If You Were Trying to Convince People to Read Fiction, What Would You Say?

Most people who follow this blog are avid fans of literature. But we all have family and friends who don’t read any or much fiction — unless they stumble across a Donald Trump speech. 🙂

Everyone has their own interests and time constraints, so I never harangue the book-averse for not reading more novels. You’re probably the same way. But what if you hypothetically took aside people who don’t read literature and tried to convince them to do so? What would you say? What arguments would you use? (And I don’t mean threatening to smack them with a hardcover copy of War and Peace.) This column will consist of my hypothetical talking points, and then I’ll ask for yours.

I would tell the book-averse that reading fiction is fun and entertaining — as well as relaxing in some cases and exciting in other cases.

Educational, too. You learn about different locales (in the U.S. or abroad or even outer space), you learn about different cultures, and you learn about different time periods. You also learn about things that are a little harder to pin down — such as the variety of human emotions.

Literature can also be comforting. There’s something soothing about letting your mind go to another mental place, and about realizing that people from thousands of miles away or centuries ago might have similar thoughts as you. Part of this can involve learning from history so we’re not doomed to repeat it, to paraphrase the famous phrase attributed to George Santayana — whose writing included fiction.

Not soothing but also very important is how literature can take us OUT of our comfort zone and challenge us to look at things in a different way than we’re accustomed to.

Can you get all of the above from, say, watching TV programs or movies? Some of it. Yet images on a screen SHOW you things; you don’t use your imagination as much as you do when seeing things only in your mind’s eye when reading.

On a more prosaic level, reading fiction will give you interesting things to talk about (at parties and elsewhere) — including lines like: “Harumph — I just saw yet another film not as good as the novel it’s based on.” 🙂

And reading literature means you’re monetarily supporting some very creative author minds. Not to mention helping independent bookstores, if that’s how you roll when shopping for fictional works.

When hypothetically trying to convince people to read literature, it wouldn’t hurt to urge them to start with popular page-turners — and then hope those readers eventually throw some older or modern classics into the mix.

I realize much of what I said in this piece is obvious, but…okay, okay…books are also good for propping up the legs of uneven tables. Unless you use a Kindle, which might not do as well in that table-leveling capacity…

What would you tell literature-avoiding family members or friends to try to get them in fiction-reading mode?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

164 thoughts on “If You Were Trying to Convince People to Read Fiction, What Would You Say?

  1. This topic reminds me of John Sebastian’s line in The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe In Magic?”:

    “It’s like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll.”

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    • An excellent insight, jhNY! One can understand the appeal of literature mostly by…reading literature.

      As an aside, Harry Potter should have sang “Do You Believe In Magic?” to the Dursleys. 🙂

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  2. Hello Dave, I just stopped by to wish you and your family, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 🎄🎅

    Dear Dave, I’ve read many nice fictions, and convinced other people to read those as well, but I would never even try to convince anyone to read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged! 😉
    You know what I mean! 😜

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  3. I would tell them research shows that reading fiction tends to humanize us and increases our ability to be empathetic. Of course, they might not want to have empathy – but that might be due to the fact that they don’t read fiction, lol. If they don’t believe me they can google it. 🙂

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    • SO well said, Jean, and I loved your circular-logic quip!

      The humanizing and empathetic benefits of fiction — it doesn’t get more persuasive than that when (hypothetically) trying to convince people to read literature. 🙂

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  4. Hi Dave,
    If I was going to try and describe reading to someone who doesn’t read, I’d say that it’s a little bit like watching a movie, but much more intimate, as it’s only you and the author. For example, while reading your memoir, it felt like we were having a conversation. The style of writing was so open and engaging, that I’ll admit, I did talk to the book. Sometimes out loud and sometimes in public, which is a bit embarrassing, but oh well.
    When you said reading can be educational I thought nope, not for me. Reading is fun. But a split second later I thought actually, a lot of what I know about American history has come from literature. Heck, a lot of what I know about Australian history, especially our indigenous people, has come from both fiction and non-fiction books. Reading is awesome.
    Such a great topic this week, Dave. And it got me thinking about whether we should, or how we might recommend a particular book / genre to someone who may already be a reader? I don’t often make recommendations to people, as it’s just so personal, and I’m often surprised by what people do and don’t like. But I think if people ask for recommendations, they should at least enter into a conversation about what is offered to them. On an online message board recently, I saw someone asking for a more adult “Hunger Games”. Someone commented that if they were looking for dystopia they might try “Brave New World” or “1984”. The original poster then came back and said that they wanted something like “The Hunger Games” not ‘some random dystopian-themed rubbish’. I mean, how rude!! Something similar happened when there was a young woman in our book group (late teens / early twenties) who said that she’d been reading nothing but Young Adult supernatural romance, and wanted to branch out a little. In a private message, I suggested Anne Rice. Vampires, romance, but a little bit more elegant than what I imagine Young Adult books would offer. Her response (while friendly enough) was that she was looking specifically for werewolf fiction. I don’t understand why you’d ask for recommendations, say that you want to branch out, and then dismiss anything that doesn’t come from a specific little genre.
    Anyway, sorry for my rant. People should of course read what makes them happy. Someone’s ‘too long and boring and I couldn’t get through it’ might be my “Crime and Punishment”. My ‘too long and boring and I couldn’t get through it’ might someone else’s “Lord of the Rings”.

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    • Hi, Susan! Glad you liked the topic! And thanks for the very kind words about the writing style of my book. 🙂

      Loved your description of reading (“…it’s a little bit like watching a movie, but much more intimate, as it’s only you and the author”). Excellent insight there!

      One nice thing about the educational aspect of great literature is that the learning can be subtle and indirect, as you allude to. It can sneak up on a person. Makes learning more palatable than when it’s done through boring textbooks. I’ve definitely learned a LOT about other countries via novels.

      Wow — that WAS a rude response on that online message board. “Brave New World” and “1984” — along with novels such as “The Handmaid’s Tale” — would also have immediately occurred to me as compelling adult dystopian fiction.

