Thursday, August 06, 2009

There Are Two Kinds of Readers

by Barbara D'Amato

People read for different sorts of satisfaction. Just lately I’ve started looking at a lot of the reader reviews of books that appear on the Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Borders websites, and I see one type of difference in readers of fiction. I am not talking about things like the ever-popular character vs. plot controversy. I’m talking about reading styles.

STORY DRIVEN. They want to know what happens next. Think pacing-pacing-pacing! For their kind of book, think Agatha Christie or Joseph Finder.

To them content-oriented books don’t seem to go anywhere.

CONTENT DRIVEN. Can be history, technical detail, humor, or reading for the beauty of the language. Think unhurried delight. For their kind of book, think David Foster Wallace or Neal Stephenson.

To them, story-oriented books seem skimpy and flat.

I suppose a reader can be a content-reader sometimes and a story reader at other times, but most of the avid readers I talk with tilt strongly one way.

Most crime novel readers fall into the story-oriented category. Mysteries certainly can be well-written and humorous and many, especially thrillers, have a lot of technical detail, but if the detail gets in the way of the story, and the book loses narrative drive, they will yell “Data dump!”

I’ve been surprised lately, reading reader reviews of books on those Amazon, Borders, and Barnes and Noble sites, at the amount of hostility from readers who happened to pick up a book they didn’t like. A reader who is clearly story-oriented will snarl, “I wasted three days of my life reading this damn thing and nothing happened!”

A content-oriented reader will say, “Don’t bother. This book is trivial.” Or he may call it a “throw-away” book!

The venom in some of these reviews saddens me. I just don’t get why a reader can feel so insulted by a book’s existence, when it’s not poisonous content or shoddy production values that cause his anger.

If you pick up a book you don’t like, don’t read it. Give it to a friend who likes its sort of content Don’t attack it. It hasn’t leaped into your home to bite you.


Adam Bourgoin said...

Nice Post, Barb. I have found one other type of reader-Character Driven. These are people who care so much about the characters involved in the story, they are almost content to let the story tell itself. I kind of flip flop between the three depending on the mood I'm in but I am happy with any of the three prospects.

I agree with you about the nasty reviews-say that the story wasn't for you and pass it on. There's no need to attack it.

Anonymous said...

I would also argue for writing driven readers. There are some books that I read not because I'm into anything else about the book; I just like the writing. It reads well. I think it's a very personal thing but some writing is just comfortable in my mind and it doesn't matter to me what the author is writing about or any plot or character.

Barbara D'Amato said...

Thanks, both. Adam, I think most character-oriented readers are quite story-driven, in the sense that they care about the character and want to find out what he or she does and what happens. Anonymous--people who read for love of good language use are more content-oriented. But I'm not saying that these are exclusive types. As I read the reader comments, I became interested in how often they seemed different. Personally, I read for story--most of the time.