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How Does Your Job Influence What You Read?

My wife and I were recently talking about our differences in book preferences. We’re both avid readers, but our reading selections couldn’t be more polar opposite.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: Why don’t you ever read any of the books I recommend?

Her: Because I don’t want to read those books.

Me: But why? Most of them are really good. They’re classics!

Her: And they’re all depressing. I don’t want to read depressing books.

Me: Ever?

Her: Yes. Ever.

Me: Not, like, once a year or something?

Her: No. I’m around really sick kids all day. I don’t want to come home and read depressing books.

Me: Oh, good point.

And there’s the rub.

My wife works in the medical profession, specifically pediatrics, so she’s around kids who are sick, and even dying, every single day. Kids. Even babies.

I don’t know how she does it.

So I can understand how, after a long day at work, she doesn’t necessarily want to come home and dive into The Grapes of Wrath or Never Let Me Go or Atonement or Revolutionary Road. That would be real-life depressing followed up by fictional depressing.

Because of that, she reads a lot of light fiction—fun, light-hearted stuff. She’ll be the first to tell you it isn’t serious stuff, and she’s fine with that.

So I wonder: How much do our jobs and our daily lives affect what we read?

I write all day, and I don’t mind reading about writers. But if I was a technical writer, I certainly wouldn’t want to go home and read dry, spy novels.

If you were a lawyer, do you think legal novels would interest you? Or just the opposite?

And, more than the profession itself, I think it’s the emotions you deal with during the day, the emotions your profession or daily activities bring out of you, that can possibly influence your reading choices.

So that’s why I understand my wife’s reading selections. If you work all day in tense, stressful and, sometimes, sad situations, you don’t want to come home and read stories that bring out those same emotions. Or do you?

What do you think? How does your life—job, career, daily activities, and the emotions that come with them—affect your reading?

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38 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’m working now 😉 Love it !

    Like

    December 14, 2012
  2. Amy #

    It’s the same thing with my friend and singing for fun. She’s a singer on a cruise. So when she goes out with us, she’s the first to veto any karaoking plans.

    Like

    December 14, 2012
  3. The emotional load of my life absolutely affects what I read. I, too, work pediatrics (OT – autism) and I travel a lot to train others. There is a lot of stress, but nothing like your wife’s job, and I am usually able to handle reading a book like Revolutionary Road if I read it very fast and then read something lighter.

    However, this past August, my mom got very sick and needed a lot of care so I have kept to the easier authors on the Time 100 list like Waugh, Green, Neale-Hurston and Rushdie (wow!!!). I even read Pale Fire. I started but had to put aside Grapes of Wrath and Invisible Man because they were too heavy. I’ll get back to them next year, perhaps.

    Like

    December 14, 2012
    • I think this could be a much more pronounced issue for people who work in the medical profession. Such a stressful job.

      Pale Fire is next up. What did you think?

      Like

      December 14, 2012
      • Teresa #

        It was very clever. Gave me a better appreciation for Nabakov and also for Lolita. I’d place it In the middle of the list for ranking: well done, but not my favorite. There is also the problem of how he handles the protagonist … But no spoilers here.

        Like

        December 14, 2012
  4. A very good point – though not sure it entirely explains the runaway success of “50 shades of grey” (erotic fiction) over here in the UK. Apparently most of those books were bought by normally non-readers. Nicola

    Like

    December 14, 2012
  5. a total aside: I loved Grapes of Wrath! I have everything but the tattoo..;) I am a personal chef (brilliant, undiscovered scribe) and i read everything: from your wife’s lighthearted choices that include the “Shopaholic” series…to “the Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery, to “Of Human Bondage” by Somerset, of course. I read cereal boxes, too. 🙂

    Like

    December 14, 2012
    • Yep, I think she read all the shopaholic books too.

      Okay, but you shouldn’t have told me you were a chef. Now I’m going to badger you with food questions… 🙂

      Like

      December 14, 2012
  6. onsiu #

    I am an English to Chinese translator. I read very little translated books as I do not want to end up judging my fellows. Reading while trying to suggest a better translation is pain in the ass but I just cannot help it.