      And, yes, it’s “interesting” when people are not only fixated on a certain kind of genre fiction but on a subcategory of a certain genre or a subcategory of a subcategory…

      Reading tastes are indeed so individual and so eclectic. But people should be polite about it!

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  5. Dave I almost didn`t get to read the ” Millennium Trilogy” by Stieg Larsson we have discussed the book upto a great length in HP 🙄
    I borrowed the first one “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and was so bored with the first 50 pages that I returned the book. Later one library patron talked me into continuing on and the story really picks up after 100 pages.
    Another person was returning ” The Low Land” by Jhumpa Lahiri ,I was not planning to read the book until she mentioned to me that she was satisfied with the ending.
    I don`t even remember how I started on Lee Child`s Reacher thrillers, as we were going to Florence a few years ago I casually picked up one paperback just in case and then I never stopped his Reacher thrillers.
    My good friend in Nashville suggested to me “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce and some book it was.

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    • Great point, bebe. One thing that can scare off some potential readers is that some novels start slow before grabbing a person. When The Millennium Trilogy picks up, it REALLY picks up. I was turning the pages frantically after a while. 🙂

      “The Lowland” has sort of a leisurely pace for a while, but it’s ultimately a very absorbing novel, as you know.

      Glad you stumbled on the Reacher thrillers! I started them thanks to the recommendations of you and a few others. Most of Lee Child’s books grab a reader within a paragraph or page!

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      • Being at the Public library there always is a fair exchange of information so many asks for certain genre of books and I always try to oblige depending what their choices are.
        There was a lady one time looking for The Citadel by A,J.Cronin. I have not heard the name for so long Dave read so many of his way back when in my early years.
        Obviously the library didn`t have any of his in our branch.
        Another one carries a roller small carry on and borrows 10-15 at a time, I saw her yesterday and asked what she was borrowing. The lady was on hot list for so many authors and I mentioned the latest of Grisham`s and she has read the book already.
        She must be on a special hot hot list 🙂

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      • Finished the Larsson trilogy this week– seemed devoid of style almost, and occasionally wooden, but eventually, the pace picks up speedily, and the author does manage to invest us in Salander, and to a lesser extent, Blomquist, and to a lesser extent, anybody else. And I do appreciate the creation of a computer-savvy anti-heroine, as an authorial allurement, given our current societal predilections. I also admire the way the author was able to weave his own professional knowledge base into the plot, and appreciate, though I know nothing really about the details, the poignancy of the entire enterprise– Larsson died shortly after delivering all three manuscripts, and thus, never knew the international scope of his great success.

        At least now I know something about what everybody else was reading over the last couple of years…

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        • Thanks for that Millennium Trilogy review, jhNY! Funny — I didn’t think about Stieg Larsson’s writing style (or lack of) as I was reading the books. The plot was so riveting that I didn’t think about much else (well, the characters were interesting, too — especially Lisbeth Salander, of course — and the description of political and business corruption was vivid).

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          • I was just talking to a friend who’d just finished reading the trilogy as well as the new novel written by someone who had taken the manuscripts from Larrson who died, but they thought it was well done. I’ve not quite gotten there yet. I’ve been very strong about one of my favorites, Liane Moriarty, and all of her novels. My friend also mentioned how much she loved Jack Reacher and had read all of his books and complained about Tom Cruise as the embodiment of Reacher.

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            • Stieg Larsson’s trilogy really is breathtakingly exciting, Kat Lib. But I don’t intend to read the fourth book because it bothers me when another author continues a series — plus Larsson’s long-time partner was against the new book, if I’m remembering correctly. I know you enjoy Scandinavian mysteries, among many other genres and sub-genres, so I think you would love The Millennium Trilogy.

              I’ve had Liane Moriarty on my list for a while because of your enthusiastic recommendation, but my library doesn’t seem to stock her. Will probably buy a novel of hers one of these days.

              Jack Reacher is still my current popular-fiction addiction. I’ve now (non-chronologically) read 16 of the 20 Reacher novels in the past year or so, and will read number 17 next week. 🙂 And while I haven’t seen the movie, the 5’7″ Cruise is WAY too short for the 6’5″ Reacher.

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              • Sorry it’s taken so long to respond, but I haven’t read any of Anne Holt, although she sounds interesting. My favorite Swedish writers are currently Camilla Lackberg, Kristina Ohllson, for newer fiction (I also enjoyed Asa Larrson, though my sister didn’t care much for her). One of my very favorite series is the Martin Beck novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö from back in I think the 1960’s and 1970’s, all part of a collection called, “The Story of Crime.” I read these books when they first came out and re-read them within the last five years or so. I also very much enjoy the Oslo detective, Harry Hole (I think either pronounced (Holy or Holay). Of course there’s always the standby Kurt Wallender series by Henning Mankell. I’ve also enjoyed the series by Helene Tursten of her series about the Swedish detective, Irene Huss.

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                • I too enjoy Martin Beck. Reread The Laughing Policeman this very year…

                  I like Mankell, but don’t love him– but I’m fond, maybe fonder of both Swedish teevee dramatizations, and also Branagh’s portrayal. As I’ve lost a few folks to dementia and to Alzheimer’s, the end of Wallander was hard to watch, and when I had the opportunity, I spared myself Mankell’s novel covering his hero’s fade-away.

                  I think, but can’t swear, I’ve read a Hole mystery, but all the others you list are unfamiliar. Crime books all? If so, I’ve got plenty to look forward to. Thanks!

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  6. You very nicely summed up what to say. But if I were to add to what you said I would direct you to an outstanding post on a blog that I stumbled upon on a couple of years ago. I referred back to the post a couple of times on my blog. Its focus is on men because, as I guess studies seem to indicate, men read far less fiction that women. It’s title, “10 Reasons Why Men Must Start Reading Fiction Again.” Something Victoria Dougherty says that I particularly like is, “The spoken and written word in the form of a fictional story has been as important, historically, in a man’s life journey as sports, trolling with friends, and becoming the master of his destiny. The novel has been an unfailing aid in his evolution – in learning to love, becoming a husband and a father, being a friend. Doing what is right and understanding the consequences of shirking his morals and ethics.” Here’s the post if you’re interested –
    https://victoriadougherty.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/10-reasons-why-men-must-start-reading-fiction-again/
    – In a way I almost feel it’s a duty to try to convince people to read fiction. – Very good post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, VocareMentor! Great comment!

