How Do You Read?

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How Do You Read?

Postby polymath » 16 Dec 2010, 09:59

LIke a writer? How does a writer read differently than an editor, a reviewer, a critic, a publicist, a screening reader, a literary interpreter, an arbiter of moral sensibility, a general consumer reader?

Do you note how a novel's plot moves or stalls, how your emotions are influenced by the novel while you read? Do you note language as you read? Do you read for technique? Do you read with a dictionary at hand and look up words? Words you don't know, words you think you understand but the context doesn't seem the same? How about a style manual or English usage dictionary? For that matter, how about looking up foreign language words? Do you contemplate the underlying meaning of names, place names, places, personas, things, motifs?

How closely do you read? Word by word or do you skip parts, skim descriptions, jump around, read endings first, scan chapter openings, transitions, middles, go back and reread particularly poignant parts? Do you recast sentences as you go along? Do you wonder why a word, phrase, paragraph, scene, or chapter is in the position it is and what if the structure were rearranged?

Do you contemplate what a novel's about after reading? What's the theme, what's the message, did it deliver on its opening promises? Did it reach and not quite fulfill its full potential? Did it fall off at the ending and not quite wrap up. Does it start slow and not quite rise? Is it flat in the middle, episodical, incredulous but not quite so unbelievable it passes along satisfactorily? Do you go back and reread for clearer understanding?

Do you mark places to go back to with book marks, pen or pencil marks, highlighting, dog ear pages, use stickys for marking?

Do you note missing words, stray punctuation, misspellings, discretionary styles, special formatting choices, the design of the layout?

Do you calculate prior to beginning reading how long a narrative is so you can read in one sitting or just jump in and see how it goes, pausing for interruptions and daily living needs, sleeping, eating, working, etc.

Do you read through even though a novel isn't as engaging as you prefer? Do you read novels that are critically acclaimed, popularly acclaimed, or both? Do you read in a category genre? Do you read an author's body of work and compare and contrast how they've emerged? Do you seek out earlier works or just go with what's current? Do you read literary reviews, critical reviews, promotional reviews? Do you read author biographies? How about research historical periods representing the settings and culture of the time period a novel falls in, the time period the author wrote in, and the time period and culture it was published?

Though it may seem as if it's a lot to do and still enjoy a novel, I do. I consume a novel in all its parts and parcels. I do most of the above, except marring a book. No dog ears or pen or pencil or marker marking. I erase pencil marks in library books I read. Books are sacred.
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Re: How Do You Read?

Postby sierramcconnell » 16 Dec 2010, 10:12

I read books about angels\fallen angels\Nephilim. Or if a book happens to catch my attention and I have the call to read it, I will do so.

As far as to the how I read, unless it starts to reek of stupidity, I read like any other reader. For the fun of it. But then if stuff starts to catch me, the more I go into edit-mode.

What the heck was that? Misspellings? Bad sentence structure? Broken phrases? Out of character characterization?

And then I'll read detatchedly, just so I can see why the book was deemed worthy of being published. And I will leave bad reviews everywhere I can, explaining the problems I found.

That's the kind of reader I am. The Warning Bell Reader. I feel it's my duty to give the highs and lows of the book. "It had this and this great about it, but how it got through without a visit to the editing department is beyond me." Or something to that.

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Re: How Do You Read?

Postby Margo » 16 Dec 2010, 10:41

polymath wrote:LIke a writer? How does a writer read differently than an editor, a reviewer, a critic, a publicist, a screening reader, a literary interpreter, an arbiter of moral sensibility, a general consumer reader?


I don't read like the general consumer. Probably more like an editor.

polymath wrote:Do you note how a novel's plot moves or stalls, how your emotions are influenced by the novel while you read? Do you note language as you read? Do you read for technique?


Yes on these.

polymath wrote:Do you read with a dictionary at hand and look up words? Words you don't know, words you think you understand but the context doesn't seem the same? How about a style manual or English usage dictionary? For that matter, how about looking up foreign language words?


No on these.

polymath wrote:Do you contemplate the underlying meaning of names, place names, places, personas, things, motifs?


