Life is too short to read only sure things

Life is too short to read only sure things

“Life is too short to read bad books.”

I hear people say that, but I never quite get it.

First, while there are certainly books I like better than others, I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think I’ve ever read a book I regretted reading.

Even when I recently gave a book a 1-star review on Goodreads because I found it offensive (it could have been much better with some character change), I still think there was value for me in having read that book.

So, I’m not sure there are “bad books”.

Second, it gets to the heart of why we read, and that may be different for different people.

Do you read for entertainment, or do you read for enlightenment?

Obviously, you can do both…I have absolutely been entertained and enlightened by the same book!

I think, though, that you can strive for one without the other.

It’s a bit like when you go on vacation: are you going to go somewhere, or to get away from somewhere?

The latter folks are fine with just sleeping on the beach all day, or staying in the hotel room and reading.

The former want to go, go, go and see all the sites and take in the local culture.

I like different cultures, but I’m also fine with just reading on a vacation. 🙂 I don’t want to be more tired when I get back than when I left…

For me, one of the main reasons I read is to expand my mind. Reading is as close the Vulcan mind meld as we have on this planet. You see things as the author does, as the characters do, and, importantly, as other readers do.

I’m a big fan of enthusiasm. 🙂 I want to read something that other people love, even if the idea doesn’t at first appeal to me. I want to understand that, to see why it brings out passion in people, even if I don’t feel that passion myself.

This post came about because of a thoughtful and thought-provoking comment from Amy, one of my readers (thanks, Amy!).

I’m sort of finding myself lately in the role of a defender of or perhaps advocate for

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

That’s Amazon’s subser (that’s my shorthand term for a “subscription service”), where you pay $9.99 a month for access to more than 800,000 books (you can have up to ten at a time borrowed).

I do happily subscribe to it, and I think my “defender” position started because I thought people who would get it as a gift or get a free month might run into people who would try to diminish their joy about it. I wrote a post about a week ago comparing it to using the public library: Why pay for Kindle Unlimited when the library is free? I’ll tell you.

Amy reasonably said, “Life’s too short not to read the books that you most want to read rather than what’s available on KU.”

There was a lot more to the comment than that (including pointing out that how many books you read in a month matters, and that $9.99 is a not inconsiderable sum in today’s book market).

We had a nice exchange on it, and that got me thinking.

Let’s say I had unlimited access to read any book in the world. I was originally going to say, “unlimited funds”, but unlimited access is a better picture here.

I could probably select books which I would know ahead of time I would think were great and important. I could just about guarantee that I would only read “good books” for the rest of my life.

However, for me, I want to take a chance. Some of my favorite books I found serendipitously.

Regular readers know that the pulp character, Doc Savage, is one of my literary heroes. In a non-canonical oath (it doesn’t appear in the 181 original adventures, all of which I’ve read), Doc says in part, “Let me strive, every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit from it.”

I try to make myself better for the benefit of others, not just me…and Doc is part of that.

I probably wouldn’t have read Doc Savage except, as I recall, it was the only available when I was in the Anchorage airport…there was a small spinner rack. I’d read everything I had brought with me (I used to travel with a separate suitcase just for books…the Kindle changed that), so I grabbed some of the Bantam reprints.

If I only wanted to read books I knew were “good books”, I wouldn’t have found Doc Savage.

When I was a brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, I encouraged my employees to read one book from every section. I suggested they ask a regular customer for a recommendation.

I did that myself.

From “Men’s Adventure” (that’s what it was called then), I read The Survivalist series by Jerry Ahern (here’s the first book: Total War (The Survivalist Book 1) ((at AmazonSmile*)).

While you might expect that to just be a shoot ’em up, I was quite surprised to find one of the best plot points I’d read in any story (it wasn’t in the first book in the series).

I want to be clear: I don’t think Amy and I are on “opposite sides”…there are some people, though, who would rather not take the kind of chances encouraged by something like KU. I know of a person who only reads two books: Helter Skelter and Gone with the Wind, and just alternates them. Finishes one, starts the other, finishes that one, reads the first one again, ad infinitum.

I should also clarify: I could probably read just “good books” in KU. There are plenty of well-known books there, even lots of former New York Times bestsellers.

What you won’t find well-represented right now are current mainstream bestsellers, since the Big 5 publishers haven’t joined KU (yet).

Of course, having KU doesn’t meant that you can’t buy other books, too…although I’ll admit that having KU means I am less likely to do so (interestingly making it easier for other people to buy me books I don’t have).

My point is that I want to read books which are gambles for me, books which I’m not sure I’ll like. I think that can be more of a growth experience for me…and I have found some great things that way!