      That IS an outstanding post you linked to. And you’re right that the dwindling number of fiction readers tend to be disproportionately female — though there’s a good percentage of males (albeit not a majority) among the literature lovers who regularly comment under this blog.

      I hear you when you say you “almost feel it’s a duty to try to convince people to read fiction.” In my case, I might indirectly try to get people to read fiction by mentioning a novel I particularly like, but I hesitate to urge anything directly. Often, people do the opposite of what people want them to do. Sort of a stubborn, human nature type of thing. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Why not I write how other readers convince me to read certain books ?
    Dave your blog is the great place to get ideas about certain books / novels.
    I read most of the classics in my teens when I was in school when it was so cool to talk about certain books or authors and used to frequent the Public Library to borrow. So many books I have purchased..were the complete works of so many authors.
    These days I tend to read thrillers more until I find some book referred by certain readers.
    I credit bobess48 recently for writing in here several times on GSAW and I am glad that I did ( ending was abrupt ). First of Atticus was a fictional character created by Harper Lee whom we adored all those years until very recently. Scout or grown up Jean Louise Finch still bold and it was through her eyes we saw how she tried to interpret the fall of her hero.

    In my eyes Harper Lee came out as an open minded person growing up in deep south Alabama in the 1950`s and she was writing through the mindset of Scout.

    oh my I was rambling on and drifted away from the topic …so more to come later . :(grin)

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    • bebe, excellent point about how readers can influence other readers (to read more and/or to read different things). Thank you for saying that this blog does that; I’ve gratefully read tons of things recommended by you and other commenters that I never would have otherwise read — and possibly never would have heard of.

      Very nice that you read many classics at such a young age — and it’s great (yet sobering) to think about a time when being interested in books and talking about books was “cool.” Hopefully, there’s still a remnant of that today. 🙂 I also love to read thrillers, though I’m conscious of interspersing them with other kinds of novels.

      Yes, Harper Lee was definitely more tolerant than many of her fellow while southerners in the 1950s. Heck, more tolerant than many white northerners, too. I still plan to read “Go Set a Watchman” when it appears on my local library’s shelves between check-outs.

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      • I read below about donating books…I collected two paperbacks of Harry Potter i was hoarding them a long time today time to part…going to the library book drop.

        When moved to OH from TN we were looking at houses..none of the ones I liked have any book shelves that was surprising for me. Even more surprising after seven years that the Cincinnati is one of the well read city per capita.

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        • That “Harry Potter” donation will be greatly appreciated by some reader(s), bebe. I love that series.

          A house without bookshelves is a sad sight. 😦 Didn’t know that Cincinnati residents are better-read than residents of many other cities. Great!!!

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          • One of my sisters was an elementary school teacher for 37 years, and she was very friendly with an owner of a children’s bookstore in her area (a rather pricey one). She has had at least 3 or 4 of the first edition Harry Potter books signed by the author. One of my nephews always said that that was his children’s college fund. The funny part is that my sister wasn’t even that fond of the series (not big on sci-fi or fantasy books). I’m not even sure she still has them.

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            • First editions signed by J.K. Rowling — wow, Kat Lib! Definitely a potential college fund! If your sister no longer has those books, I hope they went to a deserving place and/or brought a lot of money for a good purpose.

              Rowling actually visited my New Jersey town of Montclair around a decade ago (2004?). But her appearance at a private school was not open to the general public. 😦 I think a parent at the school had some kind of connection, perhaps with Rowling’s U.S. publisher.

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  8. To answer your question, Dave, I might be tempted to say something like what Kurt Vonnegut once wrote in an ad in which he was trying to help a department store sell an oversupply of straw hats: “If you don’t like it, you can run it through your horse and put it on your garden.”

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  9. Haven’t we, in the West first, but now all over the world, become evermore distracted by evermore distracting forms of distraction?

    Had occasion to read one of Norman Mailer’s last interviews in a public forum, in which he made the point that commercial television had destroyed, via the periodic intrusion of advertisement, the continuity of narrative, and thus, the attention span and concentration of the public generally, given that medium’s centrality and pervasivity in modern culture. The interview took place long enough ago that the fragmentation of that already-embattled attention span– thanks to iPhones and twitterings, etc.–was not even a blip of concern on the horizon…

    How many among us now can actually muster up the focus it takes to read deeply and well? How successful will our forays into reading complex literature be, if we cannot bring our infinitely distractable selves, wholly and single-mindedly, to the task?

    The ancient bard sang saga for many hours around the fire, to the rapt attention of his listeners, all of whom had to conjure in their own minds the scenes his words would paint. Heard any good sagas lately? Wagner’s The Gotterdamerung in performance is six hours long. Not conducive to iTune distribution I’m guessing, much less earbud enjoyment. We don’t have the attention for a good many of the old forms, and the new forms tend to erode what little we retain.

    I consider myself, most of all, sort of sensationalist as a reader nowadays– I’ve been reading crime fiction more than anything else lately, and ghost stories and other weird tales, including works of surrealism. The thrill of a chase, or a violent act captured on paper– I like to have the hair on the back of my neck stand in shock and to feel a vicarious excitement as the pages turn. I want my reading to do something to me– to have a visceral effect. But by following my heart’s desire, I feel I may have trained myself away from books that work by more subtle means to more subtle ends. And I’ve never tweeted a twit, nor owned so much as a cell phone.

    I notice how many of my fellows get their news from what pops up on their phones; I notice how often the stories conform to the medium– nothing needs be longer than the page on which it appears. And it’s a short damn page. What chance has a Faulkner, writing in his highest style, say, in “Absalom, Absalom!”, of being read coherently on a kindle screen?

    How to convince others to read literature? Or less ambitiously, how to get people to read books? I’m not sure it’s possible anymore generally, despite the best intentions of all parties. Other media compellingly eclipse their attractions for most, and have done for longer than a century. But literature will always have its enthusiasts. Best, I think, to talk about the books we love among ourselves, unless or until other distractions beguile.

