Over the last 12 months though I have been in the very different position of caring quite a bit about what a huge number of strangers think of one particular book with which I’m very familiar. That close study has given me new insights into the nature of readers, insights that are probably common knowledge to the rest of you, but I’m going to expound upon anyhow.
The first and most obvious observation is that we are a diverse lot. Here are a few of the extremes posted regarding Prince of Thorns:
- Prince of Thorns is easily the most incredible epic fantasy I have ever read.
- It's about on the same level as a dedicated high-school student's unpolished first draft.
- This is one of the fastest paced fantasies I’ve read in a long while. The action comes fast and thick.
- I found it very slow going and nothing happens. It just meanders.
- Let's get this out of the way first: Lawrence has a way with words; he is a master of pacing; and he can keep one turning the pages.
- Disturbing, Beautiful, Chaotic, Poetic, Haunting, Exhilarating.
- This is an unredeemingly awful story.
But enough of that. We know humans are weird. Some like marmite. My observations are more about the broad streams that divide readers into a taxonomy, simplified and cartoonised for your viewing pleasure below. Spot yourself!
The Plotster, unsurprisingly, is all about plot. Unless the plot is explained to them on page 1 (some will allow you to dawdle until page 2) they are not happy bunnies. Unless the events transpiring are moving us steadily through the expounded plot toward the stated goal ... the Plotster believes nothing is happening. The world could be on fire, the main character having a profound and life-changing epiphany ... but to the Plotster’s mind nothing is happening. The plot must be served. Books are plot machines. Period.
The Beautician might well have several poets’ bones in their body, but it’s not a requirement. They appreciate writing on the small scale. The Beautician can be arrested by a single line. The power of prose can take their breath away. Insight and gravitas can nestle between a capital and its period. The Beautician will highlight passages for Kindle, will remember lines months afterward, will recognise the writer’s voice. For the Characterophile and the Plotster the prose is simply a delivery mechanism. For the Beautician it is an end in itself.
The Scanner views the world through a distorting lens crafted from their politics, buzz-topic or personal bugbear. They don’t so much read as sift through a story looking for word-bites that can be used to construct the case against. Generally they arrive at any given book with a full set of opinions about its contents, furnished by whatever clique they happen to be affiliated with. The tale in hand is merely a means for ingratiating themselves further into said clique, points being scored for vitriol and mockery. The Scanner is a rare creature but so noisy you may be fooled into thinking there are many of them.
I don’t like scanners. They’re a bit wank.
The self-righteousness of a Scanner is inversely proportional to their self-awareness.
The Award Reader:
Of course the zoo goes on. There’s the Subject Matter Expert whose main goal is to to find an error in whatever detail they happen to be expert in. The Lover, a subset of the Characterophile who just wants two characters to get it on. The Moralist who desires that the story instruct us, the Hunter of Secrets who will ferret out a hidden message in any text longer than a till reciept. And more and more subdivisions marching away into infinity.
And of course almost none of us are any of these. Be wary if you ever meet a person so singular that just one of these titles makes a snug fit. We’re a mix and match. Myself I tend to think of as:
(in a 3:5:2 mix)
(in a 6:3:1 mix)
But in the end it's all good & of course I love all my readers. Except the Scanners. Oh, and these guys: