Katherine A. Powers loves a "good read":
In fiction the qualities essential to a good read are generous portions of character, character development, and plot; a palpable sense of place and material reality; reoccurrences of situations and quirks that become an inside joke between writer and reader; some seriousness -- though not solemnity -- of purpose; and, above all, consistency and follow-through. You have to trust your writer not to let you down: not change the tacit rules of the narrative or simply be sloppy. He must not disobey the laws of nature or time. He mustn't cry wolf more than once or twice, or trump up spurious motives. And he will never be forgiven for simply calling it a day, leaving a mess of loose ends at the end. . . .
Perhaps this description is an acceptable enough account of "escapist" fiction, but why must such escapism be equated with a good read? Is this truly what makes reading worthwhile? Encountering a novel that's so predictable, so easily reduced to "generous portions" of character development, plot, "material reality"? That doesn't challenge one's accepted notions of "consistency and follow-through"? Isn't the implicit message here that a "good" read is an easy read?
What among Powers's list of desirable attributes couldn't be done just as readily in a film, or even a situation comedy? What on this list gets at the distinctive qualities of reading, those qualities that involve not merely being mesmerized ("intoxicated" is Powers's preferred term) by the secondary effects of prose fiction ("generous portions of character," "the tacit rules of the narrative") but lead to reflection or rumination, or to an enhanced appreciation of the possibilities of writing and reading? That ask the reader to participate in the creation of meaning or value? Would a book that encouraged its readers to engage in these sorts of activities rather than sit back passively, as Powers would have it do, be a "bad read"?
This implicit equation of the pleasures of reading with mindlessness is one reason I can't accept the commonly-held notion that getting people (especially young people) simply to read--it doesn't matter what, as long as they're reading--should be the goal of language/literary instruction. The idea seems to be that once we've encouraged non-readers to find in book form the equivalent of what they enjoy in movies or video games they'll move on to more challenging books providing other, more complex reading experiences. I don't see how this could happen. If what you want can be offered more readily, with more immediacy, in these other media, why would you settle for the diluted version in a book, much less seek out different kinds of gratification in more difficult books? What service to either reading or writing is it to suggest that books are worth our attention because sometimes they're almost as good as movies?
Why not let movies do what they do, and books do what they do--which is something qualitatively, not just relatively, different? Wouldn't even Katherine Powers more reliably find what she thinks of as a "good read," something to which she can "surrender," at her local cineplex?