Reading Roulette and the Art of Persuasion

Posted by in books

Illustration © my sister, Therese Neelands

I’ve made mention of Reading Roulette before, but if you haven’t yet seen what it is, it’s the exciting project instigated by Jen Knoch and Erin Balser over at the Keepin’ It Real Book Club site. The objective of Reading Roulette is to persuade fellow readers to step out onto that dangerous road (you never know where you’ll be swept off to!), out of your reading comfort zone, to pick up something you are normally loath to read.

All of us who wanted to participate first sent in a paragraph about what we don’t like to read. Of course, there’s always going to be someone with different taste than you, and that someone will be eager to convince you to think otherwise about your preferences, or at least to try something new in the hope you might actually like it. So, we made a video, wrote a paragraph, or even composed a poem pitching a book to persuade whomever we wanted to read something on their “meh” list.

When I read that Reeder dislikes fantasy and hugely popular mainstream books, and particularly that she’d been avoiding Harry Potter, I couldn’t keep myself from choosing her to respond to for this challenge. I have a special place in my heart for Harry and his magical world, fostered both by rereading the books and repeatedly watching the movies, and even keeping up with J.K. Rowling (did you see she was reconsidering writing another HP book?). The KIRBC post with our dislikes came shortly after I’d written a little tribute to Harry Potter (accidentally but coolly on Rowling and Potter’s birthday), but I was ready to share my love again and try and get Reeder to open up her heart and mind and with any luck love the magic of Potter. There really is nothing more satisfying than suggesting a book to someone and finding out they really enjoyed it. It makes me so happy!

This is what I wrote:

When I wrote that post about HP not that long ago (, you said you thought about giving the books a go since you saw one of the movies and liked it. I have to tell you we’ve not only read the books more than once but we own the movies, too, and have watched them all numerous times. They don’t depart much from the books. They and the books have a special magic to them; they have an atmosphere that seems to prevent them from growing old, that makes you crave them at a certain time of year. They are substantial books, too, but page-turners, which make for satisfying reads. And they’re deliciously, ridiculously rich in imagination and encompass courage, fear, life, death, love, friendship, finding one’s true potential and purpose. There are chocolate frogs, every flavour jelly beans, butter beer, all manner of birds and beasts, real or mythical; there’s a room of requirement that houses anything you desperately need, a dining room whose ceiling mirrors the seasons and current climate of events. There are spells and potions and secrets, and fireworks and dark alleys and dangerous villains. There is everything you could possibly want out of a children’s book and then some, to make the story just as readable by adults; there is every bit of magic you want for yourself. You will laugh and be sad, you will fall in love with some characters and hate others. One thing that can be said for Harry Potter is that it is impossible to feel nothing at all.

I too don’t read much that is so hyped up, and I think Harry Potter was my first time really buying into that hype; I wanted to see what it was about, opened the first page of the first book, and the rest, as they say…well. After Harry proved not to disappoint, I thought that perhaps, like a cliche, there’s truth to the hype in some cases, and I’d be a fool to not try reading a book. What if I am, indeed, missing out on something that can make me happy in the enjoyment of it?

Reeder responded right away by agreeing to try Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I’ve been eagerly awaiting her verdict, and now that I’ve read it, I wanted to share it with you. Head on over to Reeder Reads to see what she thought of the book I convinced her to read.

I too was challenged: Jen entreated me to try Sandra Gulland’s Josephine B. trilogy, which I actually own because I got it for free from a donation box to the library (we had too many copies already), but which I’d left to molder on my shelves along with War and Peace.

The thing is, I’ve always thought life too short, and great books too plentiful, to step out of my comfort zone, and yet those few times I’ve done it, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the adventure. Consequently, I find myself more open to trying new things than I used to be; a graphic novel (but only one so far, Persepolis!), the Twilight series, and the giant Kristin Lavransdatter (actually a trilogy), which is now one of my favourite books.

Working in a bookshop now, as well as book blogging and reading book blogs and tweeting about books, I’m bombarded with tons of suggestions, books I’ve never heard of, books I’ve heard of but hadn’t been interested in. What intrigues me all the time about reading is how different people’s tastes are. The whole business is so utterly subjective, when it comes down to it, but that’s what makes it interesting; there are people who absolutely loved a book I absolutely hated. I find that fascinating—and increasingly so as I read more and more reviews.

As I struggle with the fact that the book club I’m trying to organize at Greenley’s will read not only my choices but the choices of everyone, not only literary fiction but whatever strikes someone’s idea as a good book to discuss, I find myself learning to broaden my reading horizons, to become less judgemental about what other people read and enjoy. I am more willing, even, to venture into uncharted worlds. I’ve always believed in knowing why you like or dislike something. Reading outside my comfort level—not all the time but now and then—not only exposes me to pleasant surprises but also allows me the pleasure of being able to intelligently defend my preferences.