What about you? What’s the best thing you’ve ever gotten out of a book you didn’t like? How hard do you try to pre-qualify a book before you buy it/read it? Should someone try to read only “good books”, or is reading a value unto itself? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

10 Responses to “Life is too short to read only sure things”

  1. Marjorie Says:

    I like ku. I think of it as a library fee. I also subscribe to scribd and belong to three libraries. KU works well for me because I love trying new authors. I have actually bought many books after I borrowed them because I thought I might want to reread them. The books I borrow from KU are not ones I would have bought. I used to find new authors by picking up interesting looking freebies. I like that the authors are getting paid when I “sample” them.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Marjorie!

      It’s an important point that many of the books in Kindle Unlimited are only available through Amazon. That’s going to be the case for quite a few independently published e-books, which do not have paper versions.

      The threshold to try a book in KU is much lower than the threshold to buy one (even with Amazon’s seven day return privilege), so it follows that KU would lead people to try authors which they otherwise wouldn’t try.

  2. jjhitt Says:

    I’m not one to hesitate to drop a book if I find I’m not interested or not liking it. I probably finish only a third of the books I start.

    As for “bad literature”, I recently discovered Chester Himes’ Harlem Detectives series and am loving them.

    I canceled my Kindle Unlimited subscription a few months back. I have Scribd subscription that will expire in a couple of months and my reexamine KU when that expires. Book/Audiobook pairings are important to me and KU’s collection of such pairs was very anemic.
    (Scribd has no audio offerings.)

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, jjhitt!

      I had tried Scribd, but lack of text-to-speech disqualified it for me.

      As to audiobooks, if Scribd has none, as you say, KU has 9,737 more. 😉

      Let’s see…if we figure a minimum average of ten hours a piece, that’s…about eleven years of non-stop listening. 🙂

      I think indiebooks having Whispersync for Voice options is a lot more unusual than tradpubbed books (including those by Amazon).

      You can see how many there are in a couple of months, though.

      By the way, by “bad books” I didn’t mean just genre literature…I meant books which might be judged to be poorly written on the whole, although they may have interesting elements, regardless of genre.

      You intrigued me, so I took a look…I’d heard of a couple of the Himes books, but didn’t know them by that series name. If they end up in KU, I’ll give them a try. 🙂

      • Marjorie Says:

        Scribd does have audio books. They added around 30,000 sometime in November.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Marjorie!

        Thanks, I should have checked that! Now that you say it, I remember that happening.

        30,000 would give them about three times as many as KU at this point. I tried to check the selection, but after logging into the Scribd site it wasn’t functioning properly for me in Maxthon…might try another browser later.

  3. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I find it hard to characterize books as “good” or “bad.” As an English major, I’ve been taught to analyze books to the point that it temporarily killed my love of reading. I know “Moby Dick” is a classic. I recognize the characteristics that would make it a “good” book. I still don’t like it. I appreciate the theme, but I thought the theme was better interpreted in “Star Trek II.” That doesn’t mean it was a bad book. It was just the wrong book for me, and being required to read it made it that much worse. If I’d picked it up out of curiosity, I’d have put it back down when the gory details of whale hunting first grossed me out! But it was a required book in a required course.

    There are two series of cat mysteries available through KU that are really bad mysteries. They are poorly plotted. The mystery itself usually doesn’t appear until halfway through the book. The “who done it” part is so transparent that the reader figures it out long before the heroine. My literary training tells me that the books in the series are “bad books,” but I like the main characters, and I love the cats, so I’ve read the all of both series and look forward to the next one. I’m not alone because the average ratings for all the books in both series is 4 to 5 stars. I’m saddened that one of the authors has decided to end the series with the current book.

    Both series are published by Amazon.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      I always appreciate your insights from your background!

      Your second example is a perfect one. Yes, you would consider the books…subpar, perhaps, rather than bad…and yet, you enjoy an element (or two) of them. If you had had boundless access, do you think you would ever have picked one of those to read?

      As to an author wanting to end a series…well, it doesn’t always work out that way. 🙂 L. Frank Baum so wanted to end the Oz series (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) that Oz magically cut off all contact with the outside world (which should have resulted in no more stories by the “Royal Historian”). However, the public wanted more Oz…and contact was re-established…by wireless telegraphy! 🙂

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        I actually bought the first book in each series because I started reading them before KU launched. I also bought the last book in the series that is ending because it wasn’t part of KU. I wouldn’t have bought them if they were $9.99, but at $2.99 I felt they were worth the price.

  4. Man in the Middle Says:

    For me the problem with reading a bad book is that every book you read keeps you from reading another book in that same period of time, and life is short.

    Once I noticed Goodreads has a category for “Stopped reading”, I decided no longer to torture myself with finishing books I dislike. Similarly, as a Vine reviewer, I never request a book unless I THINK I’ll enjoy reading it.

    That said, I had an awful time getting into The Hobbit, while in high school, but loved it in college, so the fault isn’t always with the book.

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