    Like

    December 14, 2012
  7. This is a good question. I hadn’t thought about how what I do and what I choose to read may reflect upon each other. I am an English as a Foriegn Language teacher, teacher trainer and tutor and I work with translations as well. I read blogs, reports, research papers and essays from students age 8yrs old to adult professionals. I read about classroom management and most everything to do with education and language. I live in a developing country and deal with other languages in written and spoken form that surrounds me (and sometimes taxes my privacy) When I am able to steal away a few moments to relax and shut out the stresses and noise. I put classical music or meditative music on my mp3 and read …Bronte, Austen, Agatha Christie, *sigh* English in a well developed country with courteous sensibilities, customs and language. Then back to the classroom with smiles and enthusiasm and try not to obsess over misspelled words on the kids clothing. lol 😀

    Like

    December 14, 2012
  8. Interesting subject. I never thought I had any preference other than my whim. But as I consider your post, the most enjoyable fiction I read involves brutality, violence, aggression etc. You know, Blood Meridian, Neuromancer, Invisible Man, Snow Crash. These are all very similar to the work that I do as my work involves solving complex legal, financial, political and business operations issues; definitely hardcore mental battle. Maybe it’s soothing to consider that others, though fictional, struggle to achieve their goals.

    Deep, philosophical post Brother Robert!

    Like

    December 14, 2012
  9. I certainly found that my appetite for non-fiction was much higher when I was working a regular job in between rounds of grad school. Presumably because I wasn’t reading lots of non-fiction for work.

    Like

    December 14, 2012
  10. jennamarynowski #

    Interesting topic! I’m in marketing, and while I love to read fiction, I also like to read books by other marketers/communicators in my spare time for inspiration and ideas. I try to read several books at a time so I get a mix of fiction and marketing books!

    Like

    December 14, 2012
  11. I work in academia and read a lot of journals and non-fiction texts. I find I only want to read fiction at home. If I read non-fiction, it is biographical or autobiographical works. If my days are going to be spent in facts and jargon, I want my nights to be filled with stories.

    Like

    December 14, 2012
  12. As an English teacher, I read many classics – and lots of literature that help to explain those classics. When I started my blog, I thought I would continue along that vein…read “literature” and write about it. However, lately I have found that reading light and fun books relaxes me much more and gives me a much needed break from too much thinking. Fun post.

    Like

    December 14, 2012
    • Yep. Makes sense. I think when I’m done with this blog, I might read a bunch of light fiction and magazines for a while.

      Like

      December 17, 2012
  13. I’m a librarian, and I tend to read literary fiction. This is probably a chicken-and-egg question for me in terms of my job (Did I become a librarian because I read literary fiction, or do I read literary fiction because I became a librarian?). For me, parenthood has certainly changed my reading tastes, in that I don’t read anything that involves abuse/kidnapping/other terrible things happening to children. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, and I can’t go there when freely choosing what to read.

    Like

    December 14, 2012
    • Man, after the Friday shooting in Connecticut, I don’t know if I can handle reading a book about children getting killed ever again. Especially as a parent.

      Like

      December 17, 2012
      • It’s horrific. I’m still in shock.

        Like

        December 17, 2012
      • Don’t worry. The NRA will supply a gun with every book from now on.

        Like

        December 28, 2012
  14. I’ve never really thought about it but it’s a very interesting question! I devour a lot of books, but have noticed in the past year or so that I’ve started reading (and loving!) more detective stories, thrillers, etc.

    I’d always steered clear of those types of books, but suspect my lighter mental workload this year (reduced study
    load and very manageable admin job) might be behind my seeking out books that challenge me to think / read in a new way / stimulate my brain.

    Now that I think about it, I’ve always sought out books that are deeply rooted in their location – probably due to me having a small travel budget and therefore travelling through reading!

    Like

    December 15, 2012
    • Interesting. Never thought about travel reading that way. If you’ve never read Things Fall Apart, it definitely would fall in that category.

      Like

      December 17, 2012
      • Thank you Robert for the recommendation! I’ve never read it – I’ll have to look for it in my fave bookstore (no Kindle edition, unfortunately!).
        Thanks again!
        Jess

        Like

        December 28, 2012
  15. I like to read everything and anything. From light-hearted to serious, from crime to chick lit. I don’t know about jobs but my mood sure does affect what I read. And jobs do affect your mood, so maybe they’re interlinked?

    Like

    December 15, 2012
  16. When I worked outside of my home, the job I had didn’t affect my reading choices at all, unless someone recommended a book that I thought I might be interested in…

    Which was hardly ever…

    Because where I worked, the people thought I was nuts for reading so much, and often called me “brainy” or some other snide, anti-intellectual description…

    Yeah.

    Like

    December 15, 2012
  17. I seem to have an aversion for books which include articles supposedly written in an newspaper. They’re done so badly and having worked in that field for many years it hurts to read things that are completely in the wrong style. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen had so many examples of newspaper articles that would in reality never make it into print.

