Monday, August 13, 2012
Why do you read?
I was talking to a woman last night about how as a writer I feel it's important to read and that one of the things I do 'for work' is my 52 books in 52 weeks project. She looked at me rather oddly and asked 'But why?'
I confess to being stumped momentarily. Why do I read? It had never occurred to me that I would need to justify reading. But then, considering how few people read regularly, and how often people speak of reading as if it's some rare experience that one should deny oneself in favour of more serious pursuits, maybe it's not such a silly question.
Obviously I think everyone should read and read a lot, but for writers I think it's imperative for the following reasons:
Read to be inspired.
One of my favourite reading experiences is discovering authors who make me think - "I want to be that writer when I grow up". These are the writers who craft such beautiful language that you want to read them over and over and highlight them and maybe read them once more. Chris Cleave, Jhumpa Lahiri and Sue Monk Kidd, are three such authors who immediately come to mind. Writers like these are a reminder that every single paragraph counts.
Read to discover new worlds.
When I was starting out writing I was advised to not only read but read widely and out of my preferred genre. To that I would also add reading across cultures. It is easy to fall into familiar rhythms and patterns when writing and to simply go where the market is. Reading outside your comfort zone takes you down completely different paths. To use a cinema example, it's a bit like going from The Avengers to a Hayao Miyazaki film. A movie like The Avengers follows a story structure that is incredibly familiar, whereas a Miyazaki - perhaps Spirited Away - ebbs and flows in a completely different way. Exploring new worlds encourages you to push the boundaries in your own writing.
Read to remember what it's like to be a reader.
I was asked recently what sort of writer I want to be. I replied that I want to write books that people can't put down. Why? Because those are the books that I enjoy. It's like striking gold when you discover the book that keeps you awake all night; the one that you smuggle into the bathroom and lie about when your children are hammering on the door! As a writer you are not only asking your reader to part with some hard earned cash, but also to give up precious time. To do that I think you have to be clear about how good a book would have to be for you to give up your time. Besides, how can you connect with a reader, if you've forgotten what it's like to be one?
Read because we need more readers and writers and readers...
I once met an author who seemed to hate other authors, as if we were all locked in a fierce battle for the attention of a lone reader. Are there limited readers and too many authors? That's certainly the perspective that the doomsayers like to promote. I'd rather believe that there will always be readers out there looking for the next great read - I know I am.
While people would like to think of writers as noble beings who should give away everything for free, most writers I know also enjoy being able to buy groceries and pay bills. So rather than going around strangling other authors in their sleep I'd rather encourage new readers. For me the best way to do that is by reading good books and telling other people about them, because ultimately that's good for all of us.
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