Some days it feels like an appalling act of hubris to think I might have something to offer readers: my perspective doesn’t seem particularly unique–and I write genre fiction.
I have friends who write the kind of beautiful books where readers write back to say that the book changed their life, that it inspired them. I’ve never received a single letter like that. In other words, I don’t write “important” books.
But I still believe that there’s value in most books—mine included. Here’s why.
Different readers need different things from books. As a reader, I’m familiar with this—a book that moves me profoundly may bore my friend. The converse is also true. Sometimes I read to learn, to experience a perspective that isn’t my own and stretch my empathy, to be inspired. Sometimes I read purely to escape. I’ve read nonfiction books (most recently, Brené Brown’s) that changed my thinking. I’ve read memoirs that linger with me years later: Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, Terry Tempest William’s Refuge. And I’ve read genre fiction that saved me in dark places.
I read Jessica Day George’s Princess of Glass one long, harrowing evening in a hospital waiting room, waiting for an ultrasound to confirm what I already suspected: I had miscarried at 16 weeks. That night, I needed an escape. About a year later, I again found a much-needed escape in genre fiction: after an unexpected emergency c-section stranded me in the hospital with only my new kindle (I could not leave my room or hold my baby for several hours after the surgery), I devoured Melanie Jacobson’s light romantic comedies.
Were these books any less important than weightier ones? Maybe objectively, when we look at something that contributes to a wider cultural conversation. But in those moments, when I desperately needed an escape, they were no less valuable.
As writers, we’re sometimes tempted to assign value to books, especially our own. But as readers, that distinction is much fuzzier, and something we should bear in mind when we write. Readers read for all kinds of reasons, and they need all kinds of books.
I asked some of my friends why they read, and the answers span a broad spectrum:
• To learn or improve a skill
• To enjoy a well-turned phrase and human creativity
• To change
• To be guided to new and deeper thinking
• To connect with others
• To learn how others experience the world; to see a new perspective
• To find someone like you
• To solve a problem before the main character
• To live more than one life
• To travel to other parts of the world (or universe)
• To travel through time
• To experience emotions we enjoy (whether that be fear, humor, romance)
• To escape
• To relax
• To have fun
Or as my friend Kristin Reynolds (whose beautiful middle-grade novel, The Land of Yesterday, will be out next year) says: “To find myself in others, to reaffirm my experience as a human being, to glimpse the perpetual uncertainty that I am not alone. To link minds and hearts with strangers who end up feeling like friends. And also for the poetry of words, where the meaning is in what’s not being said that ignites something otherwordly inside me, something true, something divine.”
There’s no one right answer to why someone reads—and most people read for multiple reasons.
Chances are, no matter what you write, there’s a reader looking for just the experience you offer.
What do you read–and why?
Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is now available.
3 thoughts on “Drawing Inspiration from Readers”
That was a well thought out post. I write about many things, but I dream about leaving my mark with something special that moves people. Sad to say, it may never happen. I have a hopefully humorous book at the publisher, coming out in a few months called, Simple Observations. Your last three reasons why people read, fit my book – to escape, relax, and have fun. I may never be a great writer, but I have fun, and make people laugh. I think that’s enough. Thanks again, and take care.
Patrick, good luck on your release! I think we sell ourselves short sometimes when our books don’t look a certain way, but readers need all sorts of books.
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