Recently, I had to fly from Seattle to Virginia and back for personal reasons. I took one book and my laptop, expecting to switch between reading and the last round of style editing on my next book, Al-Kabar. I dutifully pulled out my laptop early in the first flight and prodded at a few unnecessary adverbs and prepositional phrases. About three pages later, I couldn’t stop yawning. I put the laptop away and grabbed my book.
By the time I perked back up enough to maybe consider working a bit more, I’d gotten engrossed in the book and couldn’t convince myself to put it down. Alas–the curse of a good book. I finished it shortly before the second flight landed at Dulles and heaved a sigh because I knew I’d have no book for the return flights.
(I have a kindle, but for assorted reasons, could not use it during this trip. The turnaround was too short and complicated to get a new book, even at an airport store.)
On the first of two flights back, I pulled out my laptop again and gave the manuscript the ol’ college try. Still tired, I managed another few pages. We landed in Denver and switched planes. As seating went on, someone found a book on a seat and gave it to the flight attendant. She looked it over, then offered it to anyone who wanted it. Being bookless and bored, I took it.
Lo, the book was a Harlequin romantic suspense novel. Romance is not my first choice for reading material (or second, or even third or fourth). I opened it up anyway because I had nothing better to do than stare at the seat in front of me for the next three hours.
Predictable and formulaic, the story had everything one expects of the genre: the handsome man with a Problem, the pretty woman who will Fix It, a Secret That Could Tear Them Apart, Instant Attraction of the Intense Variety, and a Bad Guy. Despite that, it was actually pretty good. The story held my attention, kept me engrossed and forced me to take the book home to finish it when I still had 20 pages left to go at the end of the flight.
This left me wondering if maybe, in the zeal to be original and unique, we sometimes forget that the predictability and formulas can be comfortable and enjoyable. People read for lots of different reasons, and it’s not wrong sometimes to want familiarity, to want not to be challenged, to want to relax with something fluffy and full of complacency. You learn nothing by doing so, but does everything always have to be about learning?