Thursday, August 30, 2007

What is a Good Reader?

Having a story critiqued is a nerve-wracking experience. You put your heart and soul on paper and then willingly hand that paper to other people. You hope that your writing is clear and concise and that the critquer understood all the nuances and metaphors.

So, when I was listening to the critiques of all the stories in the latest short story contest, if a judge didn't seem to understand a certain passage, he or she might qualify their opinion by saying "maybe I am not a good reader."

So that got me thinking. What makes a good reader? Is it a person who is well-read? Does a good reader necessarily have to be a voracious reader of the classics? Or should a good reader be one that reads widely on a certain subject? Or maybe a good reader just understands a subject without having widely read in it?

As for myself, I have widely read a lot of Asian-style fiction be it fantasy, mystery or general literature. I have read non-fiction, historical books, books about Chinese society and Japanese society, books about geisha, books about Chinese mysticism - quite a bit in fact (just look at my library for an idea of what I have read).

But outside of this preferred area of obsession, I am not so widely read. I don't read hard science fiction. I haven't read all of Shakespeare's plays and don't understand Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Dickens is a mystery to me and Jane Austin has held no interest. I fly through certain books (ie Harry Potter) and slog through others (anything by George RR Martin and China Mieville) but I still enjoy them even though they are difficult. And I don't necessarily understand all the underlying metaphors inherent in those stories even if I do read them.

Does that make me a bad reader? I don't know. What is a "Good Reader?" Opinions, anyone?

Edit: After some discussion, it was suggested that being a "good reader" was short hand for apologizing for not necessarily understanding what a writer meant. Could be, could be.

1 comment:

cenobyte said...

This is an awesome question.

In the sense of judges and juries, I think a good reader is someone who takes time to read every word. I don't know how often it happens that a judge/juror *wouldn't*, but it's important.

I think part of being a good reader *is* being well-read; but not necessarily in the sense of 'in the classics' or of world the sense that one reads a lot, and reads a lot of different genres, different authors, from different places; books in translation, you name it.

A good reader is someone who can synthesize the information you've been presented with, and possibly draw parallels with other works, or with other experiences.

Maybe a good reader is someone who understands the form they are reading: a poet might be a good reader of poetry, whereas someone who reads only technical material may not be a good reader of poetry.

If I hear someone say "I'm not a good reader", I wonder if that means they don't read often, or they don't read very quickly (which is usually actually a good thing; many folks who don't read quickly absorb much more material than those of us who do, and retain it better also); maybe for some folks it means they actually have difficulty with some of the technical parts of reading (dyslexia, or difficulty with comprehension or retention).

It's a damned fine question. My guess in the context that you've provided here is that the judge was saying "Maybe you haven't presented this as clearly as possible, or maybe I have misread it or misunderstood" - s/he isn't saying it's *wrong* or *poorly constructed*, what you've written, but is saying that there is a possibility that it could have been done differently?