Sometimes.

polymath wrote:How closely do you read? Word by word or do you skip parts, skim descriptions, jump around, read endings first, scan chapter openings, transitiions, middles, go back and reread particularly poignant parts? Do you recast sentences as you go along? Do you wonder why a word, phrase, paragraph, scene, or chapter is in the position it is and what if the structure were rearranged?


I will tend to read closely. However, I take note if I find myself skimming and try to figure out why. For one particular author, it's usually unnecessary landscape descriptions. I've sometimes wondered if she's trying to fill out her manuscript because she's come up shy on word count. A couple of times, I made myself read the description slowly and thoroughly, in case it wasn't as pointless as it seemed. It was as pointless as it seemed, so I skimmed them in later books. If I didn't know already that I was probably going to give up her series at a particular point, I might not have bothered to keep reading. It's more a study now of what happened to her writing after she became successful. Otherwise, I'd have stopped reading her books.

polymath wrote:Do you contemplate what a novel's about after reading? What's the theme, what's the message, did it deliver on its opening promises? Did it reach and not quite fulfill its full potential? Did it fall off at the ending and not quite wrap up. Does it start slow and not quite rise? Is it flat in the middle, episodical, incredulous but not quite so unbelievable it passes along satisfactorily? Do you go back and reread for clearer understanding?


No, if only because my TBR pile is growing faster than I can keep up with it.

polymath wrote:Do you mark places to go back to with book marks, pen or pencil marks, highlighting, dog ear pages, use stickys for marking?


Only in non-fiction.

polymath wrote:Do you note missing words, stray punctuation, misspellings, discretionary styles, special formatting choices, the design of the layout?


Yes.

polymath wrote:Do you calculate prior to beginning reading how long a narrative is so you can read in one sitting or just jump in and see how it goes, pausing for interruptions and daily living needs, sleeping, eating, working, etc.


I'm not quite that um...structured. I just jump in.

polymath wrote:Do you read through even though a novel isn't as engaging as you prefer? Do you read novels that are critically acclaimed, popularly acclaimed, or both? Do you read in a category genre? Do you read an author's body of work and compare and contrast how they've emerged? Do you seek out earlier works or just go with what's current? Do you read literary reviews, critical reviews, promotional reviews? Do you read author biographies? How about research historical periods representing the settings and culture of the time period a novel falls in, the time period the author wrote in, and the time period and culture it was published?


I will read some of a novel that isn't all that engaging, but I have my limits and absolutely will toss a book and move on if it doesn't improve. I will look at a book that is acclaimed, but I won't necessarily buy it or read it. I am open to reading most types of romance, fantasy, most types of SF, and psychological thrillers. I prefer not to read literary these days, but sometimes someone will trick me into it by making me read an excerpt for something like a workshop. If it's engrossing, I'll make an exception. I also read non-fiction, usually history or theoretical physics (for laymen), with a bit of equine therapy thrown in. I do read reviews and biographies. No on the research. I have too much of my own research to do.

polymath wrote:Though it may seem as if it's a lot to do and still enjoy a novel, I do. I consume a novel in all its parts and parcels. I do most of the above, except marring a book. No dog ears or pen or pencil or marker marking. I erase pencil marks in library books I read. Books are sacred.


It would be nice to have readers like you.
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Re: How Do You Read?

Postby Watcher55 » 16 Dec 2010, 11:04

I don’t read a lot of fiction that isn’t >2k yrs old; but when I do, I generally pretend that I’m the narrator because when I read fiction I want to live in the story. There are more than a few novels that I’ve sold to used bookstores before finishing them. I don’t care why I didn’t like them, I just take my word for it and move on.

The really good novels, I'll go back and read a second time (sometimes a third) and study it in order to figure out what makes it good and what part I (the reader) played in making it that way. I don’t just look words up; I do word studies (origins, forms, foreign language translations/equivalents . . .). I managed to rescue a WEBSTER’S THIRD NID (1963) that the school library had marked for recycling and I use it a lot.

I look for the way the author turns a phrase or uses a word with obscure denotations/connotations (i.e. ADDICT: Roman war slave).

I don’t write in literary works, and although I scatter them everywhere, I’m careful to keep them out of harms way. Reference books and textbooks are a different story. I write in them, highlight them, fold the pages – all that.

“How about research historical periods representing the settings and culture of the time period a novel falls in, the time period the author wrote in, and the time period and culture it was published?”


I’m dancing around the edges of doing that with A TALE OF TWO CITIES, but that would be a major project by itself, so it’s on the “bucket list”. It caught my attention when I realized it’s historical fiction set in the 18th Century and written in the 19th - AND (correct me if I'm wrong), it's a commentary on both.

Margo - lengthy descriptions is one of the more obvious shortcomings that will cause me to sell a book.
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Re: How Do You Read?

Postby bcomet » 16 Dec 2010, 11:08

I read the first time for the story and, hopefully, for pleasure.

I read the second and subsequent times for craft and to learn. I especially go back again and again to books I want to learn from. On the subsequent reads, I usually read closer, as a writer. But also, again, for pleasure. I am always astounded how, even when I know what's going to happen next, a story can pull me into its world.

I always look up words or definitions for clarity either way I read.

If I start a book and discover that it is depressing in the extreme or cruel or crude, I usually put it down.
I need a solid reason to read further or to expose myself to that sort of thing.

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Re: How Do You Read?

Postby polymath » 16 Dec 2010, 11:41

Watcher55 wrote:I’m dancing around the edges of doing that with A TALE OF TWO CITIES, but that would be a major project by itself, so it’s on the “bucket list”. It caught my attention when I realized it’s historical fiction set in the 18th Century and written in the 19th - AND (correct me if I'm wrong), it's a commentary on both.

It is and still timely relevant. Which raises one other question:

Do you read taking into account the era in which a novel is read, when it was published, how later on eras approach a novel, how contemporary readers approach a novel from times past? Cultures change, values and mores change, reader expectations change. How many novels fit their times and don't anymore, yet document a time's values we cannot easily understand or accept today? Ethnicism, sexism, ageism, politics, culture, society, technology, idioms, humor, drama, and so on.

Anyway, A Tale of Two Cities is the number one bestselling novel at 200 million copies, and countless readers and uncounted pirated or expired copyright reproduction copies. Worth close reading to understand why.

Thanks to everyone who has replied. I've known no two readers read alike. My curiosity is how much different and how much alike. I'm prospecting for deeper insight into reading cultural coding conventions. Since many readers in some way or another are writers too, who better to ask than writers?

And thank you, Margo. Problem is with readers like me, I don't know of very many readers who read like I do. Taking on all the hats from writer to producers to promoters to readers and back again through the life cycle when I read gives me profound reading experiences.
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Re: How Do You Read?

Postby RachelHowzell » 16 Dec 2010, 12:33

It depends on that time of month.

Meaning:

If it's that time when I'm not actively working on a story myself, I totally lose myself as a reader. The book can be total junk and I will read and flip pages and not care if the writing is clunky and the characters are cliched and wow, what else has this author written.

If it's that time that I'm actively writing then I avoid all books similar to mine. Writing can already be a depressing endeavor -- why torture myself?

If it's that time when I'm editing, I'll read anything -- even books similar to mine -- to see how the author handled scene description, or amping up suspense, that kind of thing.

No matter the time of the month, I'm always reading.

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Re: How Do You Read?

Postby Watcher55 » 16 Dec 2010, 12:47

polymath wrote:Do you read taking into account the era in which a novel is read, when it was published, how later on eras approach a novel, how contemporary readers approach a novel from times past? Cultures change, values and mores change, reader expectations change. How many novels fit their times and don't anymore, yet document a time's values we cannot easily understand or accept today? Ethnicism, sexism, ageism, politics, culture, society, technology, idioms, humor, drama, and so on.


Let me preface: I don’t think I’m bragging when I say I have an above average understanding of Western History so when I’m reading for leisure, I don’t “think” about those things, but more than once I’ve called BS on a book and gotten rid of it. When I’m working on a project like TOTC, I pick up as many threads as I can and alter my understanding by weaving them into what I already know.

(I use Word to draft longer posts on account a’ my eyes, so I’m not going to use the quote feature)

“Do you read taking into account the era in which a novel is read, when it was published,” ---- Absolutely, social contexts are paramount.

“how later on eras approach a novel, how contemporary readers approach a novel from times past?” ---- More of a philosophical approach. I tend to answer these questions based on my understanding rather than digging into this kind of data.

