Our Reading Diet

I was attempting to explain to my Dad why people read, write and why books are still published when there are already shelves overflowing with fiction. So here’s a thought I’ve tried to verbalise.

Why do we read?

Humans are curious beings. I think we have developed an addiction to stories whether gossip or novel, both are narrative and we keep wanting more.

There are the carnivores, eating only books they consider to be ‘meaty’ and of substance. The herbivores, consuming only light meals, and omnivores– who will eat everything. Not that this has anything to do with our food intake, but ‘book worms’ devote themselves to devouring literature.

Some readers (particularly herbivores) will keep to a diet of few food groups, or ‘genres’. They will devour books of the category again, and again, and again. This may change as we age and our tastes change, but often we will stick to about three genres. Say for example, that (other than the books we are forced to read during education) a reader will only pick up fantasy, literary and romance.

What if a person just doesn’t want to read?

I remember a boy in my class from primary school, arguing with the teacher, saying, ‘I don’t need to learn to read.’ I would argue that he hadn’t yet developed an appetite for stories, nor the skill to read. While I will happily read fiction for hours, only reaching for a non-fiction book to learn, I don’t think its essential to read to love a good story. My Dad has never caught a taste for fiction. I can only think of two fiction books he loves; ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and ‘The Twits’. However, he does read non-fiction books, newspapers and magazines; and after securing a Master of Science degree at the youthful  age of fifty-eight, he’ll always be learning and collecting information. (He also reads gossip on the internet, but swears he’s not interested. Shhhhh!)

So why do we have so many books with the same genre or similar plots?

I like to think of genres and an authors’ writing style or ‘voice’ as the flavour of a book. We like these flavours, and have a ‘palette’ of our favorites. We may go back and read a single book many times if we want to experience that flavour again, or a reader may consume a series of   dishes’ from the same author. A reader can have specific tastes, or be fussy. We’re entitled to. We’re consumers.

Why do publishers keep churning rubbish out?

Publishers need to make money to survive, and humans need to eat, and while there is demand, publishers shall remain. Some works have been published which are considered by many to be ‘rubbish’. This is opinion and not fact. All books go through a thorough process of selection. As a writer and student of creative writing attempting to get my own short stories published, I would like to say that it is not easy to get published, no matter how many hours you spend on your submissions, or how good you think it is. So, publishers do not ‘churn’ anything, but nurture manuscripts into their final form as a publication.

These new ‘dishes’ for readers to consume will replace those which have gone before. They will be helped along by fresh waves of advertising, which keeps people wanting the latest books, and keeps them paying for stories. Rarely, a book achieves a status of ‘classic’ and is held up as a shining example of literature. It will be enjoyed for decades, and also forced upon students (in the same way that sprouts are forced on a young child at Christmas.) The style or ‘flavour’ of these classics may be mimicked by others, hoping to gain public acclaim and held up as the ‘new so-and-so.’ This is a legitimate aim, but the flavours between authors, between books,  will always be a little different.

We want fast food, vintage wines and sweets from other cultures. An addicted reader will never be satisfied, the always-hungry connoisseurs of fine dining.

Thank you for reading.

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