Saturday, March 13, 2010

Quit Messing With My Magic!

I just finished a great book, Kate Jacobs’ The Friday Night Knitting Club. I read her Comfort Food and knew I needed to go back and read her first novel, too. And it was a horking good read. Until I got to the end. And found the seemingly obligatory, and all-the-rage, “Study Questions.”

If the book hadn’t been a library book, I would have torn those pages out then and there.

Where has this nonsense come from? And how can we make it go away?

It's not just TV, the Internet, or social media that cause 60 percent of people never to read a book after high school or college. It's the stuff they're forced to read, and analyze, for grades. It's books with agendas, "themes," and "universal" messages, books full of allegory and satire and symbolism and metaphor and parallel universes and metaphysics and...
I don't blame people for never wanting to read again after that!

A few of us, of course, still read anyway, being too stubborn to let "education" take that fun away. And then, we go to our bookstores to stock up on some good fiction…only to find it suddenly bearing a striking resemblance to textbooks in the end.


Note to publishers: I read fiction for pleasure. If there’s deep meaning for me in a book, I’ll find it myself. If it’s not there for me, it’s not there, and your putting in “hints” at the end of a book that I may want to go back and “find it” is pure arrogance.

I hate this trend for another reason besides its arrogance, though—and that is, that it absolutely ruins the end-of-book experience. I can't tell you how many times I've finished a story, and then looked on the next page and seen SUGGESTED QUESTIONS FOR STUDY right after that beautiful, sigh-producing, satisfying ending.

Do you know what that does to your story, people? It reduces it back to print again. It takes the magic and dumps cold water on it.

And you want to yank your reader back out of the book that fast…WHY?

Yes, I know some of these things were designed for book clubs. But the people I know who belong to book clubs are pretty smart. They can think up their own questions. And they do. So, once again…WHY does a publisher feel this need to manipulate a reader this way?

My future publishers, please take note—this is the only study question I want in my books:

“In however many words you like, if you like, write down what the best part of this book was for you. The part that made you laugh, made you cry, or touched you in any way. Then sign it, put it in an envelope, and mail it to the author. You’ll make her day.”

If you insist on more, write them yourselves, and put them on a website, separate from the book. A place people can go to when they’re ready. When they've already closed the book and eased back into reality, and if and when they want to think about it further.

But put those things on page 601 after I've spun a beautiful tale for 600 pages, and you've just robbed both me and my reader of magic I sweated blood to create. If you feel the need to do much do you really love fiction—or, in fact, get it at all?

Cantankerously yours,


  1. Janny, can you hear my loud applause resounding for south-central Hoosierland? I'm with you! Lose the "study questions," folks. As you wrote, we're smart. We were smart enough to choose that book, weren't we? So we can come up with our own questions and topics for discussion, and guess what; they'll be as good--perhaps better--than the ones the author or whoever contrived. Thanks, Janny, for a much-needed posting.

    Write on!
    Because of Christ,

  2. Janny, THANK GOD I am not alone in this. Amen to everything you've said.

    Kenny Noble

  3. Here, here! When I see those questions it makes me think the publisher doesn't really like fiction, so he's going to make it like non-fiction and make you think about it.

    I can tell you right now why certain things are in my manuscripts - because they make a good story!!

    You are not alone :)

  4. Hmm. I like the way you think Janny!