“Cultures change, values and mores change, reader expectations change. How many novels fit their times and don't anymore, yet document a time's values we cannot easily understand or accept today?” ---- Great question and it lives in my head, but again it’s more philosophical unless it has a direct bearing on the WIP. Side note: UNCLE TOM’S CABIN is also on my bucket list.

“Ethnicism, sexism, ageism, politics, culture, society, technology, idioms, humor, drama, and so on.” ---- Maybe not in the way you mean but any in-depth treatment of the dynamics of society and history must be sensitive to these issues/elements at all stages.
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Re: How Do You Read?

Postby Fenris » 16 Dec 2010, 13:33

Before I started writing, I was one of the people who had to be reminded to come up for air every now and then while reading.

Now, unfortunately, I can no longer lose myself in the book. Or perhaps very rarely.

Once I started writing, I began to notice everything wrong about books I was reading. Typos and grammar errors, obviously, though thankfully those are usually relatively rare. Then it got worse, and I started noticing the occasional character derailment. Now, I practically pick apart every sentence. And I loathe it, because it prevents me from fully enjoying the story.

However, it has helped tremendously with my editing skills. With practice, I've learned to establish varying degrees of this "editor mode," so I can kind of tune out the error sensor while reading. The opposite is also true--I can focus my editor self and largely ignore the script itself.

One thing that hasn't changed: every time a word catches my eye, whether it be new and strange or old and weary but used in a different context than I'm used to, I absolutely have to crack open a dictionary. Thankfully, my memory is such that these new words tend to stick (though not always), so I'm left with a handy new word at my disposal.

And author credits hardly matter to me. I just jump in and hope I don't drown.
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Re: How Do You Read?

Postby Sommer Leigh » 16 Dec 2010, 15:02

I read mostly for pleasure and I do not read like an editor. I slip into the narrative and I don't come back up for anything but air if I can help it. I internalize the story and if it is very good I mentally transpose myself into the narrative (oooh! To live vicarious and fictional!) Maybe I might notice something particularly excellent about the story, then I'll make a note and go back later.

If the story isn't good, the telling or the structure has problems and if I have a very difficult time immersing myself, I usually won't keep reading. My TBR pile is too big to spend on books I can't disappear into. If I'm aware of the cat pawing at my knee for attention, or a door closing, or my phone buzzing with alerts of text messages and email updates, then I quit the book and try another.

And here is where I am probably going to lose half of you as friends - I am a dog earing, note taking, marking-for-later, personalizer of books. My belief is the more used a book, the more it is loved. I keep notes for myself. I mark or dog ear pages I need to remember. I dog ear as a book mark. My books go into my messanger bag, get bumped around, pulled out during lunch break, tossed into the back seat of my car, pulled out, pushed around, beaten and loved for all its worth. I have a copy of The Great Gatsby that I've read so many times the cover has fallen off and been masking taped back on. Also, I have doodled on the masking tape.

If I notice a misspelling, I don't give it much attention.

I do notice the layout and design of books. I can tell when they used too small of text and crammed to many words on a page, and I notice how books are broken by scene and how chapter beginnings are set up. The ones I really love have a special place in my memory bank. (How to Say Goodbye in Robot and Boneshaker are two A++ book designs)

I do not skip around, but I do sometimes skim. Especially any dream sequences. I hate them all. So I skim. I sometimes skim long descriptions. If I am on the edge of my seat, dying to know what happens next, I have to be very careful I don't skim too much of the book, which can be a problem of Neeeding To Know What Happens Next.

Also, I often read a book in one sitting. I don't plan it that way, it's just what happens because I am a story addict and also I don't sleep much.
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Re: How Do You Read?

Postby Quill » 16 Dec 2010, 15:04

Polymath, let me begin by saying "good topic!" and "you're too much" (meaning wow, another exhaustive treatment by you, I'm bowled over by the insights and by the detail, as per usual).

How do I read?

Non-fiction voraciously. Which is not too say I read many books, but those I do, in the subjects that interest me, I read without reflection and without tasting. Or shall we say, like the Lakota and Cheyenne ate Custer (when later asked how Custer's command was reduced to zero, a Lakota participant remarked, "like a hungry man eats his supper").

