A House Divided: Classic Reader Disagreements

This is a guest post from Rebecca Einstein Schorr. Rebecca is a rabbi, essayist, special needs advocate, and life-wrangler. When she’s not channeling all of the energy into her duties as chief scullery maid, freelance writer, and editor of a professional newsletter, Rebecca can be found reading. Her husband continues to marvel how it is she finds time to read when it seems that there wasn’t time for her to do the laundry. (Sorry, honey.) Chat with her on Twitter @RebeccaSchorr.


Readers are an interesting breed. A passionate lot, we tend to have very specific opinions when it comes not just to what we read but how we read.

  1.      Exclusive vs. Playing the Field

When it comes to reading, there are those who fall into the “one book at a time” category. They are faithful to whatever book they are reading even if something else catches their interest. They often have an ever-growing of pile of “to-read” books on their nightstand, just waiting until the current book is finished. On the other end of the spectrum, and that is where I am, are the readers who juggles a variety of titles simultaneously, dipping into whichever book fits his or her mood at that particular moment. They too often have an ever-growing of pile of book on their nightstand with most of them at some stage of “in-process.” Interestingly, exclusive readers assert that they would find it too confusing to read more than one book concurrently while the players claim that they are bored by being confined to one book at a time.

  1.      Movie vs. Book

One of my favorite t-shirts proclaims “Don’t Judge a Book by its Movie.” And in most cases, I find that to be true. If I have read the book first, I rarely see the movie because I am not able to enjoy it knowing what parts have been excised. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Gone With The Wind, which came in just under four hours, required some major reworking of the book – including the omission of characters – in order to keep the movie at a reasonable length. Other books where the movie lives up to the book include To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Color Purple. Many readers, however, enjoy seeing the directorial changes made when bringing a book to the screen. And still, there are others who are motivated to read the book only after seeing it first in the theater.

  1.      Marked vs. Pristine

There are those who hold that the only way to respect a book is to treat it with the utmost care. They never break the binding nor dare make any mark in the text or even in the margins. Leaving aside rare, first editions where any such treatment will devalue the tome, other readers engage with the physical text in an intimate fashion. Underlining passages that resonate with them. Asking themselves questions about a particular point. Scribbling definitions of unknown words. Marking the book much the way an animal marks its territory is necessary for some readers to feel as though the book has become a part of them.

Those first readers, by the way, are sometimes physically repulsed by such actions.

I don’t understand them.

  1.      Location, Location, Location

One might think that all readers begin to read from the very beginning. That would be an incorrect assumption. First we would have to define beginning. Is the beginning before or after the reviews? Is that the title page? The table of contents? The dedication? Some go directly to the first page of the first chapter and keep going. There are some who read the final paragraph so that there are no surprises. Others split the difference and read the first and last lines before going back to the beginning. I start with the acknowledgements. I like to get a sense of the author’s personality and one can tell a lot about an author by who and how people are thanked. I thought I was alone in my peculiar habit but recently was delighted to read the following by Alan Bradley in the acknowledgements for The Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust:

Whenever I buy a book, I usually flip to the back pages to read the names of those who helped. Contrary to popular belief, no book is written in isolation, and this one is no exception.

This is an author who gets me.

  1.      Printed vs. ereader

A touchy subject. There are many pros to having an ereader. I have a recurring nightmare that I am on vacation and have not packed a sufficient amount of reading material for the trip and end up frantically searching for something other than the manual for the self-cleaning oven to entertain my mind. Certainly having an ereader makes this dream completely obsolete. There is a certain convenience to having an unlimited number of books in the palm of one’s hand. However, there are readers who enjoy the physicality of reading. Something seems lost when one crawls into bed with the eReader rather than a book. Also, a book’s weight often gives something away about the nature of the book. And that is lost when reading on an ereader where War and Peace feels the same as the latest Jodi Picoult title. I enjoy Jodi Picoult but it does seem that a title by Tolstoy should have more heft.

Of course, one other thing makes readers a unique group – the fact that not only do we have such intense opinions about how we read but that we even enjoy reading about how we read.

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