has generally stayed the same, which is good, perhaps improving from the earlier novels.
4. How do you hear about books?
Ashley: Friends :)
I belong to a mystery book club, but mostly simply rely on the library's list of new books. I read too many books to purchase them, and so I rely on the library and their acquisitions (although I have suggested books).
Sam: I usually hear about books through my friends as we all typically read the same genres.
5. What makes you buy a book?
I do not buy books. I prefer to download audiobooks and listen to them as I take walks, do housework, or otherwise multitask. I do buy books that I value very highly and will read again (the Austen books), but we have gotten rid of a substantial collection of books and no longer collect them. I download e-books and use a reader. I also borrow physical books. I have no preference but I like being able to listen to books because i do not need to sit and turn pages.
5.1 Do you buy physical books or e-books?
Ashley: I buy physical books. I like holding and opening a book. I like the feel of flipping pages and being careful to not damage covers. Also, I like the smell of most new books and how soft the pages feel. There’s also something about having a worn in book that you know has been read and loved multiple times over.
Sam: I love having a physical book, but they're not very practical. Especially when you're moving around a lot. I mostly use a Kindle now and find it so convenient.
6. Do you read books from diverse authors (people of different ethnicities, sexual orientations, identities, and abilities)? Why or why not?
Ashley: I guess I don’t pay much attention to most authors. I do read a good variety of male/female authors.
Yes!! The reason that I most enjoy belonging to a book club is that we have a new theme each month that leads me to go out of my rut or comfort zone to read translated books, subjects I would not otherwise think of reading, etc. The club does not pick A book, we choose a theme and everyone chooses their own title that is within the scope of the theme (such as a book in foreign setting, etc). I listened to my first book that used the pronoun they/them and was totally confused. I need to find more books like that to get used to the additional pronouns. I seek out books by authors from countries/cultures I am not familiar with because the difference can increase my interest in the book. However, a cultural difference can lead to my own confusion--not unlike my feeling that I don't fully understand the context in which an 1813 English author is writing.
Sam: Frankly I don't know much about my authors other than their name. The genres I usually read are male dominated, which is a shame. I'm certainly not against reading from some more diverse authors if they fit a genre that I'm into.
7. What language do you read in?
8. We all know the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover.” But real talk: do you? Does cover design play a part in whether you pick up a book or not?
Ashley: Definitely, although as I get older I try to read the back of the book before I count the book out.
No - In fact, I may not see the same artwork that is used to sell the book
Sam: Yes I do. I like a good-looking book, especially if it's going to sit on my shelf for years. It's another reason that buying ebooks stings a bit. I will sometimes get a book that doesn't look all that great (in my opinion) if I know the book already and whether it's worth a read for me or not. Classics etc.
9. How many books have you read in the last year?
9.1 Has COVID increased or decreased the amount you read?
Ashley: I’d say increased. I’ve always been a homebody but now I have more of a reason to stay home.
As a retiree, it has not changed how much I read
Sam: I think COVID has given me more time to read, and also encouraged me to get back into the Malazan series.
9.2 If COVID has changed your reading habits, will you maintain them post COVID?
Ashley: I hope so!
Sam: It hasn't really changed my habits all too much. I'm still in full-time work so I usually read before bed, or maybe at a café at the weekend. COVID hasn't really affected that.
10. Do you wish you read more or less? Why or why not?
Ashley: I’m happy with the amount I’m reading currently. :)
I think I read too much. Sometimes I would rather read than exercise or spend time with others outside the house
Sam: I think I'm happy with the amount I read (something every day pretty much), but I'd like to be able to read faster, especially when most of the books I read are around 1000 pages. It would give me more opportunities to branch out and read new things!
11. When and where do you read?
Ashley: I usually read either at home before bed or during work when it’s slow. I prefer silence but I can normally read with some background noise. I have trouble reading with the TV on though
I read/listen to books in spite of distraction (I will go for a walk along the lake and listen without missing the sense of the book). I do not want background music or radio
Sam: I try to read in silence. I'm often easily distracted. So if I read on the train or in a cafe I usually wear headphones and listen to some atmospheric background music to help me focus. Besides that I mostly read in bed before I sleep, so it's nice and quiet and comfortable.
12. What makes you stop reading a book?
Ashley: If the writing style doesn’t grab my attention. Some writers don’t have a good hook at the beginning of a book or their characters seem uninteresting or the plot line doesn’t seem to have a very interesting storyline.
Well-I have put a book down and not gone back to it. If the theme or tone is something I dislike (Christian themes do not interest me, gratuitous violence can put me off)
Sam: I'm a bit of a completionist so once I start a book, I try to finish it. There have been a few that I've stopped reading in the past though. They usually aren't grabbing me - maybe I don't like the style of writing or it's just a bit boring. So I find myself reading less and less until a different book pulls me away.
13. What’s your least favorite trope? Why?
Maybe, in light of what I wrote above, earnest piety. Or earnest naivete or benevolence. I love flawed protagonists and find myself disappointed when the protagonist turns out to be some paragon of virtue!
Sam: Something that comes up in fantasy a lot is the defenceless, innocent princess/daughter/female character who needs the strong hero to save her. It's annoying and is just a bit two-dimensional and lazy.
14. You hear a book summary from a trusted friend:
a. What is the one thing that makes you want to read it?
Ashley: an interesting storyline
A complex plot, an unusual setting, an unusual theme, and really any compelling reason that drew them to the book.
Sam: It probably has a convoluted storyline involving gods and the end of the world, ha
b. What is the one thing that makes you NOT want to read it?
Ashley: If I've already seen the movie.
Sam: If it sounds very cheesy or perhaps one book in a huge series, I'm probably not going to read it. Not for a while at least.
15. What would be the perfect book for you? Do you think there is a story that you want to hear that isn’t out there yet?
Ashley: The perfect book for me usually involves a steadily unfolding plot line (not too fast but not too slow), good character relations that make you laugh or smile or cry, some type of dilemma that the main character has to solve (usually at the expense of the main character), and usually some type of connection to the real world (historical fiction or satire) or it involves magic or magical creatures. I’m sure there is, and I’m sure it’ll involve dragons and magic.
I love so many books! I am drawn to strong female characters, flawed protagonists, witty dialogue, complex plots (7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle was a fun challenge), humor (Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore), a touch of the supernatural (just a touch-like Craig Johnson's Longmire hearing ghostly drum beats, or Lisa Unger's Ink and Bone character seeing visions), and I could go on. But no--there could not be a perfect book for me--in reading a wide range of books I know that there are books to fit any mood I might be in and any interest that I might have at the time--but since these change from day to day and year to year, so must the book that would satisfy me at any particular point in my life.
Sam: I want to branch out and try some more varied genres, something that I've been trying to do this past year. Because of this I don't know if I could identify my 'perfect book'. There's just so much potential and so much that I haven't tried out yet. The same can be said for stories that I want to hear. There's so much I haven't read. I'd really love to find a book that breaks me into a new genre.
See you next Sunday here on The Nest where we will hear from another batch of readers!