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    • “How many among us now can actually muster up the focus it takes to read deeply and well?”
      Good question JhNY yesterday I was able to borrow John Grisham`s “Rogue Lawyer” after patiently waiting for the book for seven weeks even Grisham was on my hot list at the public library.

      This morning I read 50 pages of the book was unable to tear away from and my morning chores took a back seat.

      Dave great topic and i`ll write in a few 🙂

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      • bebe, so great that you finally got “Rogue Lawyer”! Sounds like another John Grisham page-turner. I love it when novels become so absorbing that we HAVE to ignore chores. (Been there, haven’t done that — as in not doing chores. 🙂 Though I always get to them eventually.)

        I look forward to more of your thoughts on this week’s column topic!

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            • It is fantastic. I read it on my Kindle was it was released in late October. There are some elements of “Street Lawyer” sprinkled throughout, but it can still stand on its own. The courtroom scenes were my favourite.

              Grisham took a different direction with his writing style in this one. It reads as a collection of short stories that eventually tie together. Junot Diaz has a writing similar style. Never seen Grisham go this route, so it was surprising to see.

              The protagonist Sebastian Rudd is great. Cops hate him, other lawyers hate him, judges hate him, he drives around in a bullet-proof van, hops around to sleep/live in different fleabag motels so his enemies couldn’t keep track of him, yet is still quite successful in getting his clients off. I love that his bodyguard is also his van driver and paralegal. LOL. He wears many hats.

              I think you’ll like Rogue Lawyer, Dave. Classic Grisham with a slightly new style.

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              • Thanks, Ana! Based on yours and bebe’s thoughts, “Rogue Lawyer” is now on my list. 🙂 Great, vivid summary!

                I’ve read only three Grisham novels — two that I thought were riveting (“The Client” and “The Firm”) and one that I thought was good not great (the baseball-themed “Calico Joe”). The fascinating Sebastian Rudd sounds a bit like the not-loved-but-effective attorney in Michael Connelly’s “The Lincoln Lawyer.”

                And I do like books that weave short-story-like segments into a novel — including Elizabeth Strout’s “Olive Kitteridge,” Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio,” and…a 2015 book I’ll be mentioning in my Dec. 20 post!

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                • I didn’t care for Calico Joe either. It wasn’t bad, but…meh. I figured Grisham was trying to go in another direction with his writing.

                  I can appreciate when an author steps outside of his/her literary comfort zone and experiment with something different. Alistair MacLean made a similar move when he wrote Breakheart Pass, which was set in the American West. Sometimes that approach works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I still give them a thumbs up for trying.

                  “and…a 2015 book I’ll be mentioning in my Dec. 20 post!”

                  Yours?

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                  • Yes, “Calico Joe” was kind of so-so, Ana. John Grisham is obviously a baseball fan, and I can understand him wanting to take a “swing” at that genre. As you say, it’s admirable when authors step outside their comfort zone and try something different — whether the effort succeeds are not. Among the successes I can think of off the bat are Mark Twain’s novel “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc” (which you read not that long ago) and almost all of Herman Melville’s non-sea novels and short stories (“Pierre,” “Bartleby the Scrivener,” etc.).

                    Nope, not my book, but a fictional work written by the spouse of a regular commenter here. 🙂

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    • jhNY, VERY eloquent — and it’s hard to argue with any of your cogent points. Certainly, my column was couched in hypothetical terms; I haven’t tried to convince many adult non-literature readers to read literature, and I suspect I never will. With one’s own kids, that can be a different story — I’m sure I’ve helped my two daughters become fiction fans.

      As you conclude, “literature will always have its enthusiasts” (even as the media pie and the what-gets-our-attention pie divides in this digital and social-media age). And I’m glad of that — including having enough literature enthusiasts to sustain this blog. 🙂

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      • I was mostly trying to make a statement about our obliterated powers of concentration, which as I see them, are now so weak as to foreclose on the possibility of repose and close attention, which in turn, makes painstaking reading an unlikely pursuit if that which is to be read exceeds the limits of a tweet or at most, the size of an iPhone screen.

        Of course, two hundred years ago, the oblivious book-reader was the object of much ridicule– the fellow whose nose was so buried down in a book, he could not see the puddle before him as he read and attempted, at least, to walk…now we’ve got our phones to keep us from sighting the pratfalls ahead, or rather most of us do. Me, I don’t want one and have never had one. I prefer being called at home during business hours, and will often answer.

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        • Yes, as you said, many people these days do have weaker powers of concentration and shorter attention spans — which make it hard for them to get through a novel. They’re missing out on a real pleasure, but I guess they’re so entertained and/or distracted by other things they’re not feeling any loss. They probably look at readers like us as dinosaurs (who became extinct 65 million years ago when the Earth was hit by a giant smartphone?).

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        • I agree with you on many levels, I know of someone who died while texting somehow walking home late at night and fell down a steep incline (only in his 20’s). I can’t tell you the number of times I see people at lunch in a nice restaurant all pull out their phones and read their incoming emails or tweets or whatever before even looking at a menu. My friend and I want to take a trip to Europe one last time, but we’ve already agreed that no photos will be taken on smartphones or otherwise, and we want to have a goal for all the places we visit, e.g., attending classical music concerts or finding all the old bookstores to look for certain authors. And of course having a glass of wine at outdoor cafes. 🙂

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          • So awful that that person died while texting and not paying attention to where they were walking.

            I also am very bothered when people text (or talk on the phone) while driving. And as you say, Kat Lib, it’s VERY annoying when people focus more on their smartphones than on the people they’re with in a restaurant.

            I hope you and your friend get to do that (low-tech) European trip soon! Sounds like it would be wonderful.