Fiction anymore like an editor. Enjoy (or not enjoy) and analyze at the same time. Savoring word choices, noting which techniques work and which don't, and looking for the wire frame that keeps the hoop skirt of it up. Seeking to learn from it. Willing to be amazed, patient with its progress, and not opposed to letting it go if it doesn't fulfill its promise, or if I realize that the promise is for something other than I want.

Generally I read slowly. I comprehend with difficulty. I will go back and reread to make sure I'm following. Upon finishing I often reread the first chapter.

Much of my novel (and some non-fiction) is via audio book. I always have one going in my kitchen. I read hard copy books mostly in bed before sleep. In both cases I usually intake only a few pages at a time. This is probably one reason for the slow intake and the need to reread. Some books lend themselves better to this bit by bit reading. Occasionally I will come across a novel in either audio or paper that won't let it put me down. Usually that only happens with non-fiction.

In non-fiction I am very genre-oriented, gravitating to certain types of history and biography (and also books on writing!). In fiction I am fussy but all over the board. Here I tend to like shorter books in everything from YA to love story to Thriller. I keep returning to a few authors, but usually I seek out stellar writing from the last 75 years (over earlier classics), and prefer rural/small town themes to urban subjects.

In fiction I tend to finish maybe one out of every three I start.
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Re: How Do You Read?

Postby polymath » 17 Dec 2010, 11:19

Okay, it's univerally the proverbial It's all about the story immersion so far, though Watcher55 I suspect is a fellow fan of dusty old tomes written by statue heads in ancient times, Sophocles and Aeschylus and Plato and Homer and Virgil and the like. Not exactly throat grabbers, but then they composed narratives meant to be presented in person orated from soap boxes. I guess their audiences appreciated the form. Modern audiences not so much.

Sommer Leigh, you have my express permission to mark to your heart's content. Some of the books in my collection are marked up like reused textbooks, many are textbooks. Fascinating commentary at least. One of my rare books has pencil markings on the endplates where the first owner practiced penmanship, signature after signature varying from timid to confident. Interesting. The marked textbooks have personal insights about the scrawler's understanding of the narrative and good at least for clues to the subject professor's slant, if not the students who marked them.

One conclusion from the responses I've drawn is how varied personal approaches are to processing and evaluating a narrative. From I know it when I see it, virtue and vice, to I'll wait and see or as soon as it stalls that's it, to take it as it comes or dig deep, read close, and contemplate. The insight that gives me is how varied sentiments are, interests, and perhaps interest in furthering critical reading skills.

A No Brow approach of mine recognizes everyone's right to an opinion. Who am I to impose mine on others, to ridicule or demean or reject? I can offer, but not insist. Actually, one thing I've noted about critics and editors and other gatekeepers is they have strong opinions. They know what they want even if they have difficulty expressing it. They don't always manage to say what they mean or mean what they say either. And unfortunately, many are beholden to their opinions and hold forth insisting everyone agree. Well, another express permission: It's okay to have strong opinions, take stands, make credible points, and support them. That's an art that society benefits from by encouraging conscientious, conscious, critical thinking, the underlying purpose of reading, writing, and literature and writing study.

It's also expressly okay to disagree too, though arguing against opinions are about as productive as arguing with excretory orifices. Though many, too many seek controversy for self-esteem building at the expense of others' self-esteem and eat up others' emotions "Like a hungry man eats his supper."

Anyway, from reading and writing and reading and writing study I've come to realize no one can tell me what's virtuous, what's viceful, what's worth my time, what's not, and more importantly what to think or how to think critically. A reading experience is mine alone to appreciate, to loathe or admire or enjoy, and oftentimes my interpretations are singular.

Thanks for sharing how your experiences are yours.
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Re: How Do You Read?

Postby Sommer Leigh » 17 Dec 2010, 11:59

polymath wrote:Sommer Leigh, you have my express permission to mark to your heart's content. Some of the books in my collection are marked up like reused textbooks, many are textbooks. Fascinating commentary at least. One of my rare books has pencil markings on the endplates where the first owner practiced penmanship, signature after signature varying from timid to confident. Interesting. The marked textbooks have personal insights about the scrawler's understanding of the narrative and good at least for clues to the subject professor's slant, if not the students who marked them.



