Are we on the same page?

15th June 2011

I am in the middle of reading Hotel Angeline on my Nook, and I’ll talk a lot more about it later. Right now I just want to discuss something Nancy Pearl says in the Foreword:

No two people read the same book, even when it appears to be identical, with the same author, same cover, same publication date, and same pagination.

And that’s a good thing. Pearl boils down in one sentence why we read and blog and talk about books and have book clubs and sometimes get angry because other readers don’t agree with us and bond with readers who do.

Personally, I really really like when readers leave comments saying they really enjoyed a book I did not or liked an aspect of a book I didn’t think worked at all. Heck, I don’t even always agree with myself, as you can see from this post about Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series.

Why is reading such a unique and individual experience? I’m a 30-year-old white girl who boasts Cajun and Native American roots, who lives in Texas, votes Democrat, and really likes to drink wine (and some beer). I have siblings, and my parents are still married. I am single and childless. I own my own home and love to decorate it. I have a dog. Though there may be some of you saying to yourself, “well idn’t that special” – why yes, it is. Because though the composites may be similar, there is no one person out there exactly like me… at least, that’s what my momma always told me.

Who we are informs our reading choices, preferences and experiences. As Robertson Davies says (and Nancy Pearl quotes), “Reading is exploration, extension, and reflection of one’s innermost self.” If we did all look at one book in the exact same manner, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of room for discussion. Instead, we meet one another on our respective journeys, reflecting what we have seen and discovered in a work. The book we see, read, or listen to is different for each one of us.

Pearl also points out that even if we re-read a book, it’s slightly different because we are different. Tonight on Twitter, I talked to Matt from A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook. He was talking about really enjoying Ayn Rand’s book The Fountainhead. I picked it up in high school and loathed it, but I trust his reading tastes, and I thought of Pearl’s words. Twelve years have passed since that skinny, naive girl picked up The Fountainhead and set it aside. The slightly overweight, much more informed me may stick with it a bit longer. Life has happened in 12 years.

What I enjoy about this blog and hope to foster in some small way is the space for readers with different sensitivities, cultures, backgrounds, families, careers, and lifestyles to comment and discuss books, a bookish life, and how words inform their own lives. Your comments and our discussion broaden my own life, and honestly, that’s why I read in the first place.

So, are we on the same page? I hope not. Talking about books would be much less interesting if so.

jenn aka the picky girl

  • Eva

    Love this post! I think it’s fun how differently people can take the same book too. ;D

    Part of the fun of rereading is how different the experience is; even if I’m the same person (ha!), I already know how the story plays out so I read differently. However, I’m not willing to give Ayn Rand another chance…

    • pickygirl

      @Eva: haha about Ayn Rand. I have really bad memories of her book, but I may give another of hers a try. We’ll see.

      @Brian: It is one of my favorite topics, too, but the way Pearl put it was so different. I really liked that. I remember the first time I read Jane Eyre in 4th grade I didn’t even know how to pronounce rendezvous, much less understand what it was. I’ve read it probably a dozen times since then. It’s a very different story now then it was then, but I’m pretty different myself.

      @Jennifer: Thanks so much! I can understand that feeling. It can be difficult to recommend books. I’m one who will rave about books, while still able to talk about parts that didn’t work for me. It doesn’t mean I don’t love it. But recommending books is tricky no matter what unless you really know someone’s reading tastes.

      @Jen: Hey! I’ve been great, but I miss New York (though not the walking). Wooing a boy over Ayn Rand – look at you! ๐Ÿ™‚ That’s so cool that you did that. I actually want to add a way for people to subscribe to comments so you guys can come back for conversation because that’s what I love as well.

  • This is one of my favorite topics. If I didn’t have to be awake at 4am to be at work at 5, we could have a glorious discussion about this. On the short side, I have made sure that I’ve re-read ‘Les Miserables’, ‘Atlas Shrugged’ and ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy, all books I read in my teens, again in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. My love for my favorite books not only deepened, but I learned and understood more from the books with every decade. The same think (ha, I meant to type ‘thing’, but I think ‘think’ works better) happens when I re-read Vonnegut or Robert A. Heinlein, my two favorite authors of my teen years.

  • This is a great post…

    You know, I’m one of those people who actually don’t like suggesting that someone else read a certain book. I tend to be an optimistic reader (and a self-conscious writer), so I always look for what the writer has done RIGHT, or take into consideration what they were attempting to do. Which means, that my friends who have high expectations may end up coming away more than a little disappointed.