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    • A very eloquent comment, jhNY, but also kind of sad. I wonder whether our attention span is so limited because of TV and cell phones, or whether we invented TV and cell phones because we don’t want to pay attention. It’s all good and well to blame technology, but I think it has a place in our society. I just wish that people knew how to manage it. I will sometimes read a popular fiction book while watching TV as it keeps me busy during the ads. It’s a bit like channel surfing I guess. But for me, there’s nothing better than knowing that I have a few hours to myself, turning the TV off, putting the phone away, and completely immersing myself into a great book. And I’ve done that for as long as I can remember. I can’t imagine being too busy, or too distracted to make time to do that. I think a part of what I love about reading great literature is that it’s a terrific distraction from all the other distractions out there. I love devoting 100% of my attention to it

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      • It’s my belief (and that’s all it is) that we have been in the business of destroying our own ability to concentrate and pay undivided attention for centuries. The latest distractions are merely the latest– but they are evidently so beguiling, even as compared to older forms of distraction, a great many users cannot bear to be apart from them even long enough to walk down the street with their eyes on what’s ahead. There seems also to be, among disciples and developers, the unsubtle goal of having these social media devices become the only locale for meaning— news, entertainment (books, music, movies, etc.), banking, buying, bill-paying, texting, phoning– which as galvanizing as it must be for the promoters of the devices and their uses– is off-putting and inconvenient to those of us who would rather carry on as we have done. The reduction of image and text to a phone screen’s size is a function of the iPhone’s limitations, but devotees have managed, perversely, to reduce the world accordingly, in their devotion.

        Kudos to you and anybody else who retains the power to concentrate and read deeply today and backs away long enough to read a book. It’s my impression you (and I) are in a shrinking minority.

        I cannot and would not deny that technology “has a place in our society.” I just wish it wasn’t every place.

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        • I think the key is finding some kind of middle ground, which many people have difficulty doing. In some ways, I’m very glad our hyper-digital age exists (for instance, “the blogosphere” enabled me to “meet” and regularly converse with the commenters here 🙂 ). But when people are overly hooked to their smartphones and other devices, it’s a big problem when it leads to not having the attention span to read a great novel, texting while driving, etc.

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        • This makes sense to me as I see, in virtually every situation I find myself in, people checking smartphones and texting. It’s particularly irksome as a librarian at a public service desk when a patron comes up to the desk, ostensibly to ask a question, but immediately interrupts him/herself to answer a buzzing call or reply to a text message. I just ignore them and look at my computer screen, continuing what I’m doing, until they choose to stop ignoring me long enough to stop and ask me what they intended when they approached the desk. I’ve been trying to wean myself away from such regular actions as checking my Internet every so often. The last few weeks I’ve actually finished a book after a marathon session of reading for four or five hours, with only bathroom breaks and occasional checks of e-mail on my phone, which I’ve limited to under two minutes, then resumed the reading. This is the kind of thing I did when I was fourteen in the summer with nothing to do but watch Andy Griffith reruns or read. It’s how I read ‘Tarzan of the Apes’, three Ray Bradbury books, most of a Heinlein novel and all of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy all in one summer. That may not sound like much but you must consider that I was a slow reader then, even slower than I am now, which is saying something. I never would have gotten through all those with the distractions of a cell phone. At that time, I’d much rather have watched the ‘Star Trek’ crew using their cell phones i.e. communicators. “Beam me up Scotty!” was, as it turned out, one of the first cell phone calls. For all the health reasons I cited in an earlier comment (physical as well as mental, emotional, spiritual) it has continued to be therapeutic. The only physical damage that occurs, for me, is increased nail-biting. I have no fingernails and I must keep it that way.

          Liked by 1 person

          • So annoying, bobess48, that some people asking you questions at the library interrupt the process to interact with their devices instead.

            I do reading marathons at some times and read choppily at other times (with breaks to check email, check this blog, check Facebook, and do writing). Depends on my mood, my deadlines, and also on the novel in question. Some books just can’t be put down, while others make me feel I need a break every chapter or two.

            Your “summer of reading” at age 14 sounds great! And “Star Trek”…I’m a big fan.

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            • That was the summer of ’69, a very important one for many reasons. My brother and I went outside after 10 on a Sunday night in July, to look at another astral body on which humans like us were walking. That was after I’d started reading Ray Bradbury and really diving into science fiction and ‘2001: A Space Odyssey” had come out the previous year. I was feeling really cosmic, man! Also that was the summer of Woodstock and great music (Crosby, Stills & Nash’s first album, The Who’s ‘Tommy’, Blind Faith, several other things I was hearing for the first time that summer). I was also in a very odd adolescent ‘Twilight Zone’ frame of mind in which I began to ask myself if I were not adopted, if my whole life was a bizarre rigged play, all those questions of identity, illusion vs. reality, etc. started plaguing me for the first time that summer.

              Liked by 1 person

              • The summer of 1969 was indeed memorable for the moon mission and culturally, and it sounds like it was personally memorable for you, too. Being in one’s early teens is definitely a time to start thinking big-question thoughts and other thoughts.

                (As an aside, second-man-on-the-moon Buzz Aldrin is from my town, and grew up around five blocks from the apartment I live in now.)

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                • Well, Dave, I happened to be traveling around Europe during the summer of ’69, and we ended up in Rome during the landing on the moon. We attended an American restaurant for a “Lunar Landing Party,” that had a TV to watch the actual event. If I remember correctly, it was called “The Red Garter,” and we spent most of the night singing American songs. I specifically requested Texas songs, as that’s where I was heading to in order to complete my college degree once we returned home. It was a lot of fun.

                  Liked by 1 person

  10. There are some great suggestions here, I must say. I know I don’t have the knack for convincing someone to read a book I care about, because I oversell and make the whole process bigger than life. My kids heard me go on and on about “To Kill a Mockingbird” when they were growing up and guess what? — they have never had the slightest interest in reading that book. I made them absolutely sick to death of it, I’m afraid. On the other hand, my daughter loves the movie 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Pat — and I hear you! When one loves a book, one can oversell it to people who either decide not to read it or who read it and not like it as much as the person recommending it. But of course there’s the potential/occasional triumph of introducing a novel to someone who ends up loving it. 🙂

      “To Kill a Mockingbird” IS a great movie. Maybe not quite as good as Harper Lee’s novel, but pretty darn close.

