Wednesday, June 15, 2005

HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT TO READ?

CATEGORY: Reading and Writing

Okay, let's play school. I'll be the teacher and you'll sit in one of those little desk/chair combo units with your knees folded close to your chin and be the students.
Ready? Well, so am I. I've got my horn rims on and my chalk in hand and I'm about to write your assignment on the virtual blackboard:

Go get a copy of The New Yorker's latest fiction issue (June 13 and June 20th). Inside you'll find three stories by new writers, all looking fairly interesting. Don't read them. At least not yet. See the real crux of this assignment is finding out how readers make their choices.

First look at the titles in the table of contents. We've all heard about the importance of a catchy or apt title. So here they are:

"Haunting Olivia" by Karen Russell

"An Ex-Mas Feast" by Uwem Akpan

"The Laser Age" by Justin Tussing

Which would you turn to first? I placed them in the order that they appealed to me by title alone (which also happens to be the order they appear in the table of contents.)

Then, if you're anything like you're hornrimmed teacher, you next turn to the Contributor's page to find out a little bit about the author before you make your decision. There you'll find:

Karen Russell is working on a novel and a short story collection.

Uwem Akpan is a Jesuit priest from Nigeria.

Justin Tussing is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop and has a novel that will be published in February.

On that basis, I'm going with Akpan. An African Catholic priest? I'm expecting a unique voice, an opportunity to learn more about an underrepresented continent and maybe even some moral vision.

Then there is the final test. I read the first line of each story, and see which pulls me in first.

From "Haunting Olivia": "My brother, Wallow, has been kicking around Gannon's Boat Graveyard for more than an hour, too embarrassed to admit he doesn't see any ghosts.

From "An Ex-Mas Feast": "Now that my eldest sister was twelve, none of us knew how to relate to her anymore."

From "The Laser Age": "These days high schools look like pastel hued laboratories."

So here's the questions for the take home exam:

1. Which did you choose?

2. Why did you make your choice? Was it the title, the author, or the first line that influenced your decision?

3. Now's the hard part. Or the pleasurable part. Depends on how much you love to read. Read all three stories, and tell me if the one you were initially attracted to
turned out to be, in your estimation, the "best" of the three?

If anyone's willing to play, I'll be happy to turn over the horn rimmed glasses and the pointer, even my chalkboard, and squeeze myself into one of those desks. As always, your insights will be my teachers.


And speaking of reading choices, several readers have come back with their all time favorite books--and more importantly, the reasons why they loved them for MY FIRST LITERARY WAITRESS CONTEST. Anyone looking to rekindle a love affair with an old classic, or hoping to find a new summer read would be advised stop by.

8 comments:

chance said...

I already read "Haunting Olivia" because it was online.

easywriter said...

I wanted to come by to thank you for visiting Writer's Blog. I'm delighted with what I've found here and hope you don't mind that I've added you to my links.

chance said...

(oh and I don't actually have a copy of the issue, so I will finish the quiz when I get one)

chance said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Patry Francis said...

Thanks so much, easywriter. And chance, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Musing said...

I've been mulling over the same thing for a few weeks, now. Glad to read your post about it!

Choosing what I read has always seemed like a mystical experience, but there are probably some rational reasons mixed in there, too.

Still pondering...

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