Monday, August 22, 2011

Do You Read for Discovery or Comfort?

Now that a number of readers have posted reviews on The Taker, I've noticed something--let's call it a trend--that I thought I'd throw out for your reactions. And please bear with my tendency to analyze everything. That's what happens when you've been an analyst as long as I had been. I can't help myself; I will try to make sense of any accumulation of facts (data) the same as a border collie will try to herd any sheep that cross his path.

I'm starting to think there are two kinds of readers: those who like a book to follow a well-worn path, and those who want to be taken somewhere new.

The first group could be called Comfort Readers. Like people who prefer comfort foods, they like to go back to the familiar. It reminds them of things they loved once and they want to relive that experience, only perhaps with a few changes in the story, as long as the familiar elements are there.

The latter group I think of as readers who like to have a new experience when they pick up a book. (I've called them Discovery Readers, but that's a completely dissatisfying term, I think you'll agree.) They want a book to tell them a story they haven't heard before, to amaze and surprise them. They will read, but ultimately be disappointed with a story that is too redolent of other books they've read.

(Now I've come to the part of my theory that's going to piss some people off. You might want to stop reading right here.)

I think people who read genre tend to be comfort readers. Genres tend to have their own conventions and readers don't seem to like it when writers stray outside those conventions. They read within the genre because there are certain things they want to see in books and they expect to see in their books.
Whereas Discovery Readers probably tend to read outside of genres, because their preferences and expectations are different.

It reminds me a bit of modern movies. I don't go to the movies much because to me, they're all the same, just the names of the main characters changed but the character arcs remain identical. Other people love to find that same familiarity carried over from movie to movie; they find it reaffirming to see justice triumph over evil, they take comfort in knowing the good character will win and the evil character will fail (because, let's face it, this rarely happens in real life.)

It's not to say one is better than the other; it's just a matter of taste. And I'm not saying ALL genre readers are Comfort Readers; it's probably more of a sliding scale, where at one end there are people who like to see the rules bent or even broken, and on the other end, people who would just as soon see those same authors killed.

Having gotten a little roughed up recently in some reviews, I would like to warn readers up front that The Taker is not a genre novel. I don't want readers to be disappointed or, worse, hostile. I feel that if you like books like Interview With the Vampire or The Historian, you will find similar elements to like in The Taker. However, if you ONLY like vampire novels, for instance, then you may not like The Taker because it's not that type of book.

To put it another way, let's go back to the food analogy. You could call me a Comfort Eater. Not that I eat for comfort, but I tend to eat foods I already enjoy. I'm not an adventurous eater. Why waste mealtime on something I might not like, is the way I look at it. But a long time ago, when I was at my most timid as a eater, I went with friends to an Indian restaurant and discovered that I loved Indian food. It's now among my favorite things to eat. It just goes to show that sometimes it can pay to go outside your comfort zone.


  1. I'm a discovery reader and yet I don't really read outside of the YA genre so that does that make me a little bit unique? ;) I love stories of any kind whether they come in books or in movies and I hate it when I can guess what's coming next although sometimes, like you say this is JUST what you want. With regards to The Taker, I thought it was EPIC and an oustanding debut. It gave me something new, a different take on an immortal love story that I had not expected.

  2. I blur the lines here. I love discovery, but I have my comfort books; I adore genre (especially now that some people are giving a big ol' PFFFT to the tropes and doing literature that is ALSO genre) and write it, but mixtures and surprises and stuff like yours is also amazing. Not sure I could handle ONLY readying books like yours, but then again, I also couldn't eat Indian every night...well, after a while...maybe. Great analogy, but now I'm hungry! ;D -Maddie (mairijeaan)

  3. Lynsey and MJ, thanks for the thoughtful comments and kind words. And Maddie, you raise a good point: as much as I love Indian food, I couldn't eat it everyday, either.

  4. I think this is a pretty accurate analysis, though I also agree that many readers are not strictly one or the other. But overall, yeah. I'm more of a "discovery" reader and also more of a discovery writer. And I definitely got some negative reactions from some folks who were expecting a more traditional "genre" book.

    I think comfort reading provides a sense of structure and closure that our lives frequently do not, while discovery reading more often attempts to wrestle with the messier aspects of life that sometimes we'd just like to escape from.

    Lisa Brackmann

  5. Hi Alma,

    Speaking as a middle-aged, jaded,been there done that woman, discovery reading gives me hope. (I reserve the right to come back in and further explain when I can formulate the right words)

    To compare to music, when I go see Bruce and Carol I don't need to hear Rhiannon, I want to hear their originals.

    PS Do I go to my local bookstore and ask them to order The Taker?

  6. Guess I'm more of a discovery kind of reader, but I also love my old comfy authors I go to, where I know what to expect. That said, I don't read a lot of "genre" novels--meaning, mysteries, romance, sci-fi, fantasy - however, in the last year or so I have picked up those books because I've come to know more authors and (as I said on WU) I want to support them. I've come across some delightful surprises along the way! So still discovery for me :D

  7. I think I fall in line with the majority of others who have commented. I fall into both reading categories. Most of the time I long for something new and different but sometimes I just want a comfort book to escape fir a while. I really think it depends on my mood.