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  11. Sorry if this is a repeat, but I thought I’d posted a comment a few minutes or so ago, that was totally off-topic. It had little to do with books, but I mentioned how I’d been to Target yesterday and bought fleece throws for three of the families I buy for this time of year. They were quite inexpensive and on sale, so I also bought one for me and my cat Jessie. I don’t know how my family members will think about them, but Jess has barely moved off hers except to go eat or use the litter box, which makes me quite happy. Not that I don’t love my family, but…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Good post, and I like the way you changed the format/style for this week’s topic.

    Avid readers are walking a delicate balance. We are enthusiastic about literature and want to share that enthusiasm with non-readers, but we don’t want to come off as preachy or annoying.

    I think one way to encourage non-readers is to direct them to novels and authors that match their interests and hobbies. If a non-reader enjoys southern culture, then expose him/her to the works of Mitchell, Faulkner, Grisham, etc. A non-reader with an interest in black literature may enjoy Hughes, Wright, Baldwin, Hurston, etc.

    What if you have non-readers in your life who crave adventure and travel? MacLean or Stevenson would be perfect for them. Someone in your life who is pro-woman? Atwood, Morrison, Kingsolver, Flagg, Munro, or a host of women authors could satisfy this person.

    Human nature being what it is, people may resist leisure reading if they feel they are being bullied, shamed, or pushed into it. Find out what the non-readers in your life are interested in, and see if you can match those interests with a particular author or genre.

    But if that method doesn’t work, just step back and leave the non-readers alone. Let them come into fiction at their own pace.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Gift-giving without any verbal attempt at literary persuasion — excellent idea to possibly get a non-reader reading, Almost Iowa! It might not work, but, as you note, occasionally it does. And even if a book is not read, it looks good on a shelf or can be re-gifted or can be donated…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I give up trying to donate books. We converted the spare bedroom into a home library/reading room. Turned an extra hall closet into a geography-theme bookshelf. Pulled out Christmas decorations from the garage over the weekend; I counted about 10 boxes and 3 plastic containers of books.

        Whenever I make up in my mind to donate books and free up some space, I never do. If I see a specific book in the donation box, I will say “oh, I can’t get rid of this. This plot is awesome and I refuse to give it up.” Plus, we keep buying books, which adds to our numbers.

        Something’s gotta give for 2016…

        Liked by 1 person

        • I hear you, Ana, and totally understand.

          The only way I finally parted with lots of books (about two-thirds of the hundreds I had) was when I moved from a house to an apartment last year and had no choice space-wise. Some books sold, some donated… It was painful. But my local library still beckoned. 🙂

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          • I know how painful it is to have to cull the bookshelves; I probably have thousands as well. They even have seeped over into my bathroom — I have an étagère around my toilet that has become part bookcase! I have a plaque on the wall from Horace Mann that says, “A house without books is like a room without windows.” I became quite enamored of a book by a Japanese woman, Marie Kondo, about tidying up after oneself and decluttering one’s home. I was trying to follow her advice and have gotten rid of tons of stuff, but I always fall down when she talks about getting rid of books — she keeps her total to around 30. Thirty books, no I can’t do it! I’m looking to buy a new home in the next 6 months or so, so I know I’ll have to make more decisions, but it is so hard.

            Liked by 1 person

            • It IS hard to get rid of books, Kat Lib, and I definitely agree that 30 is WAY too few. Even after I culled two-thirds of my books last year, I still have…I don’t know, I’ve never counted…maybe 700 or 800?

              Good luck buying a new place — not an easy process. But it’s of course well worth it if one is looking for something more suitable (in size or price or location or…).

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            • Well, you’ve definitely “been there,” Pat. It’s difficult to choose which books to keep — weighing not only how much one likes the content of each one, but its age, condition, nostalgia value, etc.

              Thank you very much for keeping mine. 🙂

              By the way, given where you now live, you must be involuntarily overdosed with presidential campaigning!!!

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              • The thing about parting with books, as I’m sure you know, is that you don’t look back after the deed is done. Not too long ago, I found myself looking at my so-much-smaller book collection and wishing I had kept one book in particular — and then another book I “should have” kept popped into my head. I could definitely see a pattern trying to emerge.

                As for the presidential campaign, I’m just waiting for the mind-numbing Donald Trump to go back to his penthouse so the real (mind-numbing) campaign can begin.

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                • I know what you mean, Pat. I’ve also had several cases of parting-with-books remorse, including wanting to check something in a novel for a blog post and realizing I no longer had it. But there’s always Wikipedia or Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature. 🙂

                  Oh, yes, having Donald Trump flying into your state here and there has to be ultra-annoying. 😦 There must be a Nazi Fan Club meeting somewhere he could be attending instead. And “mind-numbing” says it all when it comes to Trump and the Republican field in general.

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          • Readers have so many memories attached to our books, it is hard to let them go even if we know it’s necessary.

            I will begin the scaling back process at the beginning of the new year, but I already told hubby there are three categories that I will not compromise on:

            (1) My John Steinbeck collection. Took me years to finally complete it, and there’s no way I’m letting any of those titles go.

            (2) Portuguese edition books given to me by my maternal relatives. I will always treasure these; getting rid of any is simply not up for debate.

            (3) My cookbook collection. No explanation needed.

            Everything else is fair game, but any material from those three collections is untouchable. And Dave, don’t even THINK about asking for anything from my Steinbeck collection because it’s not going to happen.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I totally understand why those three categories are sacred, Ana. But are you sure you can’t give up “Travels With Rudolph”? 🙂

              Seriously, this paragraph of yours is VERY true and VERY well put: “Readers have so many memories attached to our books, it is hard to let them go even if we know it’s necessary.”

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              • Just when I finally got over the Travels With Rudolph title, you got me going all over again. So when I watch Christmas cartoons this weekend, I am going to think about Travels With Rudolph and start laughing. When Rudolph’s nose lights up, I know I’m gonna lose it.

                SMH @ Dave and his bad influences.

                Liked by 1 person

                  • Well, this IS Seattle. Not only will Rudolph have a nose that is friendly to the environment, but he’ll wear some Birkenstock shoes on his hooves, two Starbucks cups hanging off his antlers, and Santa will play grunge music while riding on the sleigh and making his grocery list for Pike Place Market.

