Friday, November 16, 2012

What Type of Reader are You?

There has been a lot of discussion revolving around gender and books lately. A lot a lot a lot. I'm most certainly one who doesn't like it when books are divided into "girl" books and "boy" books. It drives me a little crazy actually, but many others more eloquent than I have written about why. I bring it up simply because it was a post on Heavy Medal entitled Girls vs. Boys that sent me down the road to writing this post. In the comments of the post there was an attempt to come with a different labels for what was being referred to besides "girl" and "boy". "Emotion" and "adrenaline" seem to have won the day. As Nina points out in the comments though, these are generalizations too and they don't entirely work either. My favorite books have plenty of both. I mention in one of the comments there that I am a fantasy reader. Again a generalization. And as Nina again pointed out-one that doesn't always work.

And she's right. It doesn't.

I've often said that I read for character, but that isn't entirely true either. The truth is far more complex. I have been mulling this over since the discussion occurred.  The labels are there to help us out, to find a short hand that can quickly and easily explain to others what we enjoy reading and why. The labels help us to connect with others who have similar tastes and find what we like to read. They help us find other people books they would like to read.

So when I need to use short hand I say: I read for character. Or: I love fantasy books.
My Favorite Book: The perfect combo of character/plot/setting and emotion/adrenaline. Plus it's a fantasy with political intrigue. All the reasons I love it.
What about the longer more complex version? That has been on my mind a lot since the discussion took place. What is the longer more accurate label for what sort of reader I am?

So here it goes:
I read for character then plot, setting often barely registers. I prefer fantasy over contemporary over historical. BUT: A fantasy or contemporary with stellar plotting but not so great characterization will appeal to me over a historical with great characterization. If a historical has anachronisms or inaccuracies it isn't going to matter how great the characterization or plotting is, it won't work for me. (History concentration.) The books that I love the most are books that have both wonderful characterization and plot and have emotion and adrenaline in equal measure. I don't pay much attention to setting unless something about it doesn't work for me.

Even that doesn't cover it all.

What about you? What sort of reader are you? (Feel free to comment in short hand or long version.)

16 comments:

  1. Character first, then probably setting, and last plot? I love new worlds and stories where the setting acts almost as another character. Though a lot of the time this is simply another sign of a really good book, it's one that does a lot for me as a reader. Plot I tend not to notice or bother about unless it doesn't work. There's an interesting parallel for me between reading and writing here--I love the character and world-building parts of writing and wish that I didn't have to go any further than that. SIGH.

    When historical fiction is done really well, I love it. When it's simply modern characters in semi-accurate period dress....not so much. But I do keep reading, just in case there's a gem.

    In spite of all of the "YA is not a genre!" stuff, which I do largely agree with, I totally read as if it were. Which is to say, as an adult reader, I'm a genre reader--mysteries, historical fiction, SF/F, and the odd romance. Rarely do I venture into the straight fiction area, and when I do, I often regret it. With YA, though, I'm not paying as much attention to genre, though I will tend to go for SF/F over anything else, and will enjoy books like John Green or Stephanie Perkins, which I probably wouldn't pick up if they were in the adult section.

    I want characters who are interesting, who have flaws and strengths, who read like real people. They don't agonize about midlife crises, they hijack a spaceship fleet and turn them into mercenaries. Or steal a queen. For me, plot is what happens in order that characters can develop. Which is to say, I like it when things happen, but I can take a pretty plotless story as long as things are happening to the main character.

    Not sure how much any of this makes sense, and it's surely quite long.

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    1. When historical fiction is done really well, I love it. When it's simply modern characters in semi-accurate period dress....not so much. But I do keep reading, just in case there's a gem.

      Oh me too, but it is so often FRUSTRATING.

      And I didn't even add in the complexity of the whole adult/YA/Children's issue. I'm the same as you regarding the Adult/YA stuff. I read stuff in YA I would never read if it were an adult novel. Green and Perkins are good examples.

      I want characters who are interesting, who have flaws and strengths, who read like real people. They don't agonize about midlife crises, they hijack a spaceship fleet and turn them into mercenaries. Or steal a queen

      YEEESSSS! And I think this is getting at what I was trying to say about plot better than I did.

      I was expecting long comments. And yours made sense.

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    2. Oh, I agree re the frustrating--part of why I can't enjoy most steampunk/'historical' romances. But when it's good, it's SO GOOD.

      I am very verbose when books are concerned.

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  2. BRANDY I SPENT LIKE AN HOUR LOOKING FOR ONE TIME WHEN I ANSWERED A QUESTION SIMILAR TO THIS SO THAT I COULD SHARE IT.

    I love Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter with all the strength of adolescence, and they have both survived the transition to adulthood, though in different ways. I love fairy tale retellings, like Ella Enchanted and Spindle's End. I love princess books, books about kings and queens and subtle court intrigue, like The Queen of Attolia; I love court intrigue and magic and rich worldbuilding, like in Mirador or Nightwatch or A Wizard of Earthsea; I love complicated or even tragic romances, like in Sunshine or Gone with the Wind; I love books that say things about life, that give you meaty paragraphs or even casual sentences that you think about and open a new window and let in the light in your life, like Mrs Dalloway or The Once and Future King.

    (The Once and Future King, incidentally, fits every one of the aforementioned categories.)



    To all of that I think I would add that if a book is mediocrely written I will keep reading only if the characters engage me, but the kind of simpleness* that goes along with mediocre writing tends to make that a rare occurrence.

