Sip or Swallow?

JT Ellison

How do you read?

Are you a gulper, must read in large chunks of time, one book at a time type, or can you be just as happy with a simple sips from several sources, reading several books at once?

Do you read everyday?

Do you stick with a single genre and known commodity authors, or are you seduced by variety?

Why do I ask? Because I’m seeing some interesting trends, or non-trends in the publishing industry, and I’m curious to see how other readers approach their tasks. I’m a gulper. I hate being torn away from a book. Once I’ve committed the time to an author, I want to give them my undivided attention, take the journey with them, see how they "do it," for lack of a better term.

And I’d like to think I’m varied in my choices, though I do have a few authors that I’m faithful to regardless.

For a while there I was having a difficult time enjoying anything I read. It wasn’t that I was reading poor material, on the contrary, I was on a roll with some of the big award winning names. I was analyzing their work. It’s the bane of any writer, the inability to separate your style from the story of others. Oh, I wouldn’t have used that word, or I wouldn’t have given that clue there. If it were mine, I would have. . .

Would of, should of, could of. What??? Egads, what was I thinking? Where did THAT touch of arrogance come from? How in the world could I think like this? That I would do it differently? Then it would be my book. And that wasn’t what I wanted at all. Epiphany time. It didn’t matter what I would do. I needed to respect they way the author had done it. Amazing the freedom that tidbit gave.

Which made me wonder about the pure readers, those who don’t spend half their day writing their own books. How do you read? Are you a deconstructionist, like me, or do you allow the story to unfold, trusting the author to keep you on the right track? What drives you to unparalleled paroxysms of delight?

And here’s where I’m going with all these questions.

I noticed something very interesting the other day at a Steve Berry signing here in Nashville. I go to as many of the signings as I can, especially the big-name authors. I’ve been lucky enough to see John Connolly, Michael Connelly, Steve Berry, Tasha Alexander, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Diana Gabaldon and trust me, the upcoming visit of Lee Child has me in my own paroxysms of delight. But what fascinated me is that the attendees are different for each author. You’d think that people who like Lee Child would like Michael Connelly would like Steve Berry, right? Apparently not in Nashville. Each "name" seems to have their own following, and there are maybe four or five people who cross over into each.

Why the disparity? I’d love to know the answer to that. If you have any ideas, please chime in. I guess I’m naive in thinking that mystery readers like thrillers, and thriller readers like mysteries, but perhaps I’m wrong, and never the twain shall meet. Is this phenomenon native to Nashville?

A housekeeping note: I’m going to be gone for the next two Fridays. The lovely and talented Naomi Hirahara will be blogging in my stead while I traipse through Italy. This is the first real vacation I’ve taken since the writing journey began three years ago. I won’t be taking my laptop, will assiduously avoid Internet cafes, and promise to come back with a slew of new wine selections and a renewed sense of verve. I’ll miss you.

In the meantime:

"2007 Agatha Nominee Julia Spencer-Fleming (ALL MORTAL FLESH) interviews
fellow nominees Earlene Fowler, Jacqueline Winspear, Nancy Pickard and
L.C. Hayden, discussing their lives, books and craft in a delightful
series of interviews."

  • The brilliant, witty and always insightful Tasha Alexander has new fare! Her second novel of historical suspense, A POISONED SEASON, went on sale Tuesday. Get a copy today, you won’t be disappointed!

Arrivederci, i miei amici!

Wine of the Week: As the first part of the trip will be in the Piedmont region, I’m going to start with a Barbera, then have a Barolo, and maybe a touch of Asti toward the end of day one and will report back with brand names… I’m going to refuse the homemade lemon grappa this time. Non molto bene.


15 thoughts on “Sip or Swallow?

  1. B.E. Sanderson

    I guess I’m a gulper. I read one book at a time and I inhale it. I used to read one fiction and one non-fiction, but I don’t have the time anymore.

    Like you, I have a problem editing other people’s books while I’m reading. I do the whole ‘could’ve worded that phrase better’ thing. *shrug* It’s just a function of being in editing mode, I think, but that’s just me.

    Have a lovely trip.

  2. billie

    I commit to one book at a time. Then I may gulp or I may sip, depending on the book. If it pulls me forward fast, I go with it. And some books I just don’t want to end, so I slow down.

    I am curious too about how readers form their circle of authors. Isn’t there a website someplace that you type in a book and it maps other books you might like based on what other readers have chosen? My brain is foggy on that one, but it seems like I was surprised when I did it.

    And, JT, have a wonderful trip to Italy. What a well-deserved treat! Will look forward to hearing about it when you return.

