BTT ~ What Makes a Reader?

June 26, 2008 at 12:17 pm | Posted in Books, LIfe | 17 Comments
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What, in your opinion, is the definition of a “reader.” A person who indiscriminately reads everything in sight? A person who reads BOOKS? A person who reads, period, no matter what it is? … Or, more specific? Like the specific person who’s reading something you wrote?

What makes a reader a reader? To be honest, this isn’t something I’ve ever really thought about. My gut reaction to this question is that a reader is anyone who can read in their native language. Really, that definition speaks to a person’s ability to read. It doesn’t take into consideration that person’s interest in reading. I call myself a reader, but that is because I like to read and I spend most of my free time reading. On the other hand, although I enjoy making homemade cards and creating things with stamps, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a stamper. I dabble in stamping, it’s not my passion. Would I be wrong calling myself a stamper? I’m note sure, but that gets to the heart of our question today.

If someone walked up to me and described his or herself as a reader, it would prompt me to ask questions like:

What do you like to read?
What types of books/publications do you like to read?
Who are your favorite authors?
What are you reading right now?
Have you read The Monsters of Templeton? I love it! It’s simply amazing!

It would not make me think about them simply as a literate person. I guess I automatically assume that most adults have at least a basic reading level. I know that this is not always the case and that adult illiteracy is a problem that we face. But, that does point out that I really do define a reader as someone who enjoys reading something or at least thinks that doing so is important.

Those who read what I write professionally, whether that be user manuals, system requirements, software design specifications, or even emails, are my readers. I think about their background and even their personalities when I’m writing for them, but outside of the business world, I try not to think about them at all. 🙂 More often than not my professional audience chooses not to read what I’ve written for them. I find that they’d rather be walked through the software in person or over the phone. Those who actually do read what I’ve written typically scan through the documentation. They are not careful readers at all. They are like those who choose to read The Old Man and the Sea through Cliff Notes. They don’t take the time to fully comprehend the documentation or even think that doing so is important. They just want to be able to give the impression that they have if they’re ever asked about it directly. Those who read my documentation thoroughly and challenge concepts and facts really are my readers. They push me to improve my writing and make my job enjoyable.  I get the most job satisfaction when I know that I’ve made someone else’s job easier or make sense by what I’ve written.

Of course, the best readers in the whole world are those who read The Literate Housewife Review and other things I’ve written for myself.  I’m blessed to have each and every one of you.  Creating and nurturing this blog is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  I am so thankful to Danny, Trista, and Mark for encouraging me to write and for being my role models.

So, are you a reader?


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  1. two thoughts came to mind as you talked about people who call you instead to walk them through: My computer geek brother’s favorite IM phrase, RTFM, and one of my favorite expressions “When all else fails, read the directions.” Tech manuals annoy me; I usually end up throwing them across the room.

    But I am a reader of books, a book junkie in fact. I compulsively get them. BookMooch, PBS, and ARCs are saving me tons of money. I try to resist, telling myself Mt. TBR is already to big… but I never listen…

    Alas! I wish I was a speedreader with photographic memory!

  2. RTFM is very appropriate in my world, but I can’t use it if I want to stay employed. 🙂 When you are a technical writer of any sort you most certainly do not rely on feedback. It would be your death.

    I have 6 ARCs waiting and I just bought like 10 books through Amazon and B&N. Why do I continue to buy books when it will be more than a month before I have an open slot for books of my own choosing? I do not know. I’m still glad that I am the way that I am – and I’m sure that you are, too. 🙂

  3. According to the dictionary, the main definition is: a person (or one) who reads! It’s that simple.

    Or is it? You have raised some interesting questions. Is a person who reads the cereal box day after day called “a reader” by his/her peers? Do you have to read every book you buy/own to be thought of as a reader?

    If someone who reads Shakespeare and Tolstoy a reader, and someone who reads Nora Roberts – not?

    Generally, I think one who reads (period) is a reader. But, a “real reader” must be something different – or, at the very least, a variation thereof. Agree?

    I’ll choose Melville – but the real one, not the Cliffs Note version.

    If you don’t mind my asking, which ARCs have you got waiting? My last one was The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. Frankly, I’ve had a hard time starting anything else since – partly because I’m still basking in personal redemption (you have to read the book to get it), and partly because I’m suffering from a ghastly bout of vertigo.

