“I’d never read one of her books”

In today’s New York Times, there’s an article about new words that were coined in 2006.  One word was “Sanctimommies”: mothers who think they’re better mothers than everyone else.  They like to criticize other women as inferior parents who commit such sins as — horrors! — letting their kids eat Cheerios.

I’m often reminded of such sanctimonious snobs when I cruise through reader websites.  More than once, I’ve seen someone write: “I’ve never read one of his/her books, and I never will.”  Their basis for this decision?  They’d “heard” that those books were trash.  Most recently I’ve seen it in reference to a certain bestselling female crime writer whose early books set the standard for forensic thrillers.  But I’ve also heard it said about Stephen King.

Now, let me tell you a story about Stephen King’s books.  Some years ago, in honor of “Banned Books Week,” a nearby library invited authors to read aloud from their favorite banned book.  I chose King’s first novel, CARRIE, which has been repeatedly banned from school libraries across the country.  The audience was mostly literary folks, people who pride themselves on their reading taste.  I read the famous shower scene, a piece that pulses with raw energy and passion.

The audience was absolutely riveted.  “That scene was from a Stephen King novel?” someone asked in disbelief.

It turned out that many of the listeners had never read King.  They thought he was beneath them.  They had heard that his books were mere horror novels.  They had heard that they weren’t worth reading.  So they never even gave him a try. 

I think about all the movies and books I would have missed had I relied entirely on someone else’s opinion.  Some years ago, I was told by friends to skip seeing The Mummy remake starring Brendan Fraser because it was mere schlock.  But I’m a nut about Egypt, so I went to see it anyway.

It is now one of my favorite all-time films.  I own the DVD and I’ve probably watched it about half a dozen times.  But I never would have known how much I’d love it had I not seen it for myself.

People who say they’ll never read King or Grisham or Cornwell aren’t making a decision based on anything other than hearsay.  Someone else has told them how to think, so they’re obeying like dumb sheep.  They aren’t well-informed; they’re lazy.  Or, as Tabitha King once told me, “they’re basing their decisions on a pretty powerful force: ignorance.”  And some of these people will blithely malign an author they’ve never read, because they think it makes them look smart and literary and intelligent.

I call these people “Igno-ranters.”  And they seem to be rampant on reader sites.

Next time you hear people say proudly, “I’ve never read one of his/her books and I never will,”  challenge them.  Ask them if they always let other people think for them.  Ask them what other sheep-like characteristics they have.  Because they aren’t independent thinkers.  

No matter how smart they think they are. 

 

28 replies
  1. Jude Hardin
    Jude Hardin says:

    Bravo, Tess!

    I used to be one of those dumb sheep until I actually read a Stephen King novel (I think The Dead Zone was my first). Now he’s my fave.

    And I have to admit, if I remember correctly, I first picked up an author named Tess Gerritsen because she was on Steve’s reading list in On Writing. 🙂

  2. hkennedy
    hkennedy says:

    Thank you for posting this. Sadly, the sheep-like mentality you’ve described is alive and well, not only with readers, but with reviewers who have the power to guide them. I’m Canadian, and we have a strong “literary community” here that tends to look down on “commercial writers”, which makes it close to impossible to develop a readership as a new author.

  3. Patricia Wood
    Patricia Wood says:

    This is so true! I read everything from cereal boxes to Proust to Nora Roberts to Kafka. My favorite is by John Irving – A Prayer for Owen Meany. I have an eclectic appetite for books.
    I am always surprised at having to defend my reading tastes to others at writer’s conferences and retreats.
    Like there’s some kind of hierarchy.
    As a writer I feel you can learn from anyone.
    Thanks for saying this!

  4. Rhonda Lane
    Rhonda Lane says:

    Tess, thank you — I want to print out this blog entry, cut out the “igno-ranters” passage and tape it to my monitor. I want to keep that for inspiration (and validation) as I go into 2007.

    This applies to many endeavors, not just writing and reading.

  5. Dru Ann L
    Dru Ann L says:

    I know what you mean, Tess. Too many times people have said to me, why are you reading “her/him” and I simply respond by saying “because I enjoy their work and you would to if you at least give it a try before dismissing the her/him.”

    Happy Holidays!

  6. struggler
    struggler says:

    Of course you’re right Tess, but let’s not forget that the opposite sheep-like mentality applies to those who DO read as well as to those who don’t. Some authors are read by thousands because thousands of others told them to. The herd instinct is a powerful selling tool that many advertisers and marketeers cash in on. It’s more prevalent on TV rather than in fictional writing, witness the absurd success of programmes like ‘Big Brother’ and its equivalents overseas. If everybody on earth was independently minded and could not be influenced by the opinions of others, far fewer books would be sold than is actually the case. Word-of-mouth, be it wise or ignorant, remains the most powerful advertising tool around.

