Sponge, Sand Glass, Strain-bag, Mogul Diamond?

Last week, I talked about getting started again after a long break. I did start again, but I am in the middle of writing a scene I absolutely hate, and I am not sure if that means the idea behind the scene stinks, or if my writing stinks and the idea is good, or what. So I am going to finish writing the scene, gritted teeth and all (my heroine DOES get to knock someone out, which is cool, but the hero doesn’t arrive until later, late bastard), but meanwhile, my brain has been doing its best to keep me away from productive time at the keyboard.

So I’ve pulled out a fun book to browse through, Nicholas ParsonsThe Book of Literary Lists (I cited a Barbara Cartland quote on my own Diary yesterday; click here to read it). And discovered this:

Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s Four Classes of Book Reader

Sponges, who absorb all they read and return it nearly in the same state, only a little dirtied.
Sand-glasses, who retain nothing, and are content to get through a book for the sake of getting through the time.
Strain-bags, who retain merely the dregs of what they read.
Mogul diamonds, equally rare and valuable, who profit by what they read, and enable others to profit by it also.

I wish I were a mogul diamond, but I think I must confess to being a sponge: I read a lot, and don’t always think too hard about what I’ve just read. Sometimes I read just to keep my mind occupied, sand-glass style, but I do retain more than nothing. My mom is a sand-glass–she can barely remember what’s happening WHILE she’s reading the book, but she reads all the time, and is an even faster reader than me, and I am pretty darn fast.

So–do you think Coleridge is right in his categories? What kind of reader are you? And, as a bonus question, if you were to read a scene where the previously meek heroine decks a guy, would you hate it?

Thanks for sharing–


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Cara King
16 years ago

I think my mom is a sand-glass too! She had nothing whatsoever to say about my book after she read it, except a bland “I liked it, of course.” 🙂 My brother, by contrast, though he took three months to get around to reading the dang thing, wrote me a very long email saying exactly what he thought about every bit of the book! 🙂

I think Coleridge needs to add another category, which is for me: part sponge, part diamond, and part sand-glass. I do not retain things as crisply as some (for example, Todd.) I will remember a joke from a book, and remember the gist of the joke; Todd will remember the joke word for word. I will remember an anecdote about something that happened to a composer travelling abroad, but may get confused and remember the story with a different composer, or a different country… 🙂

But I do sometimes think about things I read…which I think is what Coleridge means about diamonds???


16 years ago

I guess I am closer to a sponge than anything else—and who would admit to being a strain bag? It sounds like a horrible modern insult!!!

Re: your scene, Megan, I’d LOVE to read that scene. Especially if the hero shows up too late to help get the bad guy!

16 years ago

I find these categories to be a little self-serving as possited by an author. You only take away good stuff from the novel only if you are a mogul diamond?

Somehow he’s set this up so that if you read fast, then you take ntohing away (sand-glass). Or if you remember some parts, then they have to be dregs (strain-bag). Only if the novel is completely transformative do you, the reader, become the mogul diamond. I think he’s blaming the reader for not appreciating his literary genius.

But I read fast, and I do take good parts away from lots of books I read, but only a very few are so impressive that they make me a better person. So I’m a diamond-filled-sand-glass-strain-bag reader.

Janet Mullany
16 years ago

I think I’m a little of everything, but doesn’t it depend on what you’re reading? And this…whacks first edition of the collected works with a strain bag…this, Mr. Coleridge, is your brain on opium.

So does your heroine hit him with a strain bag or a sand-glass? I don’t think the sponge would do much damage, nor the diamond unless she jammed it up his nose.


Elena Greene
16 years ago

No need to think about it. Being a skiier I think it sounds great to be a mogul diamond. (For those not familiar with skiing terminology, moguls are bumps on a ski slope and the black diamond is a common symbol for an expert slope).

A bunch of snow just dumped on upstate NY–finally–disrupting a meeting I meant to have with my CPs but meaning we should have a few weeks of decent skiing left.

Oh, this post was about reading, wasn’t it?

Elena 🙂

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

I think I profit by what I read, but in a particularly painful way. What I most retain is what I don’t quite understand, mostly because I don’t have the life experience to comprehend it — yet — but am curious, fascinated, troubled by what I’m missing. The piece of grit in an oyster if I’m lucky, the sliver of ice lodged in my heart if I’m not. When I was in my 20s I read a passage from Doris Lessing’s The Four-Gated City, about sex and the body’s aging, and I was thrilled and fascinated — but hey, I was in my 20s and didn’t know anything about aging and also (in truth) had a lot to learn about sex. But recently it seems to me that I’ve been drawing on this passage in various ways ever since I began to write fiction (in my 40s), though it’s only recently come back to consciousness:

“And was it Jack then, who bent her head back so that he could see where the thirty years of her life were written in the soft place just under her chin? Just there and nowhere else on her body did the wear of time show. He touched with soft fingers the soft crinkling place, and kissed it, tears in his eyes because of the anguish of time eating. Jack comforted Martha. Martha took comfort from Jack.”

I just hope I can still use it now that it’s come back to consciousness.

Elena Greene
16 years ago

Back to literate mode and to Megan’s last question…

I don’t think I’d hate the scene as long as the heroine had a good (or at least amusing) reason for decking a guy. Which I assume she has.

When I hate a scene, it’s usually one of two things. Something is wrong with the scene; sometimes going for a “thinking walk” or showing it to a CP isolates the problem. Or I’m just overthinking things in the throes of first-draftitis, when I should just be having fun and exploring the possibilities.


Amanda McCabe
16 years ago

I think the next time I’m angry with someone I’m going to call them a “strain bag”. It sounds horrid! Though sponge (which I think is mostly what I am, reading-wise) doesn’t sound so great, either. 🙂

Megan, is the decking scene meant to show that your heroine has grown in inner strength and confidence? If so, I think I would really love it.

Megan Frampton
16 years ago

Yes, the fight scene shows she’s not nearly as pathetic as she thinks she is–there is a call to action, and she answers. I am almost through it, and have resolved to just get through it, then get back to it and make it better. Like Elena, I have “first draftitis.”

I do envy those mogul diamonds, although I do agree Coleridge does sound like a windbag.

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