Oh good, I'm glad we're still friends. I get horrified looks and gasps sometimes when I lend books and my dog ears and creases and notes are visible. You'd be surprised how many people can't stop themselves from crying "How COULD you!" I half expect them to take my books into custody to protect them from cruel and inhuman people like me.

Also, really important books from important moments in my life have items shoved in between the pages. Pictures, postcards, receipts, ticket stubs, whatever. I have a copy of Beowulf with a theater ticket inside where, during a bleak moment in college I ended up being stood up for a date to see a movie. I didn't end up seeing it, instead I sat in the lobby of the theater and finished Beowulf by myself.

I have several artifacts inside the book Boneshaker by Cherie Priest from my trip to Indiana with my BFF where I did research for my WIP. Also there are notes all over it where I saw a type of tree, or a building, or a street name I needed to make note of for later use or research. There's almost as much info for my own book written on those pages as there is the actual book.

I don't mark up many of my books. Only the really important ones.
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Re: How Do You Read?

Postby Down the well » 17 Dec 2010, 12:41

It's been kind of a tough year for me as far as reading goes. I think it would be fair to say I did not finish half the books I started (which makes me wish I was more of a library user). I understand perfectly the criticism I get from agents when they say they do not connect with my story. I feel very much the same way about several recommended books I have recently tried (yet failed) to finish.

But why didn't I finish? Mostly I think it had to do with not caring enough about the main character's goals and less to do with the actual writing -- although I would stop reading if the language didn't engage me. I think I had also begun to suffer from a "who cares" attitude about books when I read, something I blame on the act of writing itself and the consumption of advice on how to write THE BEST DAMN NOVEL EVER!!!

In not finishing so many novels, I began to realize that my expectations had probably outgrown the abilities of most working authors. I'd lost the art of appreciating the quiet story, the one that unfolds in layers only to deepen the reader's emersion into the story. I had gotten to the point that I must be knocked over the head by a plot that twists and turns and keeps me guessing, and held captive by characters that never bored with their inner dialogue. It's like I turned into a sugar addict who no longer found raw fruit sweet enough to satisfy the palate.

And so I've been taking some time off from writing. I haven't written anything for six weeks. The act of writing every day had turned the novel into a textbook for me, something I could either learn from and so I kept reading, or I saw no educational value in it and put it away for good. I think I forgot how to read for enjoyment.

But in my detox from the "tension on every page" mentality of writing, I remembered Juliet Marillier. This author is one that can suck me so deep into the world she has created that I forget to keep track of the plotting and the character development. I don't question her shift in POV, I don't question her word choice, I just read the story. Start to finish. Ironically, Ms. Marillier ended up teaching me a subtle lesson about engaging the reader with her quietly unfolding story and her perfectly sympathetic characters, but one I might not have been open to six weeks ago. I can't tell you how much I appreciated reading a book again and loving it for it's storytelling ability. Really. And I can't wait to get back to my novel and revise with fresh eyes.
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Re: How Do You Read?

Postby J. T. SHEA » 18 Dec 2010, 21:05

Interesting questions, Polymath. I read somewhere a post or comment by a writer apologizing for enjoying another writer's story so much she forgot to critique it! Yet she HAD critiqued it, in a way. Her enjoyment spoke for itself.

I have recently been reading Stephanie Meyer's TWILIGHT, a novel enjoyed by many and reviled by some. I enjoy it and have not noticed (yet, anyway!) the flaws others complain of. Am I uncritical? Unobservant? Or more impressionistic than analytical?

If TWILIGHT were boring, I would notice. Likewise if it were incomprehensible, absurd, or offensive. I generally do not persevere with boring books. I don't skip or skim.

I do many of the things you list, Polymath, though not all, and not all of the time. At least not separately and consciously. I do mark particularly interesting things with a pen, and note them and their page number at the start of the book. Not public library books, of course, which I rarely read nowadays. I do count words.

I am wary of the sort of hypercriticism Fenris and Down the well describe. I don't want to end up knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing.

BTW, someone recently proposed a mash-up to be titled A TALE OF TWO CITIES DESTROYED BY GODZILLA!
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