  3. Alex Sokoloff

    Both. I read fast so I’ll often read a book I’m really into in one sitting. But if I don’t have anything around that really grabs me, I’m very happy jumping around between 5-10 books at a time, just reading for story, skipping and skimming.

    Readers’ responses to authors and books is so completely personal – it doesn’t surprise me that it’s hard to predict which authors are going to get a particular reader’s loyalty. People are always telling me, “Oh, if you like author X, you’ll just love author Y.” But it’s almost never the case. Setting a person up with an author is like setting a person up with a date. Not many of us really have a clue what turns another person on.

    Have a beautiful time in Italy… you so deserve it!!!

  4. Naomi

    Have a wonderful time in Italy, J.T.! Try gulping at least one of Massimo Carlotto’s books before you leave (or maybe on the plane?).

    I’m reading more short stories now, which is forcing me to sip.

    In terms of an author’s fan base, it’s just like you to watch the crowd as much as the featured writer at book events! The biggest learning experience is when your own book comes out. I liken it to a book or author having its own magnetic force which attracts hidden iron in the sand.

  5. Bill Cameron

    I’m all kinds of reader. Right now, I’m sipping from three different libations. Once I deliver my new draft, I’ll probably move into gulp mode. I’m also a pretty eclectic reader. Just about anything related to crime, but also a lot of other things. So-called “literary,” (which can mean whatever you want it to mean, I think), science fiction, fantasy, and all kinds of non-fiction. I love science and history, even when I don’t understand it.

    (Right now, I’m heavily digging Toni’s Bobbie Faye! Toni, you rawk!)

  6. Tammy Cravit

    I guess I’m a gulper, too. I’d say my tastes in reading are varied, though I have two trends that run counter to that tendency:

    – When I find a new author I like, I’m apt to read everything by that author that I can get my hands on before going on to the next thing. (Publishers take note: This is why keeping an author’s backlist in print is worth the money.)

    – There are a few authors to whom I am intensely loyal, and an even smaller number for whom I am willing to buy a hardback.

    I can think of one reason why there aren’t more crossovers between authors’ fan base: My local bookstore people and librarians aren’t knowledgeable enough about mysteries to be able to answer questions of the form “I love Laura Lippman, Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller; what other authors do you think I’d like in that same vein?” Back when bookstores were run by people who knew and loved books, this wasn’t such a problem. Now, with more and more chain stores staffed in large measure by people who only know the NYT bestseller list, I think it’s harder for people who like a certain type/style/subgenre to find new stuff.


  7. Louise Ure

    Have a great trip, JT! I’m green with envy.

    And Naomi, I think “Iron in the Sand” sounds like a great book title. I love the image.

    I’m a book gulper. Sometimes I don’t even stop to chew. If I try the little snippets of books — the two pages in bed before my eyes close — I often forget the plot and have to go back and reread.

    And I, too, had a bout of analyzing books rather than enjoying them. I’m weaning myself off it now, thank goodness. I felt like I’d lost an old friend when I couldn’t enjoy reading.

  8. JT Ellison

    Fascinating commentary, all of you.

    I think Tammy may be on to something — there are fewer pure readers in the retailers in general, both big and small. Though I’ve met many chain folks who know more than the list and can recommend brilliantly. It’s all in the person, really.

    I probably should have separated this into two posts, the signing phenomenon and how do you read, but I think they may be linked, somewhere, somehow. I think of the Reader, with capital R, as a cross section gulper, and I’m always surprised to find that they may be more boutique than I imagine.

    Thanks for the good wishes about the trip, too. I CANNOT wait to get out of here. : )

  9. JT Ellison

    Alex, you can come if you can shrink into a doll sized canister and I’ll slip you in my bag. If you can’t do that, I’ll at least bring you with me in spirit.

    Simon, I envy you.

  10. pari

    J.T.,Have a blast en Italia. You dog.

    I’m a sipper — usually reading about four-six books at time. And, I read all over the place — science fiction, mystery, fantasy, nonfiction etc . . .

    Well, unless I’m reading someone’s incredibly fine manuscript.

    Everyone, you’re in for a wonderful read when ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS comes out!

  11. toni mcgee causey

    Have a wonderful trip, JT!

    And I’m a gulper, passionately so. I will try to tell myself that I cannot read the whole thing, that I must stop and get some sleep, and then the sun will be rising and I’m on the last few pages and voila, no sleep, but a great night reading. I’ve done that since I was a kid, so I don’t know why I think it’s going to change now. Luckily, I can sleep in a little, or else I’d be so completely sleep deprived, I wouldn’t know my own name.

    And I went through that analytical phase for a while, too. Reading a different genre than my own sort of helped break me out of it because I wasn’t trying to do what they were trying to do, so I could just enjoy.


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