                    And forget the North Pole. Santa’s shop is at the Space Needle. The elves hang out there before visiting an area used bookstore/coffee shop. Ok, did I cover everything that makes Seattle…Seattle?

                    LOL. Have a good day, Dave.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Rudolph is mortal?!!!!!! OMG, another Christmas belief debunked. 🙂 Almost as painful as when I learned that Santa Claus was actually a moonlighting member of ZZ Top…

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            • Ana, there are certain collections that I’ve got in my home that are untouchable:
              1) Anything having to do with Jane Austen, even though I have probably 3 editions of Pride & Prejudice, and probably 2 or 3 of her other novels as well, along with a biography and other ancillary books..
              2) My collection of tween novels, such as Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames, Vicki Barr, Judy Bolton, and others.
              3) I have purchased many leather-bound editions of classics, running all the way from children’s literature (Alice, Narnia, fairly tales) as well as others from works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ray Bradbury, O. Henry, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Isaac Asimov, Kahlil Gibran, Edgar Allen Poe, Homer, Neil Gaiman and others. These books are works of art for me, even if I haven’t yet read them all.
              4) Any book that I’ve already read twice, most likely my complete collection of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers novels.
              OK, that is well over 30 right there!

              Liked by 1 person

  13. Howdy, Dave!

    — What would you tell literature-avoiding family members or friends to try to get them in fiction-reading mode? —

    Nothing. I abandoned my calling as a missionary almost half a century ago. However, I am happy to discuss the good things and the not-so-good things about what I have read, am reading and will read with any of my friends and relatives. And I am pleased to read aloud the favorite stories of the Little People among them, with or without my Donald Duck impression. If you hook ’em while they’re young, then you don’t have to hook ’em while they’re old.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 2 people

  14. your right honey, although i am not an avid reader as my husband who has a library of over 2000 plus books or more, my type of reading is Steven King. I am an embarrassment to my hubby, but i just have my own taste in reading now, Especially since I died twice and brought back kicking and screaming from the other side.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So sorry about those scary near-death experiences. Very glad you survived them.

      Thank you for your comment! More than 2,000 books in your husband’s library — wow!

      I’m a fan of King’s work, too. I love both “popular” fiction and “literary” fiction, and think it’s great when people read just about anything rather than not read.

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  15. I would start the conversation by quoting Dr. Seuss. “Oh, the places you’ll go………..!” I’ve been to so many places that I’ll probably never get to visit in real life such as Africa, Australia, China and Tibet PLUS places that don’t even exist like Wonderland, Brigadoon, and Shangri-la!!! Fiction will take you out of yourself and transport you as surely as H.G. Wells’ “Time Machine”. Your horizons will be forever broadened, and so will your point of view!

    What a fantastic topic for your blog, Dave!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, lulabelleharris! Glad you like the topic! (Next week, I’ll return to my usual approach of a thematic piece that includes mentions of specific books. 🙂 )

      That enthusiastic Dr. Seuss quote really does sum up the thrill of reading — and of being transported through reading to different real places, different fictional places, and different mental “places.”

      I appreciate your comment. So well written!

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  16. I’m not sure that there’s anything I could say to persuade a truly reluctant reader. In my family, one of my brothers says he gets his fiction through film. What he reads is primarily metaphysical and biographical works. Even if I mention a historical novel, I’m sure he’d prefer to read a straight non-fiction treatment of the subject than to read a novel. My other brother reads tons of history and alternates it with fiction. His fiction tastes usually run toward the historical novels the other brother would shrug off or more popular fiction. Even though he was an English major he rarely reads the classics any more.

    So I suppose I could say what draws me to fiction. First of all, prose fiction is the original ‘virtual reality’. One can ‘play God’ so to speak. You can zoom out to the point where you can see the entire planet and cosmos or zoom all the way in to the microscopic level of existence, probing the depths of physicality as well as the mental/emotional/spiritual recesses of a person and examine what truly makes them tick. Therapeutically for me, reading fiction can put me into a Zen-like state of peace and complete absorption into this experience I’m perceiving on the page. I can think, feel, laugh, cry, be confused or mind-blown and yet, even if my pulse quickens while I’m reading it ultimately I can return to my life with no apparent elevation of blood pressure, blood sugar level, etc. As far as vices go, it’s one of the least physically harmful, other than perhaps eye-strain, such as I had this Friday after spending five hours with only one or two brief interruptions to finish the latest book that I’ve read. Aside from that, with fiction you of course enter other worlds, locations and time periods. And when reading pre-television or film prose fiction you can get a window view into how those from earlier times viewed the world and their contemporary society. When you realize that virtually all of 19th century fiction, for example, was written before the advent of film you realize that when you’re reading a maximalist such as Balzac you see that he was performing the function that film did in the 20th-21st century as well as that inner probing. There was no film at that time. However, when you read the opening of ‘Old Goriot’ you’re in the prose camera focus of a winding road, ramping up and entering a boarding house and meeting the inhabitants and so on. It really is the written equivalent of the opening shots of a film. Another example of ‘new’ technology from the viewpoint of an earlier age: I recall that in Thomas Mann’s ‘The Magic Mountain’ published in 1924 but covering the years of World War I and just after, there’s a scene where the young protagonist, Hans Castorp, staying in a sanitorium is shown an X-ray. You see this miraculous new technology from his eyes. He’s actually looking at a ‘photograph’ of someone’s chest cavity and the internal view of lungs. This amazes him and we share his amazement once we leave the familiar world of today in which we’ve probably seen hundreds of X-rays and truly appreciate the novelty of this experience.

    So those are all amazing things that fiction can do. You must possess an interest and a desire to really delve into it but it’s wondrous when you finally dive into it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, bobess48! It’s interesting how family members (and everyone else for that matter) all have different reading or non-reading tastes.

      And I loved your vivid lines about why fiction “speaks” to you — and, by extension, can “speak” to almost any person. Via literature, one really CAN see stuff in a macro or micro way, and get TOTALLY absorbed. Definitely few or no drawbacks, other than some eyestrain, as you say. (I’ve been there. 🙂 )

      And, yes, a novelist (before or even after the invention of film) can indeed be a movie-maker with words, for all the reasons you eloquently cited. Your whole comment was VERY eloquent!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Novels and short stories are mostly about people in their social settings, which is something that most readers can relate to through persona experience. The novelist has more freedom than the historian or biographer to explore characters and events because he/she is not limited to established facts. Of course literature has its own conventions and constraints, and it’s interesting to discover how these change with time and place. There are whole worlds out there to explore in literature that are like ours but also different.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jean, a great “brief” for reading literature! People can certainly relate to many fictional characters, situations, and settings — and, as you say, fiction writers can explore and arrange things in very interesting, dramatic ways. Of course, some the best nonfiction authors can write books that seem almost novel-like, but they still (hopefully) have to stick with the facts, however those facts are spun.

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  18. Hi Dave, I guess that I’ve never had to convince anyone to read fiction. My parents and siblings were always great readers of just about every genre of fiction that existed while growing up or even growing older. I have a 1941 edition of “Alice in Wonderland” that is signed by my oldest brother in 1946, then it skips my other two brothers, but is signed by both my older sisters and me in the years that followed. I still have a memory about a book of fairies, gnomes, and other creatures that my parents bought for us, and as I’ve noted before, we didn’t lack for any books related to Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, or other tween novels, such as the Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden, Judy Bolton, etc. At the same time we were reading these novels, we were also reading books by Albert Payson Terhune, John Steinbeck and Anna Sewell. I could go on and on, but my main point is that it’s not always about the quality but the quantity. Is that wrong?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wonderful that everyone in your immediate family was and/or is an avid reader, Kat Lib! As I mentioned to another commenter, my family was more mixed in that respect, though I won’t identify them here by their family position. 🙂

      And what a great heirloom that 1941 “Alice in Wonderland” is, with all those signatures!!!

      As for quality vs. quantity, I think almost any reading is better than no reading — so perusing all kinds of stuff is NOT wrong. Of course one hopes there are a lot of quality books in any reader’s mix, but, then again, quality can sometimes be subjective…

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    • The Bobbsey Twins…is that the series about the boy and girl twin detectives??? We had a colouring and activity book. There were little…what do you call ’em…cut-out (?) dolls of the twins on the back of the book.

      I had no idea the Bobbsey Twins was an actual series. I just thought our Bobbsey book was a regular vintage activity book. Never made the connection.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, Ana, that’s the one. and there have been a whole slew of them published over many years. I have copies of two books, one copyrighted 1928 and another 1969. In 2004 they was a republication of many of the books; I actually bought 11 of the series before giving up on it. There were the two older twins, Bert and Nan (I adored Nan!) and the two younger ones were Fred and Flossie. Whenever I feel like reverting to childhood they are one of the very many series I turn to. Perhaps I shouldn’t mention this on a literary blog, but I do have fond memories of those series, along with other books, such as “Charlotte’s Web,” “A Little Princess,” The Secret Garden,” “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,” “Black Beauty,” “The Wind in the Willows,” “Little Women,” and many others too numerous to mention.

        Liked by 1 person

        • The twins were just too adorable. I loved those paper cut-out dolls on the back of the colouring book. We had so much fun dressing up Nan in the outfits. She was quite the fashion diva:) I wish I’d read the series though…I feel like I missed out on something.

          Nothing wrong with rediscovering childhood through your favourite book series. I am well in my 30s and won’t hesitate to read Encyclopedia Brown, Peter and Fudge, the Ginnie & Geneva and Cathy series, and Amelia Bedelia. Sometimes it’s nice to step out of the adult world and transport back into more simpler times.

          Liked by 1 person

  19. I used to discuss with my students that there is a difference between fact and truth. Fiction deals with universal truths, often with a historical backdrop. Facts such as history are fine. We can get deeper meanings and emotions from fiction. Think of a history of the Civil War and something like The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. It was riveting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • VERY well said, Joe, and it makes total sense to me. It’s as if fiction tells the truth in three dimensions, whereas facts are kind of one-dimensional.

      To mention another war, I think I’ve learned more about WWII on a gut level from novels such as “The Night in Lisbon” by Erich Maria Remarque and “History” by Elsa Morante than from the nonfiction books I’ve read on that topic.

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    • Very interesting, Joe. I followed after my father and eldest brother in being somewhat of a Civil War buff many years ago, and we read many non-fiction books about the War, mostly by Bruce Catton. When I was in college, I took a course on the Civil War; in addition to a textbook, we also had to pick out six books from a list prepared by our professor, all of which were non-fiction, and had to write a book report on each one. The most affecting one for me was “Mary Chesnut’s Civil War Diary,” an actual diary kept by the wife of one of the highest ranking Confederate leaders. You’d think I would have loved “The Killer Angels,” but I couldn’t read the whole book and set it aside. I’ve been to Gettysburg at least three times over the years, and every time I sat watching the diorama or whatever it was called, I’d end up in tears. You’ve perhaps given me the reason it was difficult to read a fictional account of the War, as opposed to just reading facts about it — much less emotional about a tragedy I still find it hard to accept that this actually happened.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Not sure if you (Kat Lib and Joe) have read Geraldine Brooks’ “March,” but it’s one of the most intense Civil War novels I’ve read. Truly hellish. It’s the book that mostly focuses on the Civil War experiences of the “Little Women” father.

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        • No, it’s one of those books that is one that I have and is on my to-read list but I haven’t got around to it quite yet, but hope to someday. I’ve probably been holding off for the same reasons I couldn’t read “Killer Angels.”

          Liked by 1 person

          • I hear you, Kat Lib. It’s a mostly grim novel, but very well done (won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, as you know). And though it mostly focuses on Mr. March, it also fleshes out the Marmee character to some extent.

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    • Thank you, Betsy! GREAT that your family and friends are all readers! My family and friends are more a mixture of avid readers and not-so-avid readers — all intelligent people, but I guess some of them have other priorities for their time.

      Liked by 1 person

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