When books are not well behaved

Reading Subway In a recent post I speculated that people who declare that they love to read and devour any source from cereal boxes to soup cans might be expressing a need for the physical act of reading, almost like autism. That conjecture is probably a bit over the edge but recently I have been exposed to a few readers who have problems with reading unless the text is physically familiar and easy to read like they were taught in the second grade. To me, and coming from the other direction, this also suggests that the physical process of reading must be familiar and must avoid complexity or controversy lest the reader get a little out of sorts and consider banging their head against the wall.

If you listen to some people, granola is too complex for them so they’ll just stick with the Cream of Wheat. Is the book you are reading now Cream of Wheat or is it full of enough fruit and nuts to complement a variety of flakes?

What are some of the secondary characteristics of the printed text which become troublesome if they do not fit the mold? I think the first one I usually hear is that the text doesn’t have enough white space: the paragraphs are too long and there are no chapter breaks. Let’s start a list:

  • Few chapter breaks if any
  • Paragraphs too long if paragraph breaks even exist
  • Sentences are long and complex and seem never to end
  • Punctuation is strangely applied and often is missing
  • Text is arranged in weird, non-standard patterns
  • Sentences just stop or start suddenly without preparation or continuity
  • Capitalization is non-standard or missing completely
  • Text morphs into a foreign language without warning or footnotes
  • Dialogue is not credited or even differentiated from narrative
  • Rules of grammar and spelling are often violated

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That’s a good list: can you add more?

Of course these are just the physical characteristics of the text. A long list of complaints about the content being read can also be developed, but that is generally more subjective (did Lolita make you very uncomfortable?) so we’ll leave it for an exercise. I also will point to my own standard lists of Rules and Myths of literature. Read them; Live them; Be them.

What are your thoughts on this?

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