Is there such a thing as a mature reader?
A recent situation has been puzzling me. One phrase I always seem to find true is ‘the book is better than the film’. In all bar one case I feel this is true. Dracula, The Damned United and Oliver Twist (ok that’s a musical version!) all paled in comparison to their more literary forms. However, after watch Lord of the Rings I could not stomach the intense waffle and drawn out explanations in the first book so decided to give up after getting half way through it. It was clearly the exception to the rule.
This first foray in Tolkien’s work had taken place when I was around 18 and the majority of my reading had consisted solely of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Novels. It was off the back of this disaster that I decided to look for another author and found the wonderfully written James Barclay books about the Raven mercenaries. Flash forward around 10 years and I decided to pick up Tolkien’s mammoth classic once again. This time I feel I understand the plot, get most of the messages behind the writing and am really enjoying it. At present I have passed where I stopped last time. The only really difference I can see is that since I left the book some 10 odd years ago I have read books by James Barclay, David Peace, Danny Wallace, Giles Kristian, Charlie Brooker and a whole host of other authors. Two of these have been classics in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, far from heavy going I found both books uplifting and suitably different from the run of the mill novels that get hammered out now. They felt new and invigorated me as a reader, strange then that they are so old.
Anyhow, back to the point. I feel that the temperament and focus that let me get through Oliver Twist and Dracula has continued, thus allowing me to enjoy Lord of the Rings. At the school I work in we have an accelerated reader program where books are based on your reading level, the pupils slowly work up these. I feel that I have unintentionally done this myself. So much so that when I look back at James Barclay books I do not hold so much affection for them. I have had the first part of his latest offering sat on my shelf for some time, every time I go for a new book it is unfortunately left behind. I am not saying that I now dislike Barclay’s books, far from it in fact. I just feel that I am a more mature reader and look to those books like I would a comedy panel show or something like Dr. Who or Merlin. Not trashy but not the intellectual fodder that I may want for at that time.
I am a great believe in the phrase ‘great writers read’. But to be able to read effectively I think you need to build yourself up. If great writers read, then so do great readers and great thinkers. I think there is such a thing as a mature reader and I worry that people who do not read regularly or only read something trashy and easy when on holiday could be dumbing down the potential of some authors. Whilst literary classic still hold sway and there are people willing to try them out then I feel books should be saved from become more than glorified comics (not to say there isn’t any fantastically written comics out there!). I just hope that in this computer age the Kindle will renew reading and not continue the slump as we need writers to not only be readers but mature readers that understand how to weave plot and characterisation and not give way to easy mass market appeal.