    Haven’t read The Monsters of Templeton yet, but wasn’t it published with a different cover than what Amazon is showing now?

  4. I guess all us bloggers feel that same way – the best readers in the world are the ones who read our blogs! But I have to admit I’m one of those people who need to be “walked through” anything technical – I read the manuals and try to think about what they’re saying, but for me it might as well be written in Martian!

  5. The question about what makes one a reader reminds me of a scene in one of my all-time favorite (and thoroughly embarrassing) movies, Sister Act 2. Whoopi Goldberg explains to a young Lauren Hill that she will know she’s meant to be a singer if the first thing she thinks about when she wakes up in the morning and the last thing she thinks about before going to bed at night is singing. I feel this way about books, so I am reader. In my mind, it’s an exclusive club, and you have to put forth some effort to gain membership. Reading a few fluffy romance novels by the pool each summer or a James Patterson book in the airport does not make you a reader–it makes you a sunbather or traveler or whatever else you are who just happens to appreciate a temporary distraction. A reader craves books–good books–the way a “foodie” craves fine cuisine or a music lover craves their favorite tunes. Not everyone is a reader, but anyone can become one, and that’s the beautiful part about it.

  6. The Koolaid Mom made a great distinction in her post today. She distinguished reader from avid reader from book junkie. I agree with both you and her. Anyone who can and does read is a reader, but as with my stamping thing, I doubt that someone who reads their cereal boxes (alone) would call themselves a reader. Usually it’s for people more avid or book junkie-ish.

    Here are my ARCs-in-waiting in the order I received them and will be reading them: Escape by Robert Tanenbaum (2/3rds finished), Admit One by Emmett Smith, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal by Diana M. Raab ( 😉 ), Aberrations by Penelope Przekop, The i Tetralogy by Mathias, B. Freese, Silent Thunder by Iris Johansen, and The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. Given what you just said about The Gargoyle, I cannot wait to read that!

    One of my best friends at work suffers from vertigo and I know it’s not pleasant. Take care of yourself!

    The cover I have for TMOT was what came with my ARC. I think the hardcover I bought (yes, it was that good and the author signed my ARC, so I have both copies) has a similar cover, but I’m not sure.

  7. Reading can become addictive.

  8. JLS, give me a call and I’ll help you with your technical questions. 🙂 LOL!!!! I have always joked around about writing my documentation in Middle English to see if anyone noticed. I hadn’t ever thought to try Martian!! 🙂 🙂

    Rebecca, I love your comment! It’s definitely true of me and I wouldn’t have my life any other way.

  9. Your post has generated some really interesting discussion! I think I agree with Rebecca, it’s true of my life as well. Reading is our passion and are we really in the same category as people who enjoy a book or two by the beach when they’re on vacation? You can read whatever you like, but if you love it and do it often, that makes you a reader. I like that definition better than my own!

  10. This really was a great BTT topic! Rebecca’s comment made me so happy to be a reader. I hope that I’m able to pass this love on to my daughters. Someone needs to pick up my TBR list where I someday ultimately leave off.

  11. awe…that was a sweet one!:) It seems you have gotten the natives riled up here! GREAT WORK! I really like your answer…happy BTT! (that means it is almost the weekend!!!!)

  12. Just wondering, did you ever get the copy of “The Gargoyle”? (I suppose if not, it could still come– I sent the email 6/11) I’m curious as to if they really mean it when they say ‘recommend another person and we’ll send a copy’

  13. Thank you, Bethany! It really was a great discussion. TGIF!!!

    Keg – I got the book earlier this week and have been meaning to thank you! draabe makes it sound so wonderful! I can’t wait!

  14. I’d def like to read “Have I got a guy…” Should I send you an email?

    I’ve added your contest to my post 🙂 the author contacted me about the book too so no need for me to enter your giveaway !

  15. Keg – Thanks for the link to my contest! I think I still have your address from before. I’ll ship it to you the next time I go to the post office. 🙂

  16. Cool thanks 🙂 Also my review/interview for “Aberrations” is up here if you’re interested.

  17. Literate – someone who can read – Illiterate – someone who can’t read
    There is a word that describes an individual who is literate, but chooses not to read. What is the word?

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