Reading Roulette and the Art of Persuasion

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.


  1. I’m so glad I jumped on then band wagon and read your suggestion of Harry Potter. I haven’t read a book that good in so long and it was exactly what the doctor (that would be you) ordered. I now know that it’s a good idea to maybe trying something a little mainstream, because sometimes the hype is worth it. I also read the Twilght book (just the first one) and it didn’t grab my attention by any means, but you’re right it’s good to get out of your comfort zone. We’re lucky to have so many recommendations via work, blogs and twitter… I just can’t get enough! Thanks again for the wonderful suggestion! :)

  2. JK

    As I’ve mentioned, I can’t wait for you to read Josephine (and I have no doubt you’ll read all 3), but it looks like I’m going to have to send you some graphic novel recos too: Skim, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki is a quick but wonderful read, and I loved the Y: The Last Man series by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra. Erin and I did a video about them ( So smart and funny and wonderful.

    PS – Your sister’s artwork is lovely!!

    1. Steph Author

      Oh, no, graphic novels!! Do I have to? :) I’m really particular about the art, too, but I did really enjoy and even find addictive Persepolis. A friend highly recommended it when I worked at the library and when I was shelving one day, I came across it and flipped to the first page and hours later, I was almost finished…

      I’ll have to look up Skim and Y: The Last Man on amazon, or see if we have them in the store. Oh, and I’ll go watch that video now!

      PS. Doesn’t she totally rock? Greenley’s has bought three images so far, and that is actually one of them so I probably shouldn’t use it. All three are on the Greenley’s site. Her blog is in my blog roll and we’ll be selling her note cards as well… She’s sold portraits and done commissions but as for the illustration, she needs to get more of a portfolio, she says, before she starts submitting to publishers and stuff. I’m totally excited. Everyone thinks she needs to be illustrating!

      Hint, hint, T!

      1. Steph Author

        Jen: Hey wait, I saw that video, I’d forgotten! So high energy. And I totally caught that you said Warrick, it’s hilarious. I was like, Warrick Brown… wait! isn’t that…

        And then you commented on that and then I commented that I too went on a CSI bender and of COURSE we both did…


        So, yeah, the story sounds cool, though I’ll have to get past that art style!

  3. bee

    Reading Roulette…what a great idea!
    I’ve always stuck to a fairly narrow piece of the book pie, as I too think there’s not enough time to waste on books that don’t interest me. However, I remember when my avid-reader friend Kylie moved from Melbourne to the US, she gave me a bunch of her books that included a few gems I would never have otherwise read. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters and Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts were two of them; I loved them both!

    1. Steph Author

      I have yet to read Fingersmith, which I heard was good, and I’d like to read The Little Stranger, too, even though it’s had mixed reviews.

      I’m starting to read outside of my book pie, as you say, because of so many recommendations now from bloggers! :)

  4. I too have a copy of the Josephine B trilogy languishing on my shelves – I got a remainder copy and at the time I thought it was so much better to get a 3-in-1 and save money; now I’m just daunted by the size!! Think that’s why I bought separate volumes for the Kirsten books. :)

    There are actually some books I won’t read, but I’m thinking I won’t tell you what they are now in case I get roped into reading one!

    1. Steph Author

      LOL! C’mon…chicken! :)

      I have to admit, while I have my limit, I find large books really appealing. That’s the primary reason I bought the Millennium trilogy, believe it or not, and the KL book, as well as other trilogies, in one volume. I couldn’t resist Hunger’s Brides, at 1376 pages, and the story did intrigue me, but I never did finish, even though I made it quite far. Maybe if it had been paperback I would have found it easier? But maybe it was content. Just thinking about it I would like to try it again…but I ended up giving it away. Now that one did daunt me!

      1. I love fat books – comes from reading so much Fantasy over the years; you know that with a fat fantasy you can really delve into a world! Oh and from being too poor to buy books and books being so expensive in Australia, I never liked buying thin books because I felt I wasn’t getting my money’s worth! That’s hard to shake off ;)

        What’s Hunger’s Brides…? Having a mental blank.

        1. Oh, THAT book! I’ve seen it around in Chapters. Sale table maybe? It is huge isn’t it! Why does a fiction book need so many footnotes? It’s rather like an author whose editor made them cut bits out but they loved them too much and so put them in footnotes… Ooh cynical much? ;)

          To be fair, it worked very well in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell :)

  5. Steph Author

    Yes, normally I don’t like footnotes in a story, but I didn’t mind Strange and Norrell. It’s just that footnotes in a novel that’s already well over a thousand pages is a bit much. It took him years to write, yes, and there was indeed so much research since it had truth to it, but I thought maybe he could have written two books, then: one fiction, one not.

