Psst, Reading for Fun is Fine

So is writing for fun. By which I mean writing stories that don’t try to shake the foundations of the Earth. Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, and King Lear but he also wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Measure for Measure.

I know this will seem like heresy to some, but there’s every bit as much honor and reward to be had in reading and writing ripping yarns and delightful romps as there is in the creation and consumption of serious works.

There are number of reasons for that. To start with, most life-long readers come to it through joy and fun books. They start with Where the Wild Things Are and Winnie the Pooh and even The Hardy Boys before moving on to those aforementioned serious works. There would be a much smaller number of readers if children were started out on Joyce or Proust.

Which is not to say that there is anything wrong with Joyce and Proust, just that anyone who claims that writers should be devoting all their time to writing challenging books is creating a recipe for the decline and fall of the written word. Beyond that, those serious works are draining both to read and write–and yes, I do write the occasional dark and serious book when I’m not playing with the next WebMage or Cybermancy–and being drained isn’t always what a person wants or needs.

In fact it’s generally not what a person wants. Most non-assigned reading is done for entertainment’s sake, to take the reader on a glorious adventure perhaps, or a tour of a land that never was, or perhaps just to revisit favorite haunts like The Hundred Acre Wood. Reading can be challenging and life-changing, but it can also be a source of simple joy–a way to step out of the trials and cares of everyday life.

I don’t know about you, but for me the thought bringing joy to my readers, of perhaps being the one someone turns to for the simple pleasure of reading rather than for an intellectual challenge is a source of pride and delight rather than shame or chagrin.

I love Lear, but it’s Midsummer I read over and over and over again.

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  1. 1. S.C. Butler

    Hear, hear! Reading for fun, first and foremost! Oddly enough, though I’m a guy who loves his screwball comedies, I think I enjoy Lear more than Midsummer’s Night Dream.

  2. 2. Alma Alexander

    What other reason IS there for reading? [grin] I have yet to pick up a book, outside of school “set-reading” lists, which I do not on some level WANT to read, and which I expect (whatever else it might do on the side) to interest and entertain me. The minute a book metamorphoses from something enjoyable to something that might have been declaimed from whatever the author’s particular soapbox might be, it loses me. And I’ve never read a book for prestige reasons – because “Everyone else” is doing it. I don’t care how many awards the thing has gathered under its skirts, if it doesn’t give ME the reading pleasure I demand of a book, it’s history.

    (And Mr Butler is right on the money with the Lear vs. Dream thing. Sometimes pleasure isn’t just side-splitting laughter… but something far deeper and more tender…)

  3. 3. Kelly McCullough

    Interesting and cogent point about Lear, both of you. I find it a bit wrenching myself, though I’m really looking forward to seeing the Ian McKellen Royal Shakespeare version a bit later this week. But yes it’s also it’s very own special sort of pleasure.

    I wrote this because of late I’ve heard from too many writers and too many readers who seem to have lost touch with the simple joy of reading. I hear a great deal about bleeding on the page and reading things that challenge one’s view of world–both of which can be fine goals if that’s what really works for you–and not nearly enough about simply curling up with a bit of fluff or popcorn and letting it carry you away.

    One of the things I tell my students about writing is that if you want to prosper you’ve got to love the art, to really get some sort of joy out of the writing itself. There are thousands of much better paying ways to be unhappy if writing is something that makes you suffer. I write not just because I want to have written. I write because it’s a blast. Sure there are hard and frustrating bits, but at root I get paid to play make believe and I can’t think of anything much more fun than that.

  4. 4. Alma Alexander

    “Sure there are hard and frustrating bits, but at root I get paid to play make believe and I can’t think of anything much more fun than that.”

    Oh, Hell, yeah. What you said. In spades.

    This is my life. I would not change it.

  5. 5. Simon Haynes

    I write for entertainment, and I hope I offer entertainment. As a survivor of a university literature course, I’m hoping people are reading my books for fun and not because they were ordered to. Being told to read something instantly makes it not-fun.

  6. 6. Ryan V

    Sometimes entertainment is a little deeper – yes!

    I can’t say much about Lear, but Hamlet and Macbeth, yes please. A bit of brooding and edge makes things way more interesting for me. This is why I’m reading all of The Sandman for short story research. ;)

    I’m weaving away from television for this reason… but Galactica, 2008, arghh.

    Also, thanks for saying this. It’s a wonderful thing to hear when I’m currently dueling with a college professor. :)

  7. 7. SarahP

    Right on!!

    I read and write for fun, excitement, adventure, bringing joy to my readers. I do have friends who find joy–or maybe jouissance!–in works that I’d find stylistically or intellectually challenging. More power to ‘em.

  8. 8. S.C. Butler

    You’re right, Kelly. Sometimes there’s a little too much ‘art’ floating around in the rarefied air of SF/F these days. If folks are reading those sorts of books because they enjoy them, more power to ‘em. But, if they’re only doing it because that’s the current vogue, then I can’t help but feel sorry for them because they’re missing out on all the fun they could have reading other sorts of books.

Author Information

Kelly McCullough

Kelly McCullough is a fantasy and science fiction author. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. His novels include the WebMage and Fallen Blade series—Penguin/ACE. His short fiction has appeared in numerous venues including Writers of the Future and Weird Tales. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education with The Chronicles of the Wandering Star—part of an NSF-funded science curriculum—and the science comic Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp, which he co-authored and co-edited—funding provided by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Visit site.

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