I’ve taken an idea from Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000), which is itself an amazing book full of good stories and equally good advice; I quote pieces to myself rather a lot. The part I’m thinking of now is what King calls the Prime Rule and the Great Commandment:
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others; read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around those two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.
I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read. It’s what I do at night, kicked back in my blue chair. Similarly, I don’t read fiction to study the art of fiction, but simply because I like stories. (p. 145)
I read and read and read all day, and then in between I read for fun, but there’s a difference. When I read with an editorial eye, I’m looking at how sentences work and whether words got repeated or misspelled or misused. I’m reading functional text and thinking about how well a teacher will be able to follow this lesson, whether all the facts in a story about a celebrity are correct, whether references to a figure or a handout title are capitalized consistently, how well a reader will be able visualize the action happening in a scene. It’s also repetitive work; I read through, make changes, read through again, go back and fix this or that, read through again to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and so on. I’m practicing my craft.
When I read for fun, I’m a very fast reader. Especially in novels, I love to get completely swept up in the story. Before my kids were born, I’d curl up on our big leather couch and read for hours at a stretch, not really realizing how much time had passed until the sun had gone down, my cup was long empty, and I was mysteriously hungry. (That still happens occasