Random Musings: Reading should be a pleasure

I have a friend who, amongst other writing gigs, is a theatre critic for a national newspaper. From time to time he takes me along to a show as his +1. In this way I get to see plays that I would not pay to see, not because I am unlikely to enjoy them but because I cannot be sure this would be the case. An outing to the theatre is a rare and expensive treat. When parting with hard earned cash I play it safe.

My friend comments from time to time on the dearth of new plays by lesser known writers being granted space in the large and popular theatres. At these venues musicals and adaptations of the classics overwhelm schedules. Looking back at the shows I have taken my children to see over the years – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Sound of Music, Wicked – I understand why theatre directors make the choices they do. They run a business that requires a paying clientele and these types of productions have proved enduringly popular.

Most people don’t watch several theatre shows a week with a view to writing about them. It is little wonder my friend seeks variety and greater depth but he is atypical of attendees.

I have on occasion taken more of a risk with theatre tickets. My son and I enjoyed a stage adaptation of Toby Litt’s novel Deadkidsongs but it was in a small venue that charged £10 for a ticket rather than the more usual £35 (double that for London shows). We chose to go having read and rated the book. Enjoyment of a book also lead me to buy more pricey tickets for us to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, that and consistently good reviews from a variety of people, not just the professional critics.

I probably attend the theatre a handful of times in a year, including the shows my friend invites me to. I attend the theatre more than many people.

I bear all this in mind when I encounter well read, self confident, literary experts who express unhappiness at the number of crime fiction books, thrillers and romances published each year. I fully understand why they want more variety – I do too – but genre fiction continues to sell well. Publishers run a business that requires paying customers.

When I first started reviewing I was happy to read almost anything and rated many crime and thriller books highly. Like a musical at the theatre they are easy entertainment, enjoyable if not always mind stretching. It is only since my reading became a major part of my life that I have grown jaded when faced with the formulaic. What I must remember when writing about such books is that I am not typical of the majority of readers. According to a YouGov survey the mean number of books read for pleasure by adults in the UK is around 10 each year, and the median is around 4. Last year I read in excess of 180.

It is too easy, when knowledgeable and passionate about a subject, to be critical of those whose tastes differ. I have another friend who can discuss the merits of wine based on the field where the grapes were grown and the weather prior to their harvest. They would likely be appalled at my regular purchases of supermarket discounted Australian Chardonnay. Cost is an issue but I enjoy my basic bottle of plonk each evening. In down time, enjoyment is key.

There has been much discussion this week about where people shop for books and the choices they make when purchasing. That I now seek out literary fiction which is challenging, sometimes experimental, preferably character driven, is simply the direction my reading journey has taken me. I do not consider myself a more worthy reader. I choose books I expect to enjoy, as I believe all readers should feel free to do without criticism.

It is good to spread the word about a fabulous title others may not have heard of. My hope for my reviews is that they lead readers to books they will be glad to spend time with. Reading should be a pleasure more than an achievement. Remain open to recommendations but choose for yourself.

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7 comments on “Random Musings: Reading should be a pleasure

  1. A thoughtful and well-argued piece. I think you’re right that as prolific readers we’re not typical and that most people are simply looking for books that provide entertainment. A book that does that is a success even if it will never win a literary prize.

    • Jackie Law says:

      Thank you. And it works both ways. I have been criticised for choosing to read the books that win literary prizes, as if my personal choices imply reproval of other’s preferences. I am happy if people are reading.

  2. Well said Jackie. We are all different and our tastes alter over time. Reading should be a joy. No-one has the right to denegrate another reader for their reading choices and I have discovered many books here I would not otherwise have known about so thank you.

  3. Anne Williams says:

    Well said, Jackie. My tastes have moved in a different direction, but I often find books to tempt me on your excellent blog. And there’s no danger at all of losing my love for reading.

  4. BookerTalk says:

    I kept nodding my head in agreement as I read your piece. I love theatrical performances too but the cost of tickets in London is now prohibitive if you don’t live on the doorstep. Thankfully we have the live broadcast to cinema initiative. I saw all the Twitter fuss about where people buy books and what that says about their attitudes. Frankly I don’t get care where people buy or acquire books – I’m just glad they are since it means they are reading something.

  5. Such an eloquent post. When I was in bookselling I remember trying to gently explain to concerned adults bent on steering their children in a more literary direction that it didn’t matter what their children were reading as long as they were enjoying what they read.

  6. MarinaSofia says:

    You are very right, Jackie. I love all these cultural events, as you well know, but most of them are really, really expensive, so I too tend to play safe and only pay high prices if I am sure that I will like them (Hamilton, for example, which was a Christmas and birthday present for my son and myself rolled into one). I’ve discovered more affordable and experimental places like the student productions at CSSD and RADA, Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn… the only problem is, if you live outside London and have to take the train back late at night, your choices are considerably more limited. I’m also lucky that there is a cultural centre in my town which, amongst the comedy on tour and children’s shows, which are very popular, as you say, also has NT Live, independent films and some touring companies.

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