Today, I want to share a guest post I once penned for author Jen McConnel.
Reading, Writing, and (Even Some) ‘Rithmetic
It should come as a surprise to no one that I’m an avid reader. After all, what author isn’t?
I should make one thing clear, though: reading has always been truly hedonistic for me. I didn’t choose to read for knowledge (which probably explains a lot) or research (ditto) or even as part of a book-of-the-month club. I read for pleasure. Period.
And I devoured books; one after another, literally with one eye on the words I was reading and the other on the book that was next in line.
Try it yourself sometime; it takes practice, but it can be done.
Now, where was I? That’s right—describing my insatiable appetite for books.
The truth is that I want to read every single book that catches my interest. And there are a lot of ‘em. Heck, if I was in Twilight, I’d get Edward to turn me into a vampire—not because he’s dreamy and refined and oh so sparkly (although he is certainly all that … and more!), but because I’d then have the rest of forever within which to read.
How awesome would that be?
Don’t get me wrong. Some vampires would spend their time … I don’t know … going to high school, or serving drinks, or even saving the world, but not me. I’d have my nose in a book.
And as for the rest of me. Well, suffice it to say that a vampire’s gotta do what a vampire’s gotta do.
Anyway, back to reality. I once explained my love of reading to a blogger this way: I don’t leave the house without a book. I go to Disney World and read while waiting in line. I do not have a DNF pile. When I was a child I used to sneak into the hallway after bedtime to read by the nightlight. The list of things I would rather do than read is very short. Very, very short.
I’ve always loved to read. I’d often hope for a rainy day during my summer vacations so I’d have an excuse to stay inside and read.
I can’t even hazard a guess as to how many books I’ve read. I can tell you how many I’ve read since 1990, though, because I started keeping track: 2100+. Almost one hundred books per year … which is good, but not quite good enough.
Avid readers know what I mean.
Because I’m an author, many people expect me to be a critical reader. I’m not. My intent has always been to enjoy what I read, not pick it apart or compare it to some ideal.
Don’t get me wrong. When reading, I used to be as prone as the next reader was to thinking, Damn! I can write that. Or even, I can write better than that.
However, unlike the average reader, I did a bit of writing. And I came to realize that it isn’t as easy as it seems. There’s more to it than singular talent or desire or even skill.
Good writers aren’t necessarily successful writers. Successful writers aren’t necessarily good writers. And there will always be a successful writer that becomes the target of critics.
Of recent note, look at the Twilight series—which I read—or the Fifty Shades trilogy—which I didn’t. Did either author receive a Pulitzer? No (although I hear a grass roots movement to nominate the last two Fifty Shades novels for a Newbery Medal was making real headway until someone pointed out that James is a Brit) … but neither author claimed to be writing a literary novel. Instead, both authors did exactly what they set out to do: write novels that entertained a lot of people. And they sold a bunch of books while doing it. Of course, that incurred the wrath of many a critic; few of which ever authored anything beyond a scathing critique.
Still, I have become a more critical reader since I started writing. It’s an inevitable offshoot of being critical of my own writing. Yes, I still read for pleasure, but I can’t help but pay more attention to what an author does—or doesn’t do—well. It can only help improve my own writing.
And it hasn’t lessened my hunger for reading. In retrospect, I believe I always harbored a touch of fear around that point; that reading with a discerning eye would erode the pleasurable part of reading. That fear couldn’t be further from the truth.
If anything, my love of reading has increased with the addition of a critical lens. There is as much pleasure to be found in appreciating an artist’s mastery of the craft as there is in devouring the finished product.
That’s twice the pleasure, at least, for the same initial investment.
Posted on Wed, February 5, 2014
by Thomas Winship filed under