Columns > Published on July 23rd, 2021

Things Casual Readers Don't Care About

Original Header image by Toa Heftiba, via Unsplash

Let’s talk casual and abnormal readers.

Casual readers get in a couple books every year. Maybe more if they’re in a book club. They unwrap a book on Christmas, but they don’t get a book from EVERYONE they know. They might stop at a landmark bookstore on a trip, but they aren’t packing an almost-empty suitcase for their book haul.

Abnormal readers always visit a library or bookstore when they take a trip. They bring more than they can read if they’ll be away from home. They’ve vacationed to a literary landmark. They’ve bought the same book twice because they forgot they already owned a copy. They have an “emergency book” in their trunk.

A lot of books, and articles about books, are written for abnormal readers because abnormal readers are a sure-thing audience. And a lot of abnormal readers have a hard time relating to casual readers.

Content aimed at casual readers would give the industry so much more. More business, more diversity, more options. It expands the boundaries for the sorts of people who are involved in book discussions, which is the key to getting more people reading, talking about books, and engaged with the book world.

That’s why I present you with a list of things casual readers don’t care about.

High Culture Examinations of Low Culture

Applying rigorous, literary critical theory to low culture is VERY 1997. I did it myself. In college I wrote a paper on the movie White Chicks and its examination of race and gender, and you know what? I had to bullshit the entire thing because White Chicks doesn’t examine race or gender. Not a thoughtful film, White Chicks

ENJOY crap culture, have fun with crap, don’t be ashamed. But nobody needs a Derrida citation in a piece about Too Hot To Handle, a show based on the premise "Can you NOT give a a handjob for 30 days?" Just remember: When you grab a piece of low culture and wring it like a wet rag in search of meaning, the only thing squeezed out of it is the fun.

Deep Discussions of Canon

You know that friend who’s really into bourbon? To an obnoxious degree? They talk about the grains and shit? They compare the flavor to lumber?

For casual readers, canon talk is just like that. Bourbon is fun, books are fun, both get you where you need to go, but deep discussions about the intricacies? Pass.

Academics: you created canon, you constructed your own problem, and now you’re fixing it. Excellent. It’s a perfect circle jerk. We’ll leave you to it, let us know when you’ve finished.

The Story Outside the Pages

I listened to a lot of the chatter around American Dirt. Casual readers, even people who care deeply about a lot of the issues surrounding the book, enjoyed it. Abnormal readers did not.

Normal readers told me about the story. Abnormal readers told me about the shameful marketing, problems with blurbs, and the betrayal of the Own Voices movement. They told me about the book world, not so much about the book.

The lesson is that casual readers respond to books, not so much articles, tweets, and essays about books.

Ridiculous Novelty

You know how movie critics will slobber over some movie that’s all artsy and weird, and you go see it and think, “The fuck…”? And then you’re too scared to admit that it made no sense, so you just cuddle up in your Demolition Man blanket and try to forget the whole affair?

The Lighthouse. We’re talking about The Lighthouse. Get out of here with that shit.*

Movie critics have seen so, so many movies that anything that deviates from the norm is at least mildly interesting, and mildly interesting is at least SOMETHING. Plus, when you have to write a review, it’s easier when the shit's weird. What’s left to say about Fast & Furious? At this point Vin Diesel seems so tired I think he's envious of Paul Walker’s escape from the franchise.

Casual readers aren’t burned out on interesting stories told in a clear way. And casual readers don’t see their review as a necessary part of the reading process. Ridiculous novelty is for abnormal readers only.

The Selection Process

Most casual readers have a casual selection process. Instead of consulting a long TBR on Goodreads or in a notebook, they pick something off the shelf they’ve had for years, grab something at the airport, or take a trip through the library’s New Books section and call it good. There’s a gamble to it, an element of luck or maybe even randomness.

I used to discourage this, but now I think it might be part of the fun for some people. There's some luck involved, and maybe you'll unearth something new and exciting. 

For abnormal readers, selection is part of the reading process. For casual readers, the low stakes risk-taking is another, different flavor that enhances the reading experience.

Literary Fiction

When normal people see this designation, like in a bookstore, they don’t know what the fuck it means. And...that’s not unreasonable.

I think it used to be more of a distinction of certain qualities, a certain "classic" or "modern classic" status. That’s long since faded, and literary fiction is basically anything that doesn’t have a werewolf, post-apocalypse brought on by some wacky natural event, or sex scenes that are fun to read.

At this point, "literary fiction" mostly exists to give abnormal book people something to fight with each other about. It's not a useful way to steer a reader to the right book for them.

Can we all just agree to call this “General Fiction” and move on? “Non-Werewolf Fiction” would also be acceptable.


Get The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael at Bookshop or Amazon 

Get Mine's Bigger Than Yours: The 100 Wackiest Action Movies at Bookshop or Amazon 

*The Lighthouse rules. -editor

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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