The Philosophy of Reading Tag
Updated: May 17
This post consists of 20 questions all about how and why we read. This tag was originally created by Youtuber Brandon's Bookshelf. I thought it was a really neat idea to dive deeper into what we think about reading and books. Let's go!
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1. What's most important...a good character, plot, or message? I prefer good characters. If you have a good character, readers will be more apt to follow them through any kind of plot, and be more receptive to receiving the message of the book. It's through the character's eyes that we learn and experience their emotions, and I think they're integral to reading.
2. Should one read books about ideas or opinions they disagree with?
I think it can be potentially beneficial if you want to understand opposing points of view...but I do not do this myself because most of the beliefs that I have that are challenged have to do with personal sovereignty and the dignity and welfare of people of different races, genders, sexualities, and more. Human rights are not negotiable or debatable to me, so I have no interest in reading the point of view of someone who believes those who are different than themselves might be "lesser" or "undeserving" or "damned."
3. As tech advances, what do you think will be the role of books?
I don't think books are going to go away. The demise of books has been predicted for a long time and yet people keep reading them! The manner of reading might change--for example, I read somewhere that the purchase of audiobooks surpassed eBooks this year--but it's still reading no matter how you access it.
4. How important are summaries, review, and art in your book choosing?
I'm not 100% sure what this question is asking. Does it mean additional material that pad out the book, like glossaries and histories and maps? Or does it mean the summary of the book on the back jacket, or the reviews critics leave for books? I'm going to interpret this how I wish.
I'm not going to lie--art is very important to me when it comes to purchasing books. If I want to own a physical book, I'm more apt to purchase it if it's beautiful in some way. Otherwise, it's going to be an eBook. And I very much judge a book by its cover, regardless of its format.
I'm not sure what to say about summaries, so I'll just talk about books that are reviewed. I tend to read 4-star and 2-star reviews, and if I feel like laughing, I'll check out the 1-stars. I rarely rate a book 5 stars so I tend to avoid reading those types of reviews. 4 stars feel more accurate to me, and then if I find issues with a book I've read, I'll read the 2 star reviews and often get validation for the things that didn't work for me, because it turns out it didn't work for other people, either.
5. Should one ever skim or scan a book?
Yes. I advocated for this when I taught English Composition at college. Students need to be able to quickly suss out important details for both comprehension and time management purposes. There are plenty of articles from universities and colleges online that encourage and teach the art of skimming (here's one and another one, for example).
While I encourage this for nonfiction, I feel less apt to recommend it for fiction. I think it's the way fiction is written...at least, in my experience, when I try to skim I end up missing important details that I thought weren't necessary. Reading fiction takes a lot of effort and concentration on my part, so if I skim, I end up missing out on things.
6. Should reading always be enjoyable?
I know there are advocates of reading "difficult" books where the effort is not necessarily meant to be pleasant, but honestly, if I don't like the experience of a book, I stop reading it. It is possible to enjoy a book that has darker, controversial, or triggering subject matter, but if the book causes harm, trauma, or displeasure, why force yourself to read it?
7. Is it important to be well-read?
I think so, mainly because it builds empathy and introduces points of view and experiences outside of your own when you look through another character's eyes. At the same time, you can also find something of yourself in the books you read, so books may be a comfort to you in that way. Any reading at all is good, but the more books you read, the more encounters you have with other perspectives, and your world will grow.
8. What is your book buying process?
I learn about new books through social media, book bloggers, online reviewers, and email digests. Then I add the books to my wish list. If it's an eBook, I monitor the pricing every day to see if there will be a sale, and then I buy the book. If it's a physical copy that I think will be a keeper, I go to the store and buy it.
9. What is your reading process?
I try to select a book based on my mood, and if it's really good, I might finish it the next evening; otherwise I take anywhere from four to seven days to finish it. I can't read more than one novel at one time, but I often read manga and comics while reading a book. For some reason I can separate those easily from each other, but can't do it when it's just novels.
