General Reader

Non-professional reader, general reader: two terms I came across recently in books that I read that described the book’s audience.

I think they are talking about me.

I found the “non-professional reader” term in the acknowledgements for The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan, about the three decades of war between Athens and Sparta (with a cameo appearance by the Persian Empire), 431-404 BC.

The Peloponnesian War

The Peloponnesian War

The “general reader” term came from Your Brain on Cubs, Inside the Heads of Players and Fans, a compilation of scientific essays edited by Dan Gordon of the Dana Foundation. From the front inside book jacket: “The contributors to Your Brain on Cubs introduce us to the role of the brain, not just in these emotions, but in many aspects of watching and playing sports.” “Emotions” referring to “a come-from-behind win and the equally powerful crush of a disappointing loss.”


Your Brain on Cubs

Your Brain on Cubs

After thinking about it, I came up with my own definition of “non-professional reader” and “general reader”: A reader who is not a specialist in the field of a book’s subject.

Okay, now I know they are talking about me. I’m not a historian or a scientist, but I seek out books in those (and other) fields.

What was most fascinating to me about the Peloponnesian war is that the leaders of Athens and Sparta, Pericles and King Archidamus II, respectively, did not want to engage in war, yet it happened anyway. After three decades of war [spoiler alert], Athens surrenders. Sparta’s reigning regime is relatively short-lived, however, as a few years after that, Philip II of Macedon comes along and conquers both of them (and a whole lot more) and his son, Alexander the Great continues the empire’s expansion. So much for the Greek independent states.

And while it took about 30 years for Sparta to conquer Athens, the Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series title since 1908. I had great hopes for them in the 2008 season (the Cubs, not Athens or Sparta), thinking they could win on their 100-year anniversary. Didn’t happen, but I haven’t given up.

The first essay in Your Brain on Cubs is The Depths of Loyalty, Exploring the Brain of the Die-hard Fan by Jordan Grafman, Ph.D. I’ve never met Dr. Grafman, yet there I am in his essay. Another essay, Baseball and Handedness by Kenneth M. Heilman talks about left-handedness, right-handedness, along with left-eye and right-eye dominance. What does it all mean? Turns out, it means a lot in how and when a batter sees the pitched ball and its trajectory towards home plate.

The Forest Unseen book cover

The Forest Unseen

Fascinating, just fascinating. So to all the historians, scientists, and other specialists out there: Keep writing for me! I’m reading as fast as I can and I’ll get to your specialty soon!

Now that I think about it some more, I just love being a non-professional, general reader. My next book in the general reader category: The Forest Unseen, A Year’s Watch in Nature by David George Haskell. Looking forward to it!

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