Not For The Casual Reader

You know me, kids: I love a good goofball comedy or popcorn mystery. But that’s a gift that a few excellent teachers have given me: the choice. I can enjoy fluff because I enjoy it, not because I’m afraid I won’t understand something unless it’s simple. Sometimes you aren’t supposed to understand something, you’re supposed to worry it like a dog with a bone: not to understand it, but to enjoy the substance.

Anyway, my pal Michael Williams is here today to talk about “not for the casual reader”, which I think is a label as pride-worthy as “seven million copies sold” or “a zany laff riot”. If you don’t know why I think it’s funny that I’m sharing Michael’s post on April 15, see this definition.

Take it away, Michael!

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Vine_Cover_MockupElsewhere I have written about my ambivalent thoughts following the blog tour for my most recent novel, Vine. However, Marian Allen is a long-time friend of mine, and in a recent conversation, I brought up a phrase from one of the reviews I received, and how the phrase struck me. Marian asked me to expand upon those thoughts and to post them here in her blog. So, let’s talk about “not for the casual reader”.

That was the phrase, and it came from a mixed review. I like mixed reviews, because they usually indicate (as this one did) close reading and close thought. The reviewer commented on the fragmentary style of the book (absolutely intentional) and its difficulty (perhaps a side effect of the fragmentary style). In both cases, I embrace the observation. My books aren’t for casual readers: there is a whole big market out there for precisely those readers, a market I decided to forgo early on as I discovered the kinds of books I like to write, and how they veer away from the casual.

I like a book that makes you work. I’m not reading for entertainment or escape alone, or at least not all of the time. I like writing that juggles words, that narrates in fragments or at a slant, that mashes story against story and asks me to draw the connections. Because when I make the connections myself, they are more powerful than when the writer spells them out for me: they show me that a story respects me, asks more of me than to sit there and watch.

Because we complete the stories we read. At the most basic levels—the levels at which we began to enjoy reading—we make pictures of characters, situations, and events, and get lost in the world of a book. It’s still the way I read a lot of fiction, because that’s the way the writer is asking me to read by the style and structure he or she has chosen. I try to accept it on the terms it presents.

Which means that when writers play over the surface and form of a text, perhaps they want to do something else—something in addition, or something altogether different. Perhaps they want to challenge you to try to read their work in a way that you are unaccustomed to reading.

Of course, there is plenty of bad writing that you reject outright, but it’s only fair (isn’t it?) to accept the story for the kind of story it is, to not listen to Jimi Hendrix the same way you listen to Brahms, because damn! is that fair to either one of them? So if it doesn’t work for you, set it down. Don’t get mad at the writer because you can’t drive his car to visit your relatives.

And for those who say that the primary duty of a writer is to the reader…well, you’re right. The reviewer I mentioned above nailed it when he said “not for the casual reader”. My duty is to the reader as well, but I find my readers generally want something that plays with the way a story is told, that keeps them on their toes in ways that they find amusing or fun. I don’t know whether you’d like my books—Marian tells me that she does, and I’m glad of that. But the only way to tell is to pick one up, give it a shot. I hope you like it, but if you don’t, there’s a world of good writing elsewhere.

Williams ChicagoMichael Williams’ Amazon Page

Mythical Realism – Michael Williams’ blog

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Thanks, Michael!

If you aren’t familiar with Michael Williams’ work, I highly recommend it.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Write a character who likes to read difficult fiction. Make him or her NOT a pompous ass, a disconnected fuzz-brain, or any of the other stereotypes of people who enjoy difficult fiction.



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Not For The Casual Reader

  1. Jane

    April 15, 2013 at 9:30am

    Hi. Thanks for the great post from Michael Williams.
    My latest writing IS pretty much for the casual reader, but, hey, there’s nothing wrong with that, is there? I like to think I’m at least a little thoughtful from time to time. 😉

    I promise to go check out Mr. Williams’ work, and I’d like to add a recommend of my own:

    S.M.Reine’s Descent series. Ms. Reine has a story structure across all five novels that keeps shifting what you think you know about not only the current book, but all the ones that came before. Now, THAT is highwire work at its best!

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      April 15, 2013 at 9:42am

      Nothing wrong with that, to my mind. Charlie looks over at whatever book is in my hand and says, “You’ll read anything, won’t you?” as if that’s a BAD thing! lol!

      I don’t care for erotica but, other than that, I just love a book that engages my humanity, whether it’s high culture, low culture, or any kind of culture in between.

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      • Michael Williams

        April 15, 2013 at 5:58pm

        I love your phrase “engages my humanity”, Marian. That’s what fiction should be doing, no matter what form or style it assumes. Thanks as well for cautioning participants in your writing contest NOT to make the character a pompous ass simply because he likes to read difficult fiction: pomposity comes in as many flavors as fiction, and I get tired of people’s saying a book is “pretentious” instead of saying what you SHOULD say in 9 out of 10 of those instances: “I didn’t get it”.

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  2. Cairn Rodrigues

    April 15, 2013 at 10:39am

    I enjoy it when a good story comes to me in a way I have to wrestle with somewhat. It’s a lot of work to break out of conventional story telling, it takes a great deal of thought and effort. I applaud the effort.

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    • Michael Williams

      April 15, 2013 at 6:01pm

      I agree, Cairn. Part of the fun for me, and I’m guessing for you, too, is the active working and playing with the story, the fun that comes from catching on to the drift of the writing and enjoying the qualities of some fiction that make it different from, say, conventional storytelling or good journalistic prose. There’s room far all kinds of writing–why not all kinds of reading?

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  3. Maryann Miller

    April 15, 2013 at 1:12pm

    I do like a book that challenges me beyond a surface read just for the fun of it, but the writing does have to be compelling enough to keep me engaged as I make the connections between fragments. Not all authors who attempt this kind of writing get it right and I applaud those who do. For myself, I am content to write commercial fiction, just for the fun of it, and hope that I do manage to give the reader some words and phrases that do cause a pause now and then to savor. (smile)

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    • Michael Williams

      April 15, 2013 at 6:09pm

      Good point about the quality of writing, MaryAnn. I think everything we do boils down to some version of “good writing”, whether the story is told traditionally or experimentally. And I like your suggestion that “words to savor” come as a kind of happy by-product of the totality of the story or book: I’ve seen too many writers lose the story to verbal gymnastics. That being said, two things: 1) keeping engaged is partly the reader’s job, too, and 2) you CAN write experimental fiction “just for the fun of it”, though the fun takes a different form (not better or worse, just different).

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