Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Four Categories of Readers

People love to share a good book.  It’s as if a book hasn’t served its full purpose until we discuss it with someone.  But what constitutes a good book?  Is it the number of readers?  Positive reviews?  Whether or not the book has been optioned as a movie?

For many of us, a good book is not so much determined by the book itself as much as our personal opinion.  For example, I have some friends who think Fifty Shades of Grey is a good book but don’t like Beloved; other friends love Beloved and hate Fifty Shades of Grey.  From the reader’s vantage point, it’s all a matter of personal taste. 

Since readers play a huge role in the success or failure of a book, I’ve categorized readers based on my own empirical research, i.e., personal convos and eavesdropping because I’m nosy as hell.

Casual Readers
Casual readers read for escape and/or so they can keep up with the buzz.  These readers may also prefer self-help books and autobiographies written (or ghost written) by celebrities/famous people whom they are interested.  Casual readers may read rarely to regularly.  Those who read rarely do so either because they’re helluv busy or because they don’t know what to read or both. When they read, they usually read commercial books that are featured, not necessarily reviewed, on popular television shows (e.g., Good Morning America, The View, Super Soul Sunday) or in normal-people magazines (e.g., People, Essence, GQ).  These readers may or may not own a library card.  They love the convenience of Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and they often buy non-literary gifts while they shop for books.  If they have a tablet, they tend to use it more for playing games, streaming movies, typing emails or surfing the Internet than for reading ebooks although they may read quite a few ebooks.  They may read poetry when they are in the process of falling in love, drafting wedding vows or when someone has died, but even then, they read poetry that is universal and accessible, poetry that doesn’t have many quadrisyllabic words or extended, enigmatic metaphors. 

Intellectual Readers
Intellectual readers read often to regularly, and they read for the purpose of erudition.  They have a library card or a student I.D. that may functions as a library card.  They may also have a rewards card at a bookstore (local or national corporation is inconsequential to them), and/or they upload books/journals to their ebook library.  Intellectual Readers may eschew tablets as reading devices because they like to annotate what they read.  Conversely, they may keep intricate mental maps of what they read, so tablets maybe the ideal medium for them because they don’t have to carry so many books around.  These readers know the difference between a National Geographic article and an article that is published in a peer-reviewed journal (e.g., New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry).  As for poetry, they’re probably not into it unless they’re a lit/writing major or a person who always wanted to be a lit/writing major.  They may occasionally venture into the realm of fiction or read literature for escape.  If they do, they prefer fiction (commercial or literary) that relates to their intellectual interests and/or fiction that is intellectually dense.  They prefer non-fiction, either in the form of historical, political, religious, social, scientific non-fiction, etc. 

Casual Literary Readers
Casual literary readers read regularly to obsessively.  They often source new books by checking The New York Times Best Seller’s list, the Indie Bestseller’s list, as well as Pulitzer, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, Orange Prize shortlists and winners, etc.  These readers can name at least three plus recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature. They categorize books something like this: 1. literature (fiction and poetry); 2. popular fiction/non-fiction (including YA and memoir); 3. easy-reads.  They have little patience for any book that’s not competently-written and well-structured with decent character development.  They’ve read books from 19th, 20th and 21st century writers, but they’re not elitist.  They are open to reading commercial and self-published writer, and they are more than willing to read books that have dragons, hot vampires, espionage, and spicy love scenes.  Casual literary readers do not go to bed without reading even if they only read for 30 minutes.  They may or may not read poetry regularly, but they studied the greats (e.g., Shakespeare, Bradstreet, Hughes) and cared enough to retain some information about them.  They buy books and/or visit the library several times a month.  Although they think it’s a shame that Barnes & Noble and Amazon are taking business away from local bookstores, they love a good deal on books, so they often shop there. Casual literary readers often regard reading as a ritualistic process, e.g., they prefer to read with a cup of their favorite tea, or they may adore the smell of books.  Those who fall into the latter category often think tablets are unnatural and disruptive to the literary form.  But the average casual literary reader is just fine with tablets. 

Elitist Literary Readers
Elitist literary readers read obsessively.  If they don’t love short stories, poetry and essays, they respect the genres thus they read literary journals, i.e., high-ranking literary journals (e.g., Ploughshares, Tin House, Granta).  Elitist literary readers prefer fiction and poetry that is complex and enigmatic.  Quadrisyllabic words are child’s play for these readers.  They like the challenge of experimental writing.  They love getting into a writer’s head.  In fact, they’ve probably read the published letters, daries or biographies of their favorite 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th century authors…and they took notes.  Elitist literary readers only read literary works unless they are duped, getting paid to write a review about a commercial fiction book or pacifying their kids/grandkids or a less enlightened love interests.  They prefer newspapers/magazine that employ award-winning journalists and/or have a reputation for superior writing (e.g., The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post).  They may read normal-people magazines, but if they do, it’s on rare occasion and possibly under duress.  They likely hold a position that has something to do with books, reading and education.  They may even be editor or board members on literary committees, or they write for respected newspapers/magazines/journals.  They may even volunteer/speak at book/writer’s conference.  Elitist literary readers dig conferences or, at the very least, respect their place in the literary world. 

Elitist literary readers root for shortlisted writers like normal folks root for football teams.  They know what’s up with the major American literary awards and the Man Booker and Prix Goncourt. They can name ten plus recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature and have probably read multiple works by these authors.  The same is true for recipients of MacAuthur Fellowships.  Elitist literary readers may think tablets, computers and the Internet are levels of Hades and may not even trust electronic typewriters.  There are, however, some elitist literary readers who are techies and read on any platform that’s available.  If they are well off, they may go to the library for philanthropic functions and donate handsomely.  If they are living off a normal income or if they are poor, they go to the library regularly and utilized the inter-library system to get relevant texts, but if they really love a book, they’ll pay any price for it.  They may even volunteer at their local bookstore or take children to the children’s reading hour at their local bookstore.  Gotta start ’em early.  Elitist literary readers more than likely think Barnes & Noble and Amazon are the spawns of Satan.  They blame them for the demise of local bookstores.  For elitist literary readers, literature is not only about supporting high literature, it’s about securing a high literary community for generations to come.

Depending on when you catch me, I fit into all these reader categories.  I read broadly.  I prefer books to ebooks, I can’t imagine life without the Internet, and I shop local and corporate.

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