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The Wenches

  • Mary Jo Putney

  • Patricia Rice

  • Susan Fraser King

  • Anne Gracie

  • Nicola Cornick

  • Andrea Penrose

  • Christina Courtenay

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  • Jo Beverley
    Word Wench 2006-2016

  • Edith Layton
    Word Wench 2006-2009

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June 2023

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« Findings | Main | A Taste of Autumn . . . »


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Kathy Lynn Emerson

Thought-provoking post, Nicola. I do read fiction and nonfiction differently. I tend to skim nonfiction, looking for nuggets I can use in my novels or in my online "A Who's Who of Tudor Women." Most of the time when I start out reading every word of a biography or history on a topic that interests me, I end up getting bogged down and skimming the rest. Sometimes that's just because I already know the basics and the author isn't saying anything new. With fiction, if a novel catches my interest, I have a hard time putting it down. I give those that don't a hundred pages or so before I give up. I finish most of them, although lately more and more mysteries have ultimately disappointed me. Sometimes I peek at the end, too, and am not bothered by spoilers, but usually when I look it's to make sure a character I like is going to survive. My memory for plots isn't great, so when I reread something I don't necessarily get more out of it, but I do find that I take away a different experience when I listen to an audiobook of a book I've already read in print format. All this is probably more than anyone wants to know. What can I say? Your questions started me thinking . . . and this is a great way to put off going into my office and starting work on the next scene.

Nicola Cornick

Thank you for sharing such interesting reflections, Kathy. I'm glad I'm not the only one who can get bogged down in too much non-fiction detail and find that I don't retain it! There's definitely something in the fact that reading historical non-fiction you can be going over old ground and that isn't always interesting unless its presented in new ways. I'm also glad I'm not the only one who sometimes "cheats" to find out what happens in the end!


First I must confess that i am ,almost exclusively, a fiction reader. When I start a book, I read every word (in fact I read every letter in every word). I also check out the last few pages, but after starting , I also find myself peeking at the middle, too. I love words and how they can be put together to create whole new worlds for me to explore. If the beginning of a novel is groundwork, I will slog through it hoping the narrative will be the big payoff! If a book fails to capture my interest, I will generally skim through the rest and read the last 2 to 4 chapters just for closure. I love rereading, because I always catch things I missed the first time around. I agree with Kathy Lynn Emerson on the non-fiction reading method. Skimming for nuggets of information works best for me, too. My favorite books have a satisfying ending that still leaves me wanting more.

Nicola Cornick

Thank you for sharing how you read, Claire. I love hearing whether people are quick readers on the first run through, or whether like you they read every word (or letter!) It's fascinating how different our processes can be. Maybe it's like writing - there is no "correct" but we all find the way that suits us.


I'd be interested to know which historical non-fiction authors you enjoy. I also like to read historical non-fiction but sometimes the writing is very blah.



That was really interesting for me I only read fiction and only romance and woman's fiction so for me I want a story that will hook me from the start and one that will pull at emotional strings I want to laugh cry and smile I want to "feel" the story I never go to the end of a story and for the most part I read every book I start although I may put one down for a while and read another one but mostly I go back to the one I left.

Have Fun

Judy Goodnight

I tend to be a fast reader so nothing bothers me more than a book that plods along. I want to be immersed in the story, catch the wave, and follow it swiftly to the end. That's not to say that I never stop and savor, because I do. Sometimes the words chosen to express the thought are so perfectly right that they demand some moments of appreciation. I enjoy non-fiction as well especially when the writing can capture me just as if it were fiction. I'm thinking in particular of one of my favorite NF books - The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. He has such an incredible gift of bringing the facts of history to life. It's the story of the 1936 U of Washington crew team that goes to the 1936 Berlin Olympics and wins the gold medal. Even knowing how it turns out (because it's right on the cover), Brown has the talent to compel you to the edge of your seat when writing about the Olympic trials and competition leaving you worried about whether they're going to win or not.

Mary M.

I'm a great one for reading the last few chapters shortly after beginning a book, almost always for mysteries and increasingly often for historicals and classics. The mysteries because I'm not good at picking up clues otherwise so it helps me engage with the plot. The others whenever I'm wavering over continuing after an inauspicious beginning--if I don't like the characters, or the plot seems pointless, or the author's style is just too precious or dull.