    Also, those big-meaty-paragraphs have to be tempered by...a lack of pedanticness? Like, if an author is saying something about Life, but does so Ponderously And/Or Arrogantly (Especially If That Thing Is Depressing), that puts me off (see: the problem of literary fiction). I prefer...observations to Statements?

    I think I am also a character-plot-setting person, with writing thrown in there somewhere. I want to care about the people, worry about what's happening, not trip over comma splices, and have it all happen somewhere that makes sense.

    *I originally had "simplicity," but simplicity can be a good thing. Like Georgette Heyer--the things I've read by her have been fairly light, entertaining things, but they're well-done in their simplicity--simple, but not dumb.

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    1. HA!

      I need to reread The Once and Future King. It's been tooo long. Also I've never read the Earthsea books. (I KNOW. I KNOW. I WILL GET ON IT.)

      To all of that I think I would add that if a book is mediocrely written I will keep reading only if the characters engage me

      This is true for me too.

      Also, those big-meaty-paragraphs have to be tempered by...a lack of pedanticness? Like, if an author is saying something about Life, but does so Ponderously And/Or Arrogantly (Especially If That Thing Is Depressing), that puts me off (see: the problem of literary fiction). I prefer...observations to Statements?

      THIS. SO MUCH. Yes, this is the problem with literary fiction and why I don't read it and never will.

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  3. I think what I like best in which plot and setting (preferably both fantastical) are there as enhancements for the characters, letting the characters have room to grow, and reveal things about themselves, as opposed to books in which the characters being moved like shadow puppets through the plot and setting....which I guess is longhand for "I like character driven fantasy!"

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    1. Yes, lengthening the explanation might be me over-thinking the whole thing. "I like character driven fantasy" works well for me most of the time too. :-)

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  4. I'm definitely a character-first person, but I do love really well-done worldbuilding, and I agree that it can act as another character! And I think it can really detract from a book when it's poorly done (or consisted of dated items or product placement things).

    I guess I read for character + stellar worldbuilding. (Frances Hardinge, for example, doesn't really write fantasy, but her worldbuilding is fantastic.) And somewhere, too, there needs to be either great writing or writing that, at the very least, doesn't detract from the story.

    Though contemporary works for me, too, if the characterization and writing work out.

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    1. Yes, the writing needs to not get in the way of the story being told, and that can happen when it's really bad OR when it's really good. I feel like some of my issues with John Green and books like The Book Thief are a part of this. The writing is fantastic but too self aware? That will work to throw me out of a story faster than anything.

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    2. Sometimes I wonder how much my enjoyment of John Green's novels comes from the fact that I "know" him from his vlogbrothers life and so I don't mind if I can hear him speaking through his prose--although it certainly does mean that I can't rank him too highly on characterization, at least not on the first-person novels, and like you said, characterization tops your list.

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    3. Sometimes I feel like John Green's male protagonists are a) all the same and b) younger versions of him, and it makes for weird reading.

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    4. I feel the same way Beth. "Knowing" John Green does make it easier to hear his voice loud and clear in his novels. And this is part of what bothers me about them.

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  5. Oh my gosh. This is too cool, and I'm so ashamed that I don't even know how to quantify myself. Let me try...

    Like you, I'm really big on characters and plot, while setting as a physical space does nothing for me. In fact, I can't remember the last description of a physical space that I actually read and enjoyed. World-building, however, is super-important. Everything must be logical and organic, and the more I feel like the author has thought of every detail (but doesn't necessarily feel the need to vomit it all on the page!), the more I feel at home.

    When it comes to characters, I can only take so much stupidity. Sure, act out if you need to, but get a brain and grow up. The inherent stupidity of insta-loving on some dude you just met falls into this category. I like characters who are clever and honestly mean to do well. On the other hand, I like nothing more than a villain who is aware of his or her own despicableness and owns it.

    Oh, and when it comes to plot, keep me on my toes! There are some books where I'll allow a predictable plot. Generally, these stories are rare, and work only if I suspect predictability before starting, that way I can allow myself to enjoy how the author gets from point A to point B. Otherwise, I don't want to have any clue what's going to happen next. That's one of the reasons I ADORE MWT. She continually makes me gasp.

    Above all, DON'T BE BORING. I want action! Action can be defined as either physical action, the suspense of waiting, or deep emotional turmoil that actually affects something in the book. But my gosh, none of this meandering pretentiousness like we find in grownup books.

    Oh yeah, have I mentioned that I'm a solid YA girl? I'll dabble happily in MG, but I adore my YA lit. Genre-wise, I adore fantasy, dystopian, retellings, and sci-fi. I also enjoy historical if it's done well (no info-dumping!). I'm meh on contemporaries, but I admit to finding some good ones.

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    1. When it comes to characters, I can only take so much stupidity.

      ME TOO!

      I too dislike meandering pretentiousness. Which is why I feel the need to add that, while character is the most important element to, plot is also very important. I don't want a read a book where the character does nothing but think and discuss and blah blah blah. DO SOMETHING!!!!

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  6. What a great discussion topic! You're absolutely right, the comments section is like a Sounis thread. :P I love that you used The Queen of Attolia as an example because I'd probably bring it up as well when I talk about what I look for in books. I am most definitely a reader who looks for incredible characters. I feel like I won't be able to love a novel unless I can relate to the characters.

    Having said that, I also think plot and worldbuilding are important. I like being surprised by the story. Basically, Shelver506 has a point - I don't want to be bored when I'm reading a book.

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    1. I agree world building is so important, and when it is done wrong the whole thing just falls apart. But I won't pick up a book just for the world-building, I have to like a character in there or it won't work for me.

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