Few authors did not spend much of their childhood, nose buried deep in some book. Few writers have not continued this passion into adulthood. Yet with the pressures of keeping the blog up-to-date, trying to keep to our daily, allotted time to work on the latest manuscript, commenting on other blogs, not to speak of work and family commitments, reading can become squeezed into a tiny, diminishing corner.
First and foremost we read for pleasure, just as we have been doing ever since finally surpassing “Tom, Jane and Spot the dog” and progressing onto some more serious stuff, like Mrs. Pepperpot or the Moomins. Fiction was my first obsession, probably also my first (and only) therapist. The books I read taught me as much about real life as real life ever did. They also gave me that wonderful opportunity to evade the present and invade the worlds of so many other children, whose lives I became part of for so many blissful hours.
When, as a child, I was actually given an inspirational story title and not the deadly “How I spent my summer vacation”…. I either drew from autobiographical experience (such as in Grade 4 given the title “Pandemonium”, I narrated the narrow escape, with a bit of poetic license, of canoeing down the River Cam with a friend and encountering the unexpected weir) or I drew from my latest favorite author, retelling their tales with my own twist. As adults, even in developing our own unique voice, we will continue to be inspired by others, and rightly so I believe. Great storytellers will provoke us to conscious and unconscious analysis of why: this style, that character, this narrative is so effective. So also the weaker writers will teach us the “what not to do’s”. Such is life! Seuss, Yolen, Sendak provoke both the “I can never…” and the “I want to be like….” reactions in me; both healthy responses as far as I can see.
I am not saying we should limit ourselves to reading only in the genre in which we are writing. Much as I love reading Picture Books and Middle Grade novels, I sometimes yearn for some Big Girl fair. I read because I love to read, I cannot imagine a life without reading. As I writer I also intuitively read because I believe reading does make me a better writer. I am not just talking about understanding the rules of grammar or increasing my vocabulary, but that through reading I absorb experiences and art that will take my writing to another level. Nor do I believe we need to restrict ourselves to literary fiction to progress. I enjoy Jane Eyre to Harry Potter, Steinbeck to Ian Rankin. Read what you enjoy. Read what stretches your worldview. Read what friends suggest. Read in bed. Read on your commute. Read on the john. Just don’t give up reading, it is time well spent.
« …Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. »
So tell me, what are you reading this week?