Saturday, May 8, 2010

Top 10 Reasons Readers Read


So, what makes people want to read the stories we've written? I've been thinking about why readers read, and I've come up with a list of ten reasons:

1. For plot. Why did I sit up far into the night turning the pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Because I had to find out what happened next, that's why!

2. For ambience. Barbara Kingsolver's novels do this for me. I become completely immersed in the world she has created. Of course, she also has fabulous plots and amazing characterization ....

3. To identify with a character. This is important for any novel, but in middle grade and YA, it's vital. That's why Beverly Cleary's early books have stood the test of time. Even if they're puzzled by the idea of buying an  ice cream cone at the drugstore for a nickel, not to mention the lack of cell phones (what's a "pay phone", anyway?), my students relate to Henry Huggins as he struggles to get his dog, Ribsy, home on the bus. Another good example is Jenny Nimmo's Midnight for Charlie Bone. While reading this aloud to a group of elementary students, I was interested to observe that they identified so strongly with Charlie, the black kids assumed he was black, and the white kids assumed he was white. (This also points up the importance of exposing kids to literature that reflects their culture and ethnicity--both inside the books and on the covers).

4. For escape. Genre fiction comes to mind here, though you can certainly escape into a mainstream or literary novel too. Sometimes it's fun to pick up a book from a familiar series that you know will deliver the escape you're looking for--like the Anna Pigeon mysteries by Nevada Barr or the China Bayles cozies by Susan Wittig Albert.

5. To learn. Reading about characters in unfamiliar settings or situations is a great way to become more informed about things we haven't been exposed to in our daily lives. Reading broadens our horizons--that's one reason it's so valuable. When I read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, I was entranced by the descriptions of the countries the narrator visited, and was eager to learn about their geography and customs.

6. To vicariously experience something they couldn’t otherwise . I can't literally read characters from books into real life, but by reading Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, I can have the experience right along with Meggie.

7. To fit in and feel like part of a group. Everyone's reading Twilight ... or Harry Potter ... or Hunger Games ... or Diary of a Wimpy Kid ... or (insert name of mega-popular blockbuster middle grade or YA book here), so I will read it, too! There is nothing wrong with this. Word-of-mouth recommendations are important to many readers. If it strikes a chord with my friends, it's likely that I will like it, too.

8. To laugh. Daniel Pinkwater. Neil Gaiman. Louis Sachar. Carl Hiassen. Jeff Kinney. Roald Dahl. Mo Willems. Jon Scieszka. Uh, wait ... why are the ones who immediately sprang to mind all guys?

Edited to add: How could I forget these wonderful authors? Judy Blume (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and many more ....). Lois Lowry (Anastasia). Angie Sage (Araminta Spookie series). Betty MacDonald (Mrs. Piggle Wiggle). Barbara Park (Junie B. Jones). Beverly Cleary (already mentioned, but certainly a funny writer)! Sarah Pennypacker (Clementine). Meg Cabot (Princess Diaries, Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls).

And here's a nice list of funny books for kids.

9. To be well-read. Goodreads has a list of 100 Books Everyone Should Read. Do you agree with this list? How many have you read? There's another list here.

10. Because they’re addicted to books and just can’t stop! Of course, I'm not naming any names ....

It's funny that I had the most to say about characters--characterization is what makes or breaks a novel for me. Please share your thoughts in the comments. What's your favorite reason for reading? Can you add any more great examples of books that fulfill these functions? And can you come up with other reasons people read?

10 comments:

Susan R. Mills said...

I totally agree with your entire list here, but you are right; characterization is most important. Thanks for joining my blog. I look forward to getting to know you. Happy Mother's Day!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

That is the perfect list - I love it! Thanks for visiting Book Dreaming. The title of your blog is fantastic!! :-)

Ruth Donnelly said...

Thanks, Susan and Shannon--I'm glad you stopped by!

Catherine A. Winn said...

I'll have to repeat what Susan and Shannon said, this is definitely a great list. I relate to all of them, including Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayles. I'm a fan from way back. But the one series that makes me laugh out loud is Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series.

Ruth Donnelly said...

Thanks, Catherine! I'll have to check out the Stephanie Plum series--I've never read them.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I think I've done each of those - what a great list! Now, I read to understand writing: story, voice, beginnings, endings, and of course characters.

Marcia said...

To live other lives. Which is part of escape, maybe. And also part of characters. But it's also about having new experiences, developing compassion, and trying on how you might react in other circumstances.

Ruth Donnelly said...

Susan, I do too. And studying the author's style is different from reading to learn content.

Marcia, that's a good one!

Kristi Helvig said...

Oh, I LOVED The Historian and recommended it to everyone! You don't often see literary vampire books these days. :)

notesfromnadir said...

Thanks for the list of 100 Books. And also the Barbara Kingsolver recommendation. Hope more people read her books as they're so beautifully written.