With classics, I usually go to shmoop.com first to predigest the plot and get familiar with the characters. Sometimes, that gets me into the book fast; other times, that's enough to get me through a book club session when the book itself doesn't grab me. (Right now, it's successfully getting me through Brothers Karamazov while some of my book friends are bogged down by BK.)

With nonfiction, I just keep reading until I don't care to anymore, sometimes transferring my interest to Wikipedia or other online sources. F or NF, I often go off into definitions, history, etc., via the Kindle app, which gives ebooks raison d'etre in my book.


With non-fiction, I tend to read a chapter or two at a time, taking breaks in between to read fiction books. If I learn a fascinating fact or story, I have to stop and read that bit out loud to my husband. Most of the non-fiction I read is history and travelogue, so he's usually interested in hearing it; my romance fiction not so much!
I don't skip ahead to read the end of a mystery, but if I am finding a romance especially angsty or suspenseful, I sometimes skim forward to see how the situation resolves itself. Or believe it or not, if the plot is really fast-moving with a lot of adventure or suspense, sometimes I'll skim over the love scenes, because I'm so engrossed in the main plot action, I need to find out what happens next. But then I do go back and read what I've skimmed over, either after I've finished the book, or after that particular plot conflict has been resolved. I find this more difficult to do with e-books. With paper books, I just use 2 bookmarks, and I use one to mark the spot where I started skimming, so I can go back to that point. I tend to be a fast reader too, so if the prose is especially lovely I have to consciously slow down to appreciate it.


I read about half and half fiction and nonfiction. I read each differently.

I still prefer print to ebook. I almost never pay for ebooks except a few for convenience. I skim those little sample chapters and usually that's enough; too often it's like being imprisoned in the slushpile of some great publisher in the sky. I like my kindle for bedtime reading with the lights off, which is a good time to read old classics.

The nonfiction is mostly biography, history or space travel related material. If I am really engaged, I will read and reread pages, flip back and forth, study photos, maybe highlight here and there. I will stop if and when my curiosity is satisfied, or the author's prose style is too much of a toothgrinder. That's for print. I don't like reading nonfiction on my kindle because those operations are cumbersome and I find that with electronic media I am much more likely to forget the material quickly than I am with print.

The fiction is mostly historical fiction of one sort or another, or classics (which are historical fiction, in a way). My way of reading depends on the kind of material. Traditional regencies I read closely because I respect the craft that went into them and I want to pay attention to detail.

Regency historicals I mostly don't actually read, or finish. There are a few old favorite authors in this subgenre that I read every word of - but not many. When I have one, what I do is read up to the first graphic sex scene, skim that to see if there's anything noteworthy about the treatment of it (usually there isn't), then go straight to the end to see how the plot set up in the first few pages was resolved. They're an old habit that I should break. I am like Charlie Brown and the football -- every time I go for it in hopes of a really good read, Lucy snatches the football away and all I seem to get are repetitive interchangeable sex scenes. It's so boring :(

For other kinds of historical fiction, particularly first half of the 20th century, I read all of it unless I think the author is an idiot, in which case I read no further. There are authors doing romantic mystery/adventure ostensibly set in the first half of the 20th century, and I can tell they didn't live through it and/or don't know anyone who did, and are relying on movies and TV for their social history. In particular they "modernize" the role of women in those years, forget about the practical constraints (no ubiquitous birth control, fear of disease) and just have jolly kickass adventures with all those quaint pilots and aristos. Bleah.

I suppose it's inevitable that commercial fiction would be written for the audience then available to purchase it, and the under 40 crowd wants warrior heroines that kick ass (I see so many scenes with women beating up men that I kinda wonder what the psychology is about that), but often the reality of how women of the past endured and kept their dignity and prevailed is lost. Like Arthur Miller, I think attention must be paid.

Kathy K

For fiction I read in great gulps to see how the story comes out. Then if I really like the story I go back and read it carefully for nuance.

For technical/professional reading I have to read painfully slow to be sure I understand the concepts and can answer questions about the material.

Sue W. McCormick

Well I have already contributed to this post!

I will add that I first became conscious of how I read because at a Science Fiction Convention, author Connie Willis was very severe with those of us who confessed to jumping to the end before we continue reading straight through.

I read nonfiction by skimming for facts, but if the author truly interest me (Catherine Drinker Bowen would be an example) all my rereads are treated by me the same as fiction rereads.

Nicola Cornick

Hi Debbie. I enjoy Dan Jones, who writes and presents about the medieval period, Amanda Vickery and my all time favourite is Michael Wood. To use the time worn phrase they really do make history come alive for me.

