Saturday, September 08, 2012

Reading as Entertainment?


I am reading STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett and the research involved blows me away. In BEL CANTO (one of my all-time favorite books), she learned all about opera and the military and a terrorist group in a South American country. Amazing. And STATE OF WONDER is even more praise-worthy because she has learned about how a primitive tribe lives, how scientific research is conducted, and various related matter. It is also incredibly descriptive--I feel like I am on that river, the mosquitoes that occupy much of the book's themes, buzzing around me, the river snakes slithering by, the tribe engaging in arcane activities considering it is contemporary.

But this book, in particular, is not truly entertaining. It is slow, ponderous, about how people operate in the medical research community, what a primitive tribe might be like, how decisions of youth come back to grab us. All sorts of interesting things, but I am not entertained like I was recently with, for instance, GONE GIRL.

Do you read books that do not entertain you? Since the days when you had to, I mean. Reading such books gives me a certain boost--that I have learned something or read really great writing. But I wouldn't do it for a steady diet. But I also cannot read pure adrenalin rush books all the time either. Do you mix it up too?

17 comments:

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Patti, I have been reading more of the "adrenalin rush" type of books lately and I agree it doesn't hold every time. To ease the "pressure" I switch over to a classic ("Moll Flanders" is on) or a bunch of comic-books or non-fiction (like "You're Lucky, You're Funny: How Life Becomes A Sitcom" by Phil Rosenthal, creator and producer of "Everybody Loves Raymond") or philosophy books. Historical works are an absolute delight to read. You learn so much.

Anonymous said...

In a word, no. Life is too short.

For just the opposite, a book that seems to have required a certain amount of research (how else would she know all that stuff?) and yet is fast moving, involving and very entertaining (so far) I'd offer up Megan Abbott's DARE ME.

Jeff M.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

I read a lot of non-fiction. Some of it entertains me, but some of it is just stuff I feel that I should be better informed about, so yeah, I'm with you. History would be a good example. There are certain areas of history which fascinate me (Vikings, The Byzantine Empire) but there are a couple of others (The Roman Empire, The Crusades) which I don't find that entertaining but I feel I should know about. It's a handy ability for a writer to be able to read for information he or she needs, rather than just for what they enjoy. I recently read a huge book about Billy the Kid. Wasn't all that interested in Billy, but I needed a better understanding of what things were like in New Mexico in the 1800s, and this book had that in spades. And yes, that sort of thing is a good break from mile-a-minute fiction.

Ron Scheer said...

Another question of yours not easy to answer in a couple sentences. Entertainment is only one kind of pleasure. Maybe only 10 percent of what I read qualifies as adrenalin-rush material, yet on some level I'm getting pleasure out of nearly every book I read. It just have to be interesting in some way.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My husband, son and daughter all manage to mix their books up more than I do. I read a lot of straight fiction-books like this one--but very little non-fiction except for the occasional biography of a writer. Oh, and book club books. I think I used to do better.

Anonymous said...

There have been years in the past when I was selling books and involved in various mystery-related groups (and doing the fanzine) when I read about 90% mysteries. Other years before that (1973-76) I read over 50 non fiction books a year. 2003 was the last year I read a lot of non fiction. In college one year I read over 100 plays.

I'm trying to mix it up a lot more these days. One benefit of finishing all the mystery short stories I had was that in recent years I've been able to systematically catch up on a lot of "classic" writers whose short stories I've missed over the years - starting with Hemingway (who I had read) and Fitzgerald, then O'Hara and O'Connor, Carver and Dubus, then Chekhov and Babel, and this year Cheever, Malamud and Updike.

I'm always open to suggestions.


Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

'whom'

*sigh*

Gotta proofread.


Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

You are amazingly well read in short stories, Jeff. The only people I know who read as many as you write them. Have never read Babel. I think I will look for one online today.

Deb said...

I read about one non-fiction book for every four fiction books--and, although I like learning about the world, its people, and its history, I like my fiction to wear its research lightly. If you can tell the author if a work of fiction has done a tremendous amount of research, then I'd suggest that the author hasn't done a great job of blending the fictional world she's trying to create with the real world into which she did her research. I imagine it's a very difficult balance to get right, but perhaps that's why writers are admonished to "write what you know."

Charles Gramlich said...

I read a lot of nonfiction that doesn't entertain, per se. In fiction, I read non-entertaining fiction only because I've been asked to, or because it's classic, like Moby Dick, that I feel I ought to read.

Richard S. Wheeler said...

Nonfiction, especially biography, entertains me these days. I rarely touch fiction in my field. I go to the mass-market racks, read the cover copy, realize it is more of the same, with a lot of slaughter that replaces character and story, and walk away.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I feel like that some days, Richard. But every once in a while, an amazing novel comes across my path.

Dana King said...

Life is too short to read books that do not entertain on some level. That applies to both fiction and non-fiction. No matter how weighty the subject matter, there can always be a quality to the writing that keeps you reading out of something more than a sense of duty.

That being said, I have little or no time for "adrenaline rush" books. Balance is needed in everything.

Gerard said...

I'm currently listening to Dave Cullen's COLUMBINE. The book is gripping, informative and entertaining.

I do not like to stop listening because the story is so compelling. The story is so tragic I do not want to start up again after stopping.

George said...

Like Jeff, my reading habits have evolved. My reading now is about 60% non-fiction and 40% fiction. Jeff also got me into the habit of reading one short story each day. When I was a young whipper-snapper, I read about 90% fiction. Now, I'm more like Richard Wheeler when it comes to fiction.

pattinase (abbott) said...

A perfect summation of the book, Gerard. Good for you for putting it down, for picking it up.
That is probably Phil's tally-discounting the books he reads for his whatever project he is working on.

F.T. Bradley said...

Since I read a lot of kids' books, I try to shake it up with books written for adults. Your post may have spurred me to change things up by reading something different; I'm in a bit of a rut...