10. How do you use what you read?
I often use what I read as writing inspiration. Not so much the same ideas, exactly, but I might like a setting or time period, or something general that popped up. For example, if I read a book about demons that I thought was cool, I'd then like to write about demons myself. Or if I thought a character was great--a heroine who was good at magic--I'd also want to write a heroine good with magic. I try not to copy plots or specific characterizations, but look at them more in terms of tropes or archetypes, and that's how I use them as inspiration. I also recall how I felt when I read them, and try to duplicate that emotional response in my own writing.
It wasn't always this way. When I was school-aged I often wrote new adaptations of classics that used the same character and plots, just with my own voice or little spin on it. It was like fanfiction before fanfiction was a thing. I still write fanfic, by the way, but I keep it to myself. I don't post it online.
11. If you could download a book to your brain, would you still read?
Yes, because when I'm doing the act of reading, my brain is acting out the story, generating character appearances and voices--it's like watching a movie in my head. I think if I simply scanned a book into my brain, it would be like copying and filing data away. The richness of the reading experience would be lost.
12. What are your views on rereading a book?
I think if you want to reread a book, that's fine. I rarely do it, but sometimes a wave of nostalgia will wash over me, where I remember what it felt like while I was reading the book for the first time, or I want to experience emotions from the characters again. Then I'll reread.
13. What makes a book good?
Characters, emotions, voice, the world.
14. What makes a book bad?
Pacing issues, grammatical issues and mistakes, poor editing, the author's voice invading or overriding the narrative voice (I don't want to detect the author's presence as I read their fiction; it ruins the immersion).
15. How do you feel about not finishing a book?
I usually feel guilty if I DNF a book because I've run out of steam, but I don't care if I DNF a book that sucks.
16. Should the author's personal life matter at all?
While I do think everyone deserves the right to privacy, and that there should be some separation between fans and creators, the thing is, once you're out there, eyes are on you. I don't think authors should be perfect human beings, and people make mistakes--so I think in certain circumstances, things should be forgiven or forgotten. However, I cannot always separate authors' behaviors from their art, even if they claim it's a personal choice or personal belief, or a private matter.
For example, I was going to read a very popular manga series which served as the basis for an even more popular anime and a few films, and then I found out the mangaka was a pedophile. Nope. Nope right outta there. I'm not touching his stuff.
As another example, an author I grew up loving, whose books I devoured, ended up being a transphobic monster who is also starting to reveal her true colors with other things...I can't read those books ever again, watch those movies ever again, or support the author in any way ever again. It feels like drinking poison if I do.
Now that I think about it, I'm not sure if I answered this question correctly...maybe I'm not sure how "personal life" is being defined here. I sort of lumped "personal beliefs" under personal life...I guess the two go together. I don't know what I'm saying anymore with this question, blah.
17. If you could only read one genre for the rest of time, what would it be?
Fantasy. I read it all the time now, it's what I want to write...so it's easy for me to limit myself to that genre if it's the only thing I can read ever again. It encompasses so much!
18. Do you ever read a book without knowing anything about it?
When books were assigned in school, especially in graduate school, I often read books I didn't know about because I had to. When I took the Mystery Readings in the Genre class, for example, the only book I'd heard of was The Hound of the Baskervilles, and everything else was completely unfamiliar to me.
19. What author, genre, series, or culture can you just not get into? Why?
I can't get into most epic fantasy that is comparable to Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, The Sword of Shannara, etc. I'm intimidated by the size of these works, and some of the tropes bore me.
20. Do you think everyone should read? Why?
I do think everyone should read. As I wrote above, reading builds empathy, and it exposes you to voices, points of view, perspectives, and experiences that are not your own. At the same time, books can also be a reflection of yourself, in that you can find pieces of yourself in the work that you're reading, especially the characters (representation is important!). If you want to expand your horizons, as clichéd as that sounds, you should read. And everybody should try to.
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Do you have personal beliefs about the act of reading? How do you feel about the books you read? This tag was fun to do because I was able to talk about both, and get deeper into how I feel about reading overall. I'm tagging you because I think you could have a lot of fun with this, too. And of course, I want to read what you have to say! Answer in the comments, or link back to your blog or video so I can check it out. Thank you for reading!