Friday Fun – Do you read critically or for purely for pleasure?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, writing-related question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: When we are children, we read purely for the pleasure of the experience. As we get older, we read with a more critical eye. As writers, we sometimes find it impossible to get completely lost in a story without keeping one eye on how the author used exposition or voice or narrative style to tell her tale. How do you read? Are you able to turn off your analytical mind and surrender to the story, or are you always taking mental notes for your own writing?

Jamie Wallace: I confess that I find it difficult to completely turn off my inner analyst. I don’t usually take physical notes, but I do definitely notice different techniques and turns of phrase. Sometimes, this makes me a little crazy and I wish I could just silence all that chatter completely. Other times, I wish I had a pen and notebook handy so I could jot down some of the particular bits that stand out for me – as future reference for my own work. I don’t see one way of reading as being better than another, but I do think there is something to be said for simply letting the story sweep you away. (I wrote more about this in my post, Reading like a writer.)

Julie Hennrikus: I am a very critical reader. Part of it is because I am working on my craft as a writer. The other part is because I got my master’s in English three years ago, and nothing hones your critical skills as much as writing a thesis. So I am frequently looking a plot, thinking about character, noticing pacing, and watching word choices while I am reading. But on occasion, I get lost in the story, and the critical lens is removed. And I let the pleasure take over.

Wendy Thomas: Oh, I’m a terrible critic. It’s why I couldn’t finish the first book of the Twilight series or even 50 Shades of Grey. I have no objection to the subject matter it’s the writing that got to me. I’ve also given up on newspapers, in the rush to get the news out, mistakes are found galore. When the writing is good, it becomes invisible and the story itself steps forward. When words are clunky, awkward, and heavy – they steal from the story and become the noisy children in the restaurant that you wish would just go away.

Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson: When reading for pleasure (versus for a book review), I do my best to get lost in the story. I may stop to enjoy a turn of phrase along the way, or an especially visual passage, and I love those immensely. I do my best to read for pleasure when my internal editor is out for coffee, because when I read with the editor in my head, I get distracted by editorial issues, and nothing is more annoying than trying to get past the little voice shouting “how did no one see that typo?” So, I try not to read critically unless I’m paid to do so, but, it’s part of my DNA now, so hard to suppress.

Deborah Lee Luskin: Can’t help it: reading critically is an occupational hazard – but that means reading with appreciation as well as exasperation. Good writing always inspires me.




Susan Nye: My book club mates tell me I read like a writer but I don’t believe it. I may discuss a book like a writer but I always read for the pure pleasure of the story, the characters and the flow of words. When the book is in hand, I surrender to the author. Once I put the book down or between reads, I will stop and think, analyse, debate, applaud, boo, wrestle and/or stand open-mouthed in awe of the work.

9 thoughts on “Friday Fun – Do you read critically or for purely for pleasure?

  1. Both!
    My initial approach is always as a critic, but secretly I want the writer to make me let go of technical nitpicking. The worst books ramp up the critical part of me, until I can’t stand it and opt out. The best ones have me in the first few pages. If they’re exceptionally good, I shut the critic in the closet early on. This week, THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce did that for me.
    Most fall somewhere in the middle. I make mental notes where it was great, where it fell short. I usually enjoy the story even when it doesn’t knock my socks off if plot is good.

  2. Usually read with appreciation if not downright awe as I choose my books quite carefully. I have little time to read even though I am retired. I am still ridiculously busy so a good read is a joy.

  3. I’m typically a read for pleasure type of person. After college I actually didn’t want to pick up another book for as long as I lived, but once I got in to the mind set that I could read strictly for pleasure I found that reading became a favorite pass time! I’m currently reading a great book called “Tell Me When It Hurts” by Christine M. Whitehead. You can get check her out and get the book right off of her website, I’d love to hear what books others read for pleasure. I’m looking for new additions to my must read list!

  4. I have to get lost in a book – or at least, my critical voice needs to just be saying “wow, cool!” or sighing contentedly over my shoulder at a turn of phrase. Three to five pages – if it hasn’t captured me by then it goes back on the shelf.

  5. I usually start off reading for pleasure but occasionally across a phrase that sounds a bit clunky (to me) or I’ll immediately see a alternative way to express it, or whatever. I cant help it. I guess writers are prone to this behaviour. Readers with no interest in writing probably wouldn’t be as critical.

  6. I don’t find there’s an opposition between reading (a) for pleasure or (b) critically. That seems rather like asking whether I eat with a knife or a fork – the answer is both, in unison.

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