    Like

    December 15, 2012
  18. I totally agree with your wife. I used to work in a high pressure job and when I had time to read I just couldn’t handle anything heavy. No matter how much I love to read classic literature, it was too much. I read happy romances because I knew at the end of every story there would be a happily ever after. Now that my job situation has changed, I am finding that while I love to read the classics, I’m still at my happiest professionally and personally when I am reading something light and uplifting. What I read totally impacts my moods. So when I’m really happy in my personal life I find myself reading those classic novels I’ve always wanted to read, but when my life is a challenging I’m tearing through some romance comedies as my way of chilling out. I find book therapy is a lot cheaper than psychotherapy or even a gym membership.

    Like

    December 15, 2012
  19. karlgdnr #

    I can see where your wife is coming from. I used to read a lot of classics until I went to uni. there I ahd to read classics and heavy-going books so it became a chore. During my spare time I would read fantasy/escapism. Then I started cleaning in a cancer ward at the hospital, which moved me on to comedy. The only problem was I had to try and not think about the comedy I’d been reading when I was at work. Nothing more awkward than bursting out laughing when walking past a terminally ill patient.

    Like

    December 16, 2012
  20. I’m working as a writer/editor at the moment, and find that I can’t read lots of blocks of text at the moment. No problem, as I’ve been introduced to some fantastic comics and graphic novels! I get my fill of good story and fantastic art.

    Like

    December 16, 2012
  21. This is sort of why I generally don’t read non-fiction and prefer to stick to thriller/horror/sci-fi/fantasy-type books that wouldn’t actually happen in real life. I live in the real world all day, why would I want to go home and read about it some more?

    I also just agree on general principle with your wife that I don’t want to read sad things. I hate sad books (The Road was like the worst thing ever), I hate sad movies, I hate sad songs even. My idea of entertainment is not being depressed, thank you very much.

    But on the other hand, I can see where you’re coming from with the classics angle. However, I personally enjoy the light-hearted ones more (Jane Austen) and tend to be bored silly by depressing, Dickens-like ones (though I haven’t read Dickens for a while). I do think some of them are valuable reads, but there are some authors who tend to write depressing things who I will just never like and in fact actively hate, like James Joyce and William Faulkner.

    My fiance and I have pretty different taste in books as well…I’ve gotten him to read a lot of mine, but he’s had rather less success getting me to read his. Oops.

    Like

    December 18, 2012
  22. ifnotread #

    I’m studying my Masters currently and my reading habits change dramatically when I’m studying and when I’m on holidays. Because I will read so many papers, articles, non-fiction books I will read a lot of fiction during school time.
    I have to say that even your own living situation might affect how you read. I started reading a YA The Fault In Our Stars by John Green (not being a huge YA reader though) and I couldn’t finish it. It’s about teens dying of cancer. Really? If I had known before I started I would never have picked it up. Everyone raves about it and yes, it’s probably a great book but since having children of my own, I just can’t stomach that kind of story anymore….

    Like

    December 18, 2012
  23. doodledesk #

    I think the profession you have makes you inclined towards the OPPOSITE genre of books. An alternative world is always refreshing for the daily routines.

    Like

    December 23, 2012
  24. doodledesk #

    I also get surprised when I find someone NOT liking classics

    Like

    December 23, 2012
  25. I am a lawyer.

    Maybe I even became a lawyer because I loved the John Grisham and Brad Meltzer novels when I was in school. They were the first novels I read in English (not my first language) and they actually helped with learning the English (or American) legal terminology which should turn out to be helpful later in life.

    But now I prefer to read other books. Novels about history, travel, spy novels, big, long books like “The Magic Mountain” or “Dr Zhivago”. Books that take me into another time (but only back in time, not forward).

    It is not that I dislike books about lawyers. If there would be a good one, I might enjoy it. But I can’t turn off the lawyer brain, so many legal statements in books of fiction would make me cringe because they are either not true, or misstated or extremely simplified. – But then I have the same feeling when I read newspaper reports about court cases.

    Like

    December 28, 2012
  26. I think it depends on my emotional state rather than my job. I work in quite a stressful occupation – teaching – but I like quite dark and depressing fiction and that is what I read most of the time. Sometimes it does all get too much and I turn to something more light-hearted but this is usually due to events in my life not my job. Having said that I wouldn’t want to read something that reminded me specifically of my job and that particular set of stresses.

    Like

    January 7, 2013
  27. I have worked as a CFO, in marketing and IT as well as chucking it all in and travelling through Asia for most of a year. Despite these changes my literary preferences have not significantly changed. I think it is my nature to want a book which broadens my view, entertains but is not fatuous, and is life affirming.
    Certainly at times when work is intense, I lack the energy for the classics and do can empathize with your wife’s view. However, at the core my tastes reflect me more than being influenced by my work.

    Like

    January 24, 2013

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