A Case Study of a Reader: Mark

by Charles Wood

This web site was created to fulfill the requirements of the Capping Exercise (LIS 600) at the School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta. The paper was originally written for LIS 580, Contemporary Theories and Practices of Reading. The site was last updated July 14, 2006.

Introduction Reading Typologies "Normal" Reading Conclusion References Transcript

Reading Typologies

Looking at Mark’s development as a reader, we can see familiar phenomenon as they have been described by Kylene Beers and Catherine Ross. However, there are certain aspects of Mark’s reading habits and the development of his reading throughout his life that separate his experience from the Beers’ typology of readers.

In Beers’ typology of readers in School Library Journal, Mark is, for the most part, a member of the “Avid reader” type. The salient criteria that Beers uses to describe an “Avid” reader are: a) a person that enjoys reading, b) makes time to read, c) identifies as a reader d) says that reading is a “way of life” e) is entertained by books, f) has an aesthetic response to reading, and g) has a positive feeling about other readers (32).

Mark enjoys reading and identifies his enjoyment from it as being primarily one of entertainment satisfying both criteria a) and e). Further, his description of his reading habits make it clear that he makes time to read (b). His description of a “good” reader makes it clear that he also fulfills criteria d), stating that a “good” reader is, “[…] someone who reads. You know, to read and have it be something that you do.” Further, he clearly identifies himself as a reader (c), though he feels that he could be better. His feelings about other readers are positive

M: … I think it creates a perception for people that you’re, that there’s a particular level of intelligence there or something if you’re reading, and that may be just my perception to equate intelligence with reading. ‘Cause obviously, you know, there’s intelligent people who don’t read, and not-so-bright people who are voracious readers. But yeah, I think that it, I don’t have a problem being seen reading, and like I said, if anything that it sheds a positive light…

The aspect in which I think Mark confounds Beers typology is on the criteria of aesthetic versus efferent reading. Mark makes it clear that he appreciates the aesthetic qualities of what he reads, mentioning that he felt that the “Da Vinci Code” was “poorly written.” He also makes an aesthetic judgment of the Sarah Kane readings that he conducted as part of the interview. However, when Mark discusses his reading of non-fiction, an important part of his reading life, it’s clear that he also enjoys the efferent quality of his reading. To be clear, Mark does not read non-fiction solely in order to gain information for his work life, but reads non-fiction as a fundamental form of entertainment. From his responses, it would be difficult to place either aesthetic or efferent enjoyment in a primary position in Mark’s reading.

A brief look at Mark’s early experience with reading also sets him apart from Beers’ description of differences between avid readers and non-readers, as Mark makes it clear that while his parents encouraged reading to a certain extent, they didn’t clearly make it a priority. Beers’ specifically says that uncommitted or unmotivated readers usually describe their experience in childhood: “Some of the students recalled being read aloud to […] but said it was irregular and infrequent” (111). Mark states that:
M: Yeah, very rarely though. I remember enjoying when it did happen. It wasn’t an every night kind of thing. When it happened I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a big deal.

Mark became an avid reader in spite of a less encouraging atmosphere in his childhood years. It’s obvious that his parents did, in fact, place a certain amount of importance on reading, but his childhood does not seem to demonstrate the kind of positive reading atmosphere that Beers sees as valuable or necessary to make an avid reader. Curiously, the interview with Mark demonstrated that while we are often (rightly) critical of the approach taken to literacy in education, it does work for some people. Mark developed his love for reading through school, which was unexpected. He specifically mentions High School English classes and a well known book that often makes up part of the curriculum of those classes as what turned him into a reader:

M: […] I didn’t really start getting into reading until… probably until high school. When I started doing high school English. Actually, I think it was probably “Lord of the Flies,” that really turned me onto reading. When we read that in school. And I remember just being… just thinking that it was a fantastic book, and I think that was when I really… sort of… started thinking about other books that were out there and started actively buying books and reading them and things like that.

No doubt, Beers’ descriptions are not an exhaustive attempt to describe every possible kind of reader. However, I think that Mark’s experience shows how an educational experience can override in some way aspects of a reader’s development that are outside of an institution’s control. This is a hopeful sign, since there is little that a teacher can do to alter the home atmosphere. It is clear from Mark’s statements that it was school that encouraged him to become a reader and that the home atmosphere was not absolutely definitive of his reading habits.

Obviously, without a more formal effort, it isn’t entirely possible to insert Mark into the typology of Ross’ readers. There are, however, at least a few of the statements that she uses to define readers that resonate with Mark’s responses. The first of these is statement “U,” which emphasizes a value placed on honesty, “That the author isn’t holding out on me” (Ross, 93). I think a parallel can be found in Mark’s answer to why he preferred one text by Sarah Kane over another:

M: […] Somewhat more veiled, I guess, like it’s… the monologue it’s very much out there, you know. It’s like spoken exactly what the person is feeling. Whereas the poetry, I think sort of dances around it a little bit, it’s a little less straight forward.

Another value that Mark places on his reading materials is reflected in the other respondents statements in “W,” which states the value of a “sense of hope” (93).

M: Yeah, the second one was just depressing, you know, it was, there was no sort of hope or redemption or anything like that.