My Book Group | Enjoying Novels Versus Appreciating Them

Posted by on Jun 8, 2008 in Writing | 2 comments

(Loitering at World Cup Coffee today.)

This morning my book group discussed Anne Enright’s The Gathering. I like my book group. We’re a feisty, fabulous fivesome, and we discuss our reading picks before veering into the usual usual. (Cosmetics — as in wearing them at all, pros, cons — was a hot topic for two minutes.)

I’m the only writer, so I approach the discussion from a different perspective than my friends. Just today, one of the fab-five commented, “I’m so glad you’re in the group; I like the book so much better now that we’ve discussed it!”

During our book chats, I’m reminded that we fictioneers read novels the way I imagine filmmakers watch movies — with detached analysis murmuring in the background.

Let’s take, for example, Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children, which got great reviews. Won’t go on my 2008 favorites list, yet I appreciated it. Craft-wise, I respected what Messud accomplished with her omniscient voice and unlikeable cast of characters. However, if I weren’t a writer, I would have given up on the book because, frankly, I didn’t enjoy the story. (The rest of the fab-five detested this novel.) 

For me, enjoying a book and appreciating a book are separate acts. The appreciation comes from my inner-writer. So, for example, when one of the fab-five complained that she felt distanced from Messud’s characters, I responded from the appreciation space — pinpointing the omniscient voice as the likely culprit and explaining why I thought Messud’s novel couldn’t have been written in anything but omniscient voice. From the enjoyment space, I agreed with my friend: I could have cared less about the characters.

These days, I can’t enjoy a novel without my inner-writer observing from her squeaky soapbox. Sometimes, she annoys me. Sometimes, I just wanna read.

2 Comments

  1. To enjoy novels, or appreciate them? This is the classic dilemma for the reader.

    Perhaps too cerebral an approach destroys enjoyment?

    Isn’t it the objective of the novelist that the readers have fun reading the novelist’s novel, that while readers read they can reflect on their emotional reactions to the various characters, and wonder why they react thus, and so discover more about themselves?

    In another word: bibliotherapy.

    Might not too cerebral an approach destroy this?

  2. Thanks for commenting, Caroline!

    I’ve never thought about reading as therapy, but, of course, that aspect is part of the enjoyment. I do think that too much cerebrum hampers enjoyment, at least at times. When my inner-writer is going at it, I have a hard time sinking fully into the story…

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