Reviewers of all sorts – from those in Kirkus and The New York Times to those offering their opinions on their blogs or on Goodreads or Amazon – generally attempt to assess authors according to their standards. And that’s really what reviews are all about.
What tends to get overlooked, if not positively ignored, is that there ought to be reviews about readers as well. Because, just as authors differ, so do readers, and what pleases one reader can often infuriate another. And, just because I’m feeling contrary, I’ll offer some reviews of the types of readers I’ve observed over the last forty years or so, although you shouldn’t attribute too much meaning to the order in which I’m presenting these reader semi-stereotypes, even if they’re only my stereotypes.
I’ll begin with every author’s favorite type of reader – the enthusiasts. They like reading and books, and many especially like a particular genre or subgenre of fiction, and some are only wildly enthusiastic about a given author. Authors who have large numbers of enthusiasts are fortunate indeed, although often enthusiasts can be very reticent to admit their enthusiasms, which can leave some authors bewildered – as I was for years – because such authors sell books but can find very few people who admit to buying them.
Other types of readers are a more mixed bag, such as the literalist purists, for whom three typos in book provide discomfort, and more than that occasion physical pain, who also often have difficulty with authors who employ words in ways that require knowledge of more than the first dictionary definition, and who are outraged if the author portraying a low-tech culture uses a different weight for a stone’s worth of merchandise [despite the fact that there were different “stone-weights” for different commodities until the nineteenth century].
Following the literalist purists come the one-gender readers. They’re usually but not exclusively male and have virtually no interest in or possibly no ability to identify with a protagonist of the opposite gender, let alone protagonists with complex genders.
I’ve also noted in the past that there are readers who seem to believe that literary romance cannot be complete without copious and explicit sexual encounters. Call them the over-sexed romantics, as opposed to the prudish romantics for whom the merest direct implication of sexual encounters sends them for the literary equivalent of smelling salts.
For the stylistics, the words themselves offer the greatest satisfaction, so much so that often the plot or what passes for one is merely a bothersome necessity, some of whom prone to gush over or luxuriate in the work of Mervyn Peake or Gene Wolfe.
The secret violence lovers are those readers who find all manner of means to praise books of dubious quality so that they can deceive themselves into believing the books they enjoy are better than they are, rather than accepting the fact that they personally have a touch of the voyeuristic sadist in themselves and really like all that violence and rough, if not vicious, sex. Those who have a touch of the stylist get double pleasure out of Game of Thrones.
The gourmet bibliophiles comprise one of the smallest groups of readers, those who want excellence in every aspect of what they read, and who are actually intelligent enough to know what excellence is and well-read enough to discriminate between the merely popular, the flavor-de-jour books of the pseudo-literati, and the books of depth. Unfortunately, they’re usually disappointed, given how rare excellence is, and how often literary flash is taken for depth.
Then there are the fictional gourmets, for whom plot is a device to carry them from fictional meal to fictional meal, and I suspect a number of them read my novels, particularly the “Ghost” books.
In stark contrast to the gourmet bibliophile and the stylist is the minimalist – otherwise known as the slam-bam-thank-you-sir-or-ma’am type. They go straight to the story, like a famished wolf to bloody meat. This kind of reader demands only the bare-bones story, and forget about metaphor, allusion, or anything requiring diversion from the pursuit to the bloody, sexual, or explosive end, and if a book doesn’t have one of those, for them, it’s not worth reading.
Then we’ve also seen the recent rise of the genderists, for whom no book is satisfying except those that explore in depth beyond that of the Challenger Deep the role, identify, function, malfunction, dysfunction, optimal theoretical function, including all other ancillary functions, of all possible genders and permutations thereof, preferably in overstated understatement.
More and more in the realm of speculative fiction, we’re seeing the immersers, or the compleatists, those who not so much read a given series, but would prefer to live and spend their entire existence in just the world of that series. And yes, I’ve given them a series just like that in the Saga of Recluce.
Related to the gourmet bibliophiles are the cogitators, the thinkers who get great pleasure in books so deep that they can find additional twists and meanings on re-read after re-read and who find what the minimalists insist upon is akin to reading primers or simplistic graphic novels.
Now… I’ve probably missed type or two of reader, and most likely many readers have characteristics of several types, but since readers are always rating writers, I thought it was only fair for a writer to review readers, turn about being fair play, so to speak.