    Merry Christmas Tess and to everyone else on your blog!

  7. Larry Willis
    Larry Willis says:

    WOW! Reminds me of when my kids were still in grade school and the first Harry potter story was published. Warlocks and witched and demonds, OH MY! The outcry was amazing, and regrettable. “From what I’ve HEARD, I just don’t think it’s appropriate.” Heaven help us. Tess, you’re right. It’s all about people not willing to think for themselves.

    Happy Holidays!

  8. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    there’s another side to this coin-some authors can put out a book and based on their name alone,and people think “it must be good”-this makes for coasting on reputation and it doesn’t only apply to books-film,music….anything creative-i guess it is wrong to ever assume anything till you’ve checked it out yourself

  9. spyscribbler
    spyscribbler says:

    Um … what’s wrong with Cheerios???

    LOL … I’ve heard it that way, too. I think I’ve even said it, but with me, it just means I haven’t read it, and can’t help but join in the conversation anyway. It seems I find twenty books I want to read every day, and have time to read a half of one a day. What can you do?

  10. Craig
    Craig says:

    As a reader (I try to read 2-3 books per week and never two in the same genre simultaneously) I now have some very strict rules and I hope all of you authors take note because most of my fellow readers with whom I am in touch constantly feel the same way. I don’t pay attention to negative hearsay; however, if someone is absolutely raving about a book I pay strict attention which is how I discovered a fabulous young adult author, Kimberly Willis Holt, who won the National Book Award several years ago. I’m singling Kimberly out because when you are a young adult author you’d better kick it in gear on page one or you’ve lost your readers and Kimberly obviously is well aware of this. First, I read the jacket flap. If that interests me I I give a new author 50 pages and that’s it. I can usually tell if I’m going to finish the book or not. I usually read the first 50 in the bookstore so there’s very little chance of my wasting my money. I also keep a journal and give each author a letter grade. After I become comfortable with the author I don’t keep a diary on that author and just pick up the books as they come out and if they want to experiment, that’s OK with me. Some of the authors on my “just pick up the book because it’s gonna be good” list include Marcia Preston, our beloved Tess, and the latest addition, JA Konrath, whom I discovered courtesy of this blog.

  11. JA Konrath
    JA Konrath says:

    Good post, Tess. But I’m not sure people form negative opinions soley based on what they specifically heard. I think they form impressions based on a variety of sources, and decide that something isn’t for them before they look too closely at it.

    We make dozens of decisions a day based on quick impressions. Which line to stand in at check out. Which lane to drive in. Which TV show to watch. Which link to click on.

    We have to do this, because we’re constantly bombarded with stimuli.

    To combat this, all people must form opinions about things with very few facts to back up these opinions.

    Then, because we belive our opinions (even snap judgements) have value, and because we’d rather defend them than analyze them, we stick with them even without adequate information.

    Luckily, the opposite is also true. Once we’ve alanyzed something and deemed it worthy, we’re prone to communicate this. We rave about the things we love.

    Because of this, people also make snap decisions based on the praise of others. I never saw Saving Private Ryan, but I’m guessing it’s a great movie from all I’ve heard.

    This willingness to talk about what we like is a part of human nature–if someone likes what we like, it reinforces our own opinions, and our sense of self-worth. Plus it solidifies connections among people.

    That’s why word-of-mouth is the best advertising.

  12. Amy MacKinnon
    Amy MacKinnon says:

    Imagine eating only one flavor of ice cream or listening to only one style of music? Only Mozart or the Eagles or Blink-182? Geniuses all.

    No one beats Charles Frazier or Karen Fisher for their lyricism. There are few books with characters as well-developed as Stephen King’s The Stand. Pacing, the bane of nearly all writers, is never an issue for you, Tess. Readers are constantly gasping trying to keep up, knowing they can’t turn off the light, just one more page. Atul Gawande writes the most moving passages with the utmost restraint. And Mameve Medwed, Elinor Lipman, and Claire Cook are clever enough to write humorous books. And what do you all have in common? Not genre. You’re all best selling authors.

    I suppose people are entitled to close their minds off to the larger world. Poor souls. Me, why I’d never.

  13. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    i realize that all of us on this blog want to make up our own minds-but who would turn down a little help??:)

  14. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    what i was saying is that sometimes you read a review or hear something from a friend that spurs you on to investigate-it always in the end comes down to what you like

  15. Craig
    Craig says:

    Exactly, Joe. My beloved booksellers have been of invaluable help in introducing me to new books. I once got into a very energetic discussion about a book I’d not read; the discussion was over the title–The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night. The title is a nod to a Sherlock Holmes story and I had to show some folks that that phrase had not come from The Hound of the Baskervilles, but rather Silver Blaze. Our conversation was so interesting that I picked up the book to see what the fuss was about and it’s absolutely fabulous. In another case one of my booksellers literally pestered me into reading a book and for the life of me I can’t remember the title but it was about a girl who was murdered and then followed her murderer as a ghost (?) or looking down from heaven to follow his movements, another fascinating book. Anybody remember the title?

  16. Barbie Roberts
    Barbie Roberts says:

    Craig, it sounds like the title you’re looking for is “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold. This is a very popular book with the students in the high school where I work.

  17. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    I don’t usually judge by the author so much as the genre. If I don’t like the genre (historical nonfiction, nonfiction in general, history in general really haha) then I won’t pick up the novel for those reasons, not because I’ve just heard that the author is horrible. I read probably 80-100 books a year, God willin’ and time allowin’, so I like to think that I have a wide range of taste when it comes to novels. I do have my favorite authors of course, as everyone does (King, Gerritsen, Sparks, Rowling, Koontz, Sandford) but that doesn’t mean I don’t pick up new authors, or different authors at least, every once in a while. I hate closed-minded people who like to think they know everything (like my grandmother on the subject of Harry Potter, she read the first couple books and put them down saying they were for little kids, go figure!) but in reality they know nothing because they don’t read! Have a great New Years Dr. G! (I’m currently reading Paolini’s Eragon, then I think I’m starting on ‘Club, chao!)

  18. Lorra Laven
    Lorra Laven says:

    Better yet, when you meet these whatever-snobs and they inform you that you are a dunce for having read/seen/listened to something that is beneath them, simply bleat like a sheep. Even if it confirms their opinion of you, they will likely be speechless — and isn’t that the goal?

    Baah – Baaah!

  19. Craig
    Craig says:

    Thanks, Barbie, the name escaped me. It is indeed The Lovely Bones and one of my booksellers and dearest friends gently pestered me until I read it.

  20. vividexpression
    vividexpression says:

    I agree with you that people should be more open minded. I will read almost anything. The only time I refuse to read a book is when the subject matter doesn’t interest me. There are too many books out there worth reading to waste time on something I won’t enjoy. Plus there are some terrible books that are highly reccommended. See: The Devil Wears Prada. What a horrible book!

    Anyway, I picked up a copy of the Memphisto Club tonight. I can’t wait to start reading it.

    Hope you had a good holiday! 🙂

  21. l.c.mccabe
    l.c.mccabe says:

    Tess,

    A friend of mine reminded me of this quote:

    Writing is a profession in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none.
    –Jules Renard

  22. spyscribbler
    spyscribbler says:

    *giggle* I’ve never read Devil Wears Prada, vividexpression. *grins*

    Seriously, I have to check it out. I don’t think I’ve heard one good review of it, and yet it’s sales were awesome, and everybody seems to have heard about it. I swear, at least a hundred people have told me how horrible it is.

    Must investigate.

  23. Amy
    Amy says:

    I’m reminded of what my parents always said: You can’t say no until you try it. 🙂 A good rule for readers, too. I read all kinds of authors and all kinds of genres and always find something to like. There are only a handful of writers I’ve tried multiple times and can’t “get in to” but I just put it down to matters of taste.

    So…Try it–you’ll like it! Don’t say no until you’ve given it a go.

  24. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    spyscribbler-the devil wears prada will probably not be on my reading list since my wife had to tell me what prada was(it sounded like an east european car that runs on lignite or something)

  25. Wyndham
    Wyndham says:

    Point taken, Tess, although the post was meant as a back handed compliment. Enjoying Vanish very much, by the way.

  26. Louise
    Louise says:

    This does work the other way, too. Over Thanksgiving I read my first Cornwall because I’d heard so much about her. She’s a good writer and I was going along trying to understand the clues to pick out the murderer–yet the villain turned out to be a character not introduced until the final couple chapters of the book. I will never read another Cornwall because I don’t believe she plays fair with her readers–and anyone who thinks I’m being snobbish–hey, I did read her to my disappointment.

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