Category Archives: Reading

Readers vs. Writers

The Reader

The Reader by Dorothy F. Newland

I workshopped my novel through my writers’ group for over a year – revising as I went – before handing over a fresh draft to my first pool of beta readers. And with one exception, my beta readers were just that: readers, not writers.

When it comes to critiquing a story, writers can spot a “missed opportunity” a mile away, and can always point to at least three things they would do differently. If given the chance, a passionate writers’ group could tear the works of Hemingway, Dickens, Austen, even Shakespeare to pieces.

But readers – at least the ones I roped in for this round of reviews – appear to take more of a 30,000 foot approach to novel critiques, and I’ve found it both illuminating and entertaining how different the feedback has been from these two groups.*

For instance, my writers’ group expressed concerns about the believably of the relationship between two of the central characters. Pam and Keith are so different from one another, with completely different backgrounds. What drew them together? What kept them together?

However, when I asked my beta readers if Pam and Keith’s relationship felt genuine and believable, the answer was a unanimous yes. One reader said, “I’ve met too many seemingly mismatched couples to think this is unbelievable or uncommon.“

On the other hand, while my writers’ group praised my ability to create distinct voices and personalities for each of my four central characters, my beta readers were less sure about this accomplishment, and several commented that they could hear my voice coming through the characters. It is important to note that, with one exception, my beta readers are close friends and family. My writers’ group members are not. One friend summed it up this way: “I think I know you too well to be able to answer this question.” Fair enough.

Last week, I saved a copy of my novel, this one entitled Small Legends V4. And one of the first items on my list of revisions is a common comment among both the writers and the readers: “The ending was very satisfying, but it was all resolved a little too quickly.”

Clearly I have some work to do. Time to get back down to business.


*In fairness to my writers’ group, they did read the novel a few chapters at a time over the period of a year, so it does make sense that they would focus more on the nooks and crannies than the overall story.



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Books for Everyone! (Well, Not *Everyone*)

The first Little Free Library popped up in my neighborhood about a year ago. It looked like a deluxe birdhouse topped with wooden bunny ears. How adorable! I thought. When I peeked inside, I saw that the contents were largely children’s books or the kind of bestseller that I can’t often swallow. Still, I liked the idea of the Little Free Library. What a cute vessel for book exchange!

Recently a second book-filled birdhouse appeared just up the street from me, this one crowned by an open-mouthed blue bird. 

Later when I got home to my WiFi, I visited to get the scoop. The non-profit organization’s mission statement is declared on the home page: “To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.” 

A worthy cause, no doubt. Who doesn’t want to promote literacy*?

I clicked on the World Location Map and saw that these little birdhouses are popping up across Northern America, with a smattering in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Upon closer inspection, however, I noticed that the Little Free Libraries are located almost entirely in middle-class and affluent neighborhoods; places where literacy is already promoted in high-performing schools and most of the population can afford to buy their own books. Here’s the catch: while the organization provides tips and tricks for setting up and maintaining your Little Free Library — and sells a number of do-it-yourself kits — it is up to the individual to invest the time and money into the effort. Of course, most low income people can’t afford to buy books, let alone cough up $150 for the basic birdhouse kit.

The net effect? Free books for everyone, except those who really need them.

As much as I adore these little birdhouses, if the goal is truly to promote literacy, we will all benefit if those of us who can afford to buy books do so at our neighborhood bookstores**, and then after reading them, donate them to a local under-resourced library or to organizations that directly support literacy programs.

(Stepping down off of my soapbox. For now).

* With the exception of several unnamed countries that ban women from reading, driving, speaking in public, showing their ankles…you get the idea.

** Shout out to Walden Pond Books in Oakland!

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