Nicola Cornick

Thanks, Helen! I like the idea of really "feeling" the story as we read. Congratulations on haivng the discipline never to peek at the ending!

Nicola Cornick

Hi Judy and thank you very much for your comments. You've captured a very interesting point about non-fiction, I think; so often we know what happens in the story and yet a compelling author can still give the book a page-turning impetus and keep us hooked through the quality of the prose. Thank you for the recommendation of The Boys in the Boat. It sounds excellent.

Vicki W.

I used to feel if I started a book, I had to finish it, regardless of whether I was enjoing it or even liked the characters. Even if it was a totally stupid and useless book. Now....I'm much more likely to say, UGH and stop. Though I do go to the last 30 or 40 pages and then read the ending to see how they wrap it up. If I've invested time in reading 60, 80, 100 pages, I do want to know how it turns out. Even if it is a stupid book. (Or stupid to me.)

As for non-fiction, I find I can put it down and come back to it. Fiction, even if it is a book I have read 20 times, I feel compelled to finish in one sitting.

Luckily for me I read very quickly, unluckily for me, I feel compelled to keep reading even when I'm falling asleep every 4 words or falling out of the chair.

There are several authors that when I first get their new books, I read VERY fast. Then I go back and read it at a more normal pace.

I've even started skipping a few paragraphs here and there when the sex/seduction is taking too long. Or the descriptive labels are too long. And if the person is truly way more angsty than I can handle, I'll skim/skip to hurry that section along.

Maybe I feel the pressure of too many books sitting here waiting to be read and feel I can hurry matters along by skipping/skimming and definitely not wasting time on certain books.

It is interesting how my reading habits have changed over the years, that is for sure.

Teresa Broderick

Oh my God! I thought I'd already posted a comment when I read yours. My reading habits practically mirror yours. In all areas. How weird is that!!!

Jo Banks

I admit it with fiction I always check the end first !I will usually finish a book if I get past the second chapter even if it is with gritted teeth and great mutterings about someone being paid to write this drivel !With non fiction it is usually research so I tend to bounce backwards and forwards through the text finding what I want.The middle ages are not really my scene but I have recently read Dan Jones' Magna Carta and the Plantagenets I found them well nigh unputtable downable and have now got The Hollow Crown lined up ,but I have to finish Mary Jo 's Not always a Saint first!!

Nicola Cornick

There seem to be quite a few of us who will admit to checking out the end of a book! I haven't heard of shmoop.com but it sounds a great idea for the more difficult to digest classics.

Nicola Cornick

Fascinating, Karin! What a great idea to use two bookmarks although I can see the e-books foil that plan! I love finding out the different ways we all read, whether skipping love scenes to keep following the plot, or interspersing non-fiction with fiction. All really interesting stuff!

Nicola Cornick

So much of interest there, Janice. The first thing that struck me is that although e-books are so often touted as making reading "easier" in many ways that isn't the case with a non-fiction book where you want to move backward and forward through the text, study the pictures and be able to savour and re-read certain paragraphs.

That's a very good point about commercial fiction being written for the audience available to purchase it but the best books do still take into account the morals and mores of the time whilst still, I hope, giving readers a jolly good read. Attention most definitely must be paid!

Nicola Cornick

Hi Kathy, ah, you are another reader who will devour a book at first read! There's an excitement about that way of reading a book that really appeals to me.

Nicola Cornick

You have, Sue! Thank you for planting the idea and getting us all thinking about our reading process!

Nicola Cornick

Thank you, Vicki. That's another really interesting observation; how our reading style and habits may change over time. That has also made me think. I used to be much more patient and persistent, sticking with a book for longer and resisting the urge to check out the end!

Nicola Cornick

LOL! That's so interesting and fun - as well as a bit spooky!

Nicola Cornick

I loved The Hollow Crown, Jo! As you say, Dan Jones writes the non-fiction like a pageturner and invests it with so much energy and life. I find his TV programmes slightly less easy to engage with as they are so full of deliberately anachronistic language but these days that just makes me smile!

Vicki W.

Teresa, that is sooo weird that you read the same way I do. Peas in a pod. Grin.

My reading habits have noticeably changed in the last 5 years or so. Especially my ability to abandon a book.

When I was talking about that with one of my sisters the other day she says she is starting to get to the that point. (She is 10 years younger than me.)

But my mother still reads every single word. But what I think is a weird thing is we got her all these books off her backlist for various authors in June.

Did she read the new to her books? No, she put them on the shelf in order with the rest of the series! The next time she reads that author (beginning to end for the series) she'll read those new books then. Strange, very strange. But I didn't tell her that. Grin.


Nicola, I think anachronistic language in TV drama is something like listening to a translation. We don't speak Middle English anymore; it would likely be unintelligible to most people. So strict accuracy has to be sacrificed in order to tell the story understandably. (Though I am okay with dialect if there's subtitles, but you don't often get them on broadcast TV, just dvd)

I am less tolerant of modern language in dialog in a book because there is so much more scope to explain things in a novel.

That said, I usually bag anything in Scots dialect after a few pages. My ancestry is 1/4 Scottish but apparently that's not enough.

A little for flavor is good though. It must be a fine balance to write.

Nicola Cornick

Wow! I've never heard of that, Vicki. Your mother must have a lot of self-discipline! I'm afraid I'd be too curious to delay gratification that long!

Nicola Cornick

I totally agree about the use of language in a TV drama, Janice. I doubt we would understand what was going on if some sort of concession wasn't made. With Dan Jones' historical documentaries though he would say things like: "King John was really bigged up about this and wanted to invade at once..." and I found the modern language jarring. Eventually I got past that and found it funny but it took a while.

I'm also with you on the dialect thing. I hate too much phonetic dialogue in a book. Just enough to give some colour to the story is exactly right.


Nicola, I see the Dan Jones approach (which I see in a lot of science and history documentaries as well) as a somewhat misguided attempt to get a 2015 audience to understand the mindset of a person of a previous era. TV generally skews popular entertainment to a younger audience, and since it's made by older people (it takes time to learn that craft!), they often get the slang wrong or, worse, give the impression that people of the past were Just Like Us. Well, they weren't. They had much in common with us, but they weren't us.

So I think it's best when mixed up. A little modern slang to emphasize that this speaker is a modern person, and a lot of period language to express the mindset of the historical person they're speaking about. Some people get the mix right, others don't. Sounds like Jones went overboard :)


I tend to read a new book twice in a row, unless it is part of a series and I have more in the series waiting for me. Then I read the whole series, and then start at the beginning and read through again. With some of my favorite series, if a new book is due out, I will start at the beginning and read through in anticipation of the new book coming out.

I think I developed this habit when I read a lot of mysteries- I would charge through because I couldn't wait to see what happened next, and then read through again more slowly in order to catch the clues and plot twists. I read really fast in general though (many weeks I average 300 pages a day) so it doesn't really slow me down too much.

A few years ago I noticed that I also have a habit of reading pages in an odd way- I often read the first third of a page, then the last third, then the middle third and then the last third again. I have no good explanation for this except that maybe I want to know ahead of time if something bad happens to my favorite characters in that page! I can read "normally" if I think about it, but if I don't try, I often end up reading ACBC.


I hope to help you with my answers. Here they are.
How do I read? Well, as happens with Food, there's Slow Reading and Fast Reading.
Literary Fiction and Non Fiction is, usually, slow reading - reading each sentence, re-reading, reading aloud until you get it. It's a wonderful experience.
Genre fiction (romance novels, sci-fi and the likes) is fast reading, sometimes skipping parts in order to get to the end.
But, of course, sometimes you find a Romance novelist that produces books that are a slow reading for you. For me, Kinsale, Bourne and Meljean Brook for instance, are slow reading.
And sometimes you find a literary author that's a fast reading.
So I don't read fiction differently from non-fiction, my main difference lies in genre fiction as opposite to any other kind of book.
I don't expect from a genre book to educate me, but entertain me. But entertaining is not an easy task! You can have boring literary fiction but never ever a genre book. That's the death of a genre author, I think.
Yes, I do persist with a book even if it doesn’t grab me, I'm one of those OC readers that have to end the book. Sometimes, though, I just leave it on the shelf for a while, and take it again in a few months. There are very few books I gave up.

Nicola Cornick

That's fascinating, Chi-An. I'm similar with needing to know the solution to a mystery and I sometimes wonder if I spoil my own reading pleasure by being too quick to get to the denouement! I've never heard of anyone reading a page in the way you do, though. It's very interesting!

Nicola Cornick

Many thanks for your thoughts, Bona. I think you explain the process very clearly and it's interesting that you read fiction and non-fiction the same. Some genre authors are definitely slow for me in the best possible way! I want to drain every drop of pleasure from the experience.

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