Opposite Readers

- by Patricia McLinn

WARNING: Spoiler alert if you’re one of the three people who hasn’t yet seen the movie SIXTH SENSE.

Insights are unpredictable things, aren’t they? I just had one sitting here on my deck, drinking Tab and re-reading TO LOVE AND BE WISE by Josephine Tey.

A lovely, sunny, breezy afternoon devoted to fluffing up brain cells trampled down by end-of-the-book madness is not the time I’d expect an insight (aren’t dark nights and lots of wine their favored atmosphere?), but here the thing sits.

Josephine Tey

Josephine Tey

TO LOVE AND BE WISE is the sixth of Tey’s books I’ve reread recently. Judith Arnold sparked this streak when she mentioned Tey in a discussion about books. It’s been wonderful revisiting these books. It also contributed to my insight.

What Judith said that triggered all this stemmed from a reader’s letter to her that had said Tey was killing the mystery genre.

Loving Tey’s books, I was aghast. Clearly this letter-writer lacked anything related to taste. Harumph.

But I feel somewhat more tolerant of this letter-writer now . . . post-insight

Okay, yes, I’m finally going to share the insight: There are destination readers and there are journey readers.

While most of us are a combination of both, one or the other is more dominant, more natural for each of us. Rather like being left-handed or right-handed.

The writer of Judith’s letter is almost certainly a destination reader. At the end of a book, she wants the murder neatly tied up and the murderer headed for justice if it hasn’t already been meted out. Of the six Tey books I’ve just re-read, one had no death at all; another had a death but ambiguity about the intention, plus the perpetrator was not the one paying the most evident penalty; and a third involved deaths both ambiguous and six-hundred years old.

I can see how a destination reader would not find satisfaction in those books. For this journey reader, however, they are as satisfying as the second time I read them. (The first read gives even the journey reader the fillip of an unknown destination.)

For the destination reader the journey is solely a means to the end. For the journey reader, the end is only one part of the whole.

The destination reader needs the ending to meet (or surpass) expectations. Then he or she moves on to the next destination read.

For the journey reader, the end of a terrific book is more of a pause before s/he goes back and re-reads it.

Think about this in terms of movies. Take a destination movie like SIXTH SENSE. From what I’ve heard from destinationers, they loved that movie the first time because they were surprised. Many even watched it a second time to see where they were fooled. They haven’t watched it again.

As a journeyer, my history with the movie was different. After Bruce Willis was shot, the camera pulls back, and I said aloud, “He’s dead.” (No, I didn’t say it in a theater, so I wasn’t shot myself.) I was primed for a trick because of the hype about the movie. Also, a much lesser known movie called AMERICAN DREAMER had used a pulling-back camera at one point to prime the viewer to think the movie was ending, only to turn a corner with another surprise. Having a pulling-back-camera lead to a trick/surprise once alerted me to the possibility in SIXTH SENSE.

I spent the rest of the movie testing my hypothesis that Willis was dead, and, yup, no one ever interacts with or acknowledges him except the kid who sees dead people. I’ve caught bits of the movie on TV since, and never bother to pause my channel hopping. It doesn’t hold my interest. It’s a destination movie, and once you know the destination, what’s the point? Aha! For pure destinationphiles, that’s their reaction to every movie, every book.

They’re the ones who can’t understand those of us who watch IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE every year or who can recite lines from CASABLANCA or who keep around old VCRs so we can watch aging VHS tapes of, oh, say AMERICAN DREAMER, Because those movies provide us such pleasurable journeys on the way to familiar destinations we look forward to reaching.

Or a journeyer re-reads a Josephine Tey for the fifth or sixth time, and doesn’t care that there’s no murder at the end, because the journey to that end is a delightful way to fluff up trampled down brain cells.

I suspect I will never write a destination-only book, because the journey of reading is warp speed compared to the tortoise-like pace of writing; As a reader I need a journey capable of keeping me interested on its own and not solely as a means to the end; as a writer that need is taken to the nth degree.

If forced to choose, I would take journey over destination every time. But what I really want is everything – a great journey to a dynamite destination. And then I will look forward to taking that journey again and again.

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