Tracey's Reviews > Why We Read What We Read: A Delightfully Opinionated Journey Through Bestselling Books

Why We Read What We Read by Lisa Adams
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's review
Mar 28, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: libraryread-tcpl, pop-sociology
Read from June 25 to July 03, 2012

Picked this up from the library based on the title/description & Marianne's 3 star review. This book is pretty much as advertised - the authors explore the best seller lists from the past decade or so, grouping books by genre and sharing their thoughts on each grouping.

There's many amusing digressions along the way (such as the proliferation of pantsuits described in a Higgins Clark mystery) and no small amount of snark, as you might expect from two academic types. I was pleasantly surprised to see how even-handed the section on political books was; they found faults with both the conservative and liberal pundits; stating that they're more interested in placing blame on the other side than providing a thoughtful examination of the situation and/or a solution: "Empathy, not just for 'sinners' but also for those who disagree with one's definition of 'sin' is completely absent from the political books."

In fact, Adams and Heath believe a lot of what we read serves to reinforce our current set of beliefs, versus doing what good literature should, which is to present alternative viewpoints and challenge our mindset. "An American can easily make it through every single minute of a busy life without ever honestly confronting difference, without being challenged to defend a point of view..." Not quite sure I agree with that... but then again, I'm a bit of an outlier, I suppose.

Adams and Hart had some interesting insights on the the self-help and spirituality sections as well - dedicating considerable time to an analysis of the Left Behind series, and its focus on faith vs reason. They set their sights on the New Age genre as well, commenting that "Not everybody has the stamina to defend a locust-happy God."
Moving on to fiction - they examined the thriller genre, commenting along the way on the likes of Stephen King, who "picks his heroes from among the masses; they're not so much diamonds in the rough as chunks of colorful gravel". The DaVinci Code also gets quite a bit of attention - whether you agreed with Dan Brown's theories or not, you were reading his stuff!

They also came to rather a depressing conclusion about the romance genre - that women were reading these books (which ALWAYS have a happy ending) as an escape from their own lives: "Romance novels must be taken seriously for the therapeutic role they perform... but it's awfully sad, no way around it, when a book provides more sustenance than a mate. And it's sadder still to learn that we love to read about love because we have so little of it." I guess that means I'm pretty satisfied with my romantic relationship, because I don't care for this genre.

There's a lot of food for thought in this book; however, I'm not sure I agree with all of their conclusions. I'd be interested in reading an updated version at some point, as the political scene has only gotten more divisive since the 2008 elections.

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Reading Progress

50.0% "Really enjoying this look at what our society has been reading over (roughly) the last decade - the chapter on political books was sobering in its demonstration of divisiveness, which has probably only become only more so since the book was written."

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