Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Okay, I’m trying to get all of the Whitney Finalists read. I had a headstart since I’ve already read all of the finalists except the Young Adult and the Speculative. I’m not sure why they’re considered separate genres, they’re both comprised of speculative fiction only, which I consider kind of sad because there were some great YA novels published in 2008 that don’t fall into the speculative category. Reading speculative fiction is a bit of a challenge for me since I find most of it pointless and I have little time to read anything other than LDS fiction for possible reviews. (To be eligible for a Whitney award, a book doesn’t have to have any connection to LDS standards or beliefs. The only requirement is that the author must be LDS; he or she doesn’t have to be active or even believe the tenants the Church teaches, just have his or her name on the records of the Church and be nominated by at least five people).

To be honest, I found a few of these books to be excellent and I enjoyed reading them. They’re the ones who follow the same guidelines for good story telling that good non-speculative fiction follows. There’s a strong beginning, identifiable characters, choices based on growing moral strength, realistic dialog, and a satisfying ending. Many of the YA finalists also reveal a keen sense of humor that adds to their appeal.

Others are merely a series of sickening incidents, an extreme suspension of belief, and end with little or no resolution. I don’t understand the appeal of watching relentless torture. I don’t understand the suspension of moral values. I don’t understand spending hours poring over evil, unrealistic characters, and their morbid actions. I understand the basic premise behind science fiction/fantasy of creating an alternative world with its own rules and morality; I just find myself too interested and too involved in the problems of this world to find pleasure in a totally imaginary and unrealistic world.

Now before speculative fiction fans unite to lynch me, let me add I also have a strong commitment to choice in reading. There are those who consider historical fiction a waste of time since the past is dead and gone. The romance genre has long been the object of public ridicule though it is the most read and biggest money-maker in the book selling market. Many readers wouldn’t touch a social issues drama with a ten foot pole. Others say spare me anything sports-related. Humor writers get their share of criticism as do action, mystery and suspense writers. There are even those who consider all fiction an immoral waste of time; a subject for another blog.

Growing up, I read anything I could get my hands on. My family didn’t own many books, especially after our house got caught in a flood that destroyed my mother’s collection of children’s books. And our family income wasn’t such that we could buy a lot of books. I also faced the problem many rural children did then; libraries were only available to people who lived within the city or town limits. Consequently, I never worried much about genre. If I could get my hands on a book I read it. As time and circumstances changed I found I gravitated toward certain types of books, but maintained a curiosity and interest in many types. Yes, I went through a fairytale and mythology phase between the third and fourth grades of school and devoured the Martian Chronicles in junior high. My library work led me to read many of the top selling science fiction and fantasy novels, but they rarely captured my interest or left me feeling satisfied. In twenty-one years of buying and checking out fiction to thousands of readers, I noticed a few odd similarities between obsessive romance and obsessive science fiction/fantasy readers. The first was volume. It isn’t unusual for a rabid romance reader to check out forty or more paperback romances a month. The most gung ho sci-fi readers would load up with a stack four feet tall of thick hardbacks. The next thing I noted was that quantity mattered more to each group than quality. Being a smart aleck, I concluded some people need more to do in real life. Even as avid as I am about supporting reading, I believe people need to experience real life in order to appreciate and recognize good fiction.

If you’re wondering if I have a point to all this, I promise I do. Read! Your tastes don’t have to match mine and I don’t have to like or even approve of your choices in reading material, but remember just as “what you eat is what you are,” what you read is who you are. Our American belief, along with that of other countries who value liberty, is strong on exploring new ideas and differing concepts and acknowledging the right of others to ascribe to different tastes and views. That is part of the freedom we revere. Nowhere more than through the printed word do we gain the ability to sift and evaluate, to form our own opinions. As we read, we can ask ourselves if the author is attempting to cram his/her views down our throats. Can I accept the values put forth in this tale? Is this entertainment or indoctrination? Is reading making my life better or is it a mere obsession? Is the hero/heroine of this book someone I can admire? Life is short, is this book worth the chunk of that life I’m giving it? In this country we can be slaves to political correctness, we can be bigots, we can be wishy-washy or we can chart our own course, choose to follow God, or make our own rules as long as they don’t infringe on those same rights of others. Nowhere more than in our choice of leisure reading do we identify who we are and what we stand for.


Nancy Campbell Allen said...

I agree! And I'm also grateful for so many, many different genres. How boring if we all liked the same kind of book.

I often get questions from moms who ask me what they can do to get their kids to read more. I always say that there's something out there for everyone. You fid that kid's passion and then look for a book about it. Not always easy, but it's there for the taking.

I think of the hours I spent as a kid loving my books and I think of the quote from You've Got Mail, where Meg Ryan's character says that a book you read as a child affects your life in ways no book ever does again, or something like that. ( I think I just slaughtered the quote). But there's something so magical about getting lost in a good story.

Love it!

Cheri J. Crane said...

Excellent post, Jennie, as always. I devoured books as a youngster, too. And currently, I read books whenever I get the chance. I am very selective, however. My tastes gravitate toward mysteries, humorous novels, historical fiction, speculative, and some fantasy. I have 2 requirements: 1)The books I read must adhere to my moral code (if whatever book I'm reading throws in inappropriate scenes for whatever reason, I either throw it away or return it to the library uncompleted)
2)I prefer books that are well-written\entertaining.

Jeri Gilchrist said...

What a thought provoking post. While there are some books I read strictly because I love the author and therefore know I will love the book, I often tend to hear about books because of what others have said. For that reason,I have been led to read many types of books from many categories, that I may not have picked up otherwise.

Some of the questions you pointed out are also useful while writing. When we have finished our writing, it wouldn't hurt to go back and ask ourselves some of these questions to make sure we have a worthwhile reading.

As a child I loved reading. I could read enough or fast enough. I even dreamed of being a speed reader. I would try to see how fast I could read and still undertand what I read. Now in later years, I have specific tastes in what I like to read.

Loved the post.

Gale Sears said...

Dear Jennie,
Such an adroit look at the wondrous world of book reading. Thank you for the insight about taking an important moment and evaluating what we spend our time on. There are times when I love to escape with a humorous novel or get lost in an adventure, but I certainly wouldn't do without historical fiction, or biographies.
Great blog!
Thanks. Gale