  • Hey Jen! How have you beed since BEA? I loved The Foutainhead in high school and actually succeeded in woo-ing a boy by talking about that book. Pretty sure I would not love it now… It’s funny how that happens. I have loved talking about books with everyone on Twitter and for that reason, just re-vamped my blog to allow comments. Can’t wait to see what everyone has to say!

  • I read Atlas Shrugged about 10 years ago and was actually really involved in the story for the first couple hundred of pages. Then it just got to be too much and needless to say, I yawned a thousand times during the seventy page radio address that was just a vehicle for her philosophical beliefs, and I walked away thinking I’d had enough Rand for a lifetime. I DID finish it, which is more than I can say about other classics, but I came away not liking Rand as a writer or a human being.

    • pickygirl

      That’s my deal – I’ve heard she realllly has a different sort of philosophy. So I may try another. We’ll just have to see. Goodness knows I have plenty of really great-looking books. I don’t have to go hunting. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Sadly, Hotel Angeline was a Did-Not-Finish for me but I just loved the intro and foreword for exactly the quote you lifted up. I love books about books and reading and really found Pearl’s words so lovely.

    Then I went to two author readings in which one author admitted taking joy from the various interpretations readers had of her books, while the second author voiced some frustration when readers didn’t ‘get it’. So it’s interesting that writers don’t always see it that way!

    • pickygirl

      I remember it was a DNF for you. I may have even commented on that post. I’m not too far in but like it ok so far. Not really sure where it’s going, but yes, foreword is, as you say, lovely.

      It is interesting that authors react so differently to readers and the reading experience. I can understand it would be a knee-jerk reaction if a reader responded negatively, but I still think I would want to know why and be fascinated with what readers had to offer.

  • I appreciate it, too, when someone disagrees with one of my reviews, especially if I didn’t love the book. I sometimes feel guilty posting a less-than-glowing review so I’m glad when a reader balances out my view.

    This only holds true, though, if the person is respectful about the disagreement. There’s no need to attack someone if they don’t agree with you and it certainly doesn’t mean they’re not as smart as you. Remember that horrid woman who left a comment about my TIGER’S WIFE review? I love how you tried to defend me but felt bad about how condescending she was to you. Ugh.

    • pickygirl

      I am so glad you brought this up because it’s an important point. Respectfully disagree. I DO remember that woman. Ugh – she was awful. I should have just ignored her in the first place. Some people…

  • I agree completely! I don’t want to be on the same page, either. The resulting discussions (and occasional arguments)are far too interesting ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I think you bit the nail on the head. If everyone agreed, the world would be a much more boring place.

    I think my favorite part of this post is when you mention not even agreeing with yourself sometimes. I often have that same feeling, tbh…especially once I have to boil down a review to a number. I can usually talk about what I liked and what I didn’t like, but then comes the final verdict, which I know I don’t *have* to give. It’s my choice, but it’s something I like doing. It’s hard though. To distill essence into a single number and I’m usually at war with myself. It comes down to “how much does this thing that I didn’t like about the book affect my whole experience of the book?” and I tend to waver back and forth: well it really didn’t matter that much, or did it? will it matter for others? etc etc. gah!

    • pickygirl

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one, Nicole! It happens to me a lot, especially if I write a review directly after finishing a book. But, as you say, I also try to see if what bothered me affects the whole book or not. More often than not, for me, it doesn’t. So glad you commented. Great point!

  • This does sound a lot like my post! I agree – reading and talking books is a lot more boring when everyone agrees. Our best book club discussions are those where people do have different opinions. I like the idea that we could come back to books at a different time in our lives and see something different because we’re on a different page ourselves — so true!

    • pickygirl

      It’s something I’ve always known but never quite verbalized like this. And I love the idea that a book is never the same – it’s living and evolving by virtue of us living and evolving. So cool.

  • One of the reasons I love being in a book club is because it’s a group of women from different backgrounds and ages reading the same book. You get so many different reactions to the same event. It’s also why I love being a blogger. Right now I’m reading the Jessica Darling series and I know several bloggers who read it and love it for so many different reasons. Even when I reread I see moments differently than before and I anticipate moments I know are coming. I’m glad I’m not on the same page.

    • pickygirl

      I would love to be in a book club. I never have been, though Cassandra from IndieReader Houston and I may try to get one started. I have heard of Jessica Darling – need to see what it’s all about.

  • Great post! It’s so true, I love all the different discussions that can arise because everyone’s perception is a lil bit different. I just wish I had more RL discussions like that – sometimes it just takes so much effort to have real discussions online, but most of the people I know don’t read a lot. Tragic, really.

    • pickygirl

      Thanks, Sarah! I feel the same way except the people I know DO read books. But then, other times, I’m afraid I talk about what I read too much. Online, I know that’s what people are there for…