Reading Margaret Mackey’s article “Salience and fluency: The beginnings of stories”, I was particularly interested in her point about fluency, when she says that “we need to be able to recognize almost every word, effortlessly and instantly. As long as our attention is focused on decoding individual words, we do not have attention to spare to be able to make meaning of the text as a whole.” (88) I definitely agree with this statement. My undergrad major was in Classics, and we were required to learn Greek and Latin as part of this degree. Unfortunately, I am terrible at languages other than English. I would spend hours translating only a few sentences, word by word, and then trying to piece the words together to make logical sentences. It was unpleasant both for me and for everyone else in the class who had to listen to me butcher the translations. After four years of Latin I still couldn’t read it, and now that the classes are over all knowledge of it is gone.
I have had similar experiences with what I call Academese- academic books and papers where the author goes out of their way to use complicated language to explain complicated ideas, and never simplifies it for the reader. After a few chapters of this, I usually have to go read something simple and relaxing like Nora Roberts, just to give my brain a break. I wouldn’t choose to read Latin or Academese for pleasure, simply because it is too difficult and stressful. however, something easy to read and understand I will quickly devour.
I also agree with Mackey’s point that people can and do make very quick judgements about whether or not they will be interested in a story. If you watch anyone browsing in a bookstore or library, there is a recognizable pattern. First they look at the title and cover, then read the blurb on the back, and then if they are still interested they will open the book and read the first few pages. If it is instantly appealing they will take it. I follow this pattern myself.
Mackey’s point that the students prefer to judge items based on the story rather than the platform is interesting. I do it myself- I read novels, comic books, watch television and movies and web series. I love media tie-ins, that continue the story past what is shown on the screen. However, when I took a popular culture class in undergrad, many of the English major students complained that they didn’t like reading graphic novels and that it was difficult for them to follow the story. That could be related to their fluency with the platform, though. It could also be a function of age- this class consisted of people in their late teens in 2006, instead of the elementary students in 2007 that Mackey studied. Or it could have been a high vs low culture bias- the traditional (snobby) English literature preference to only study dead white male European authors. (Why some of them signed up for a class with Buffy and Batman on the syllabus I have no idea.)
As a final point, I loved the My Teacher is an Alien series (although the 4th book, My Teacher Flunked the Planet is the best one). I understand Colin’s point about not liking books about bullies, though having read it in full it’s actually about the nerd saving the world and making friends with the bully.