    1. I can’t imagine spending years on a mammoth book like that! Well okay to be fair I spent 10 years writing my fantasy novel (which has been shelved for the last oh five years) – I mean, what if no one wanted to publish it? It just sounds so involved!

      1. Steph Author

        WHAT?! You have a novel? I can’t believe it. You’re one of the people I wrote my ebook for, when I had EditQuest, my copyediting for fantasy writers biz. Get that ms out of that underwear drawer and make your dream happen!

        I’ll email you the ebook to get you motivated. :)

        1. *blushes* Okay I keep this quiet on blog-o-world, but I think of myself first and foremost as a writer. Been writing stories all my life except for the last three years, which probably explains why I’ve been feeling so crappy the last three years! No time for anything! And not much inspiration either.

          You have an ebook? Eh, we’ve talked about this and I’ve forgotten, haven’t we? Oh dear I’m sorry. I’m curious though!

          It was a complete fantasy novel, the first of a series, but it took me so long to write and went through countless edits, that the weak points became impossible to fix and I got so overwhelmed by it all! It was ridiculously epic, but the problem was I didn’t know how to resolve some of the plots! I tried starting a new one but it floundered because sometimes I have such trouble figuring out the backstory to some of my creations! (and other times it comes easily – annoying how that works!)

  6. Steph Author

    But this is awesome!! Don’t hide it!

    I know exactly what you mean about getting too busy and being stripped of imagination. I so understand. I too think of myself more as a writer. I’ve been doing it forever. But the last time I wrote a story and finished it was in university. I’ve since begun several but couldn’t continue. I need to get in that headspace and it’s really hard with so much stuff going on. Usually, a few days off in a row would do it. But I’ve been writing blog posts instead.

    I think people make writing way too complicated. The trouble is, we edit while we write, and instead I think just writing, just letting it out and then figuring it out afterward, works better. Ideal, maybe, but it makes sense to let your characters form themselves, tell you their backstory. Usually that stuff follows logically. But if we’re too close and critical of the material, it becomes difficult and forced. Stepping away is a good thing; if you’re distanced enough from it after a while, you’ll be able to see it in a new light. It also helps to have someone else read it, beta readers, to offer perspective. But you probably know all this already!

    1. I agree. I tend to just let it flow, and I find that things just come to me as I write and fit perfectly. It’s just a few key Big Picture points that I struggle with. The Why behind things. I like to write it out by hand too – I find it I skip that step and type a first draft, I don’t write so well. Better for me is hand writing it then typing it – I make changes as I type because it’s had time to gestate, but not all that many at first. With typing, I get too distracted by formatting and stuff, whereas with handwriting I can sink into a story :)

      I bought this lovely blue leather-bound notebook to try and help inspire me, and Adam keeps telling me “just write, write anything!” because he knows how much more at peace with myself I am when I’m writing and I need to “get the creative juices flowing”, so to speak ;)

      I don’t like people reading it until it’s finished, though. Or close to. I don’t even like talking it through – I’ve tried that and it doesn’t help me. I prefer to have a complete first draft and let a friend read it then, but I’ve never had very helpful feedback from the process *shrug*

      What kinds of things do you write? What was your novel about? (I’m honestly not surprised we have this in common as well as everything else!)

      1. Steph Author

        Ha! I’m the exact opposite! I constantly need and want to share my writing while I’m writing. I think I just need that reassurance, or that back and forth, to know what people think, even if it’s bad. I have had people tell me they don’t want to read it until it’s finished and I always get frustrated. I guess I’m so excited I just can’t wait to share, and that’s got nothing to do with thinking it’s great. It’s needing to be graded as I go, or something! :)

        I’ve only ever written short stories in terms of fiction. No novels. But as a copyeditor and having read so much I have a good idea of what makes a good novel. I don’t know if I could ever have it in me to write a novel, actually. I like short stories, and I think I could write non-fiction, like essays and such. But a novel…it’s hard enough for me to think up an entire short story!

        Also, I could never hand write it. I have grown too used to the computer and can type faster than I can write. My writing isn’t very legible anymore since I broke my hand in my teens. Notebooks always attract me but I’m too impatient now to write. I have bits and bobs on pieces of paper everywhere, which is quite annoying, and not even story ideas, really, but I don’t keep a journal anymore on paper. (I have about 23 journals, I think it is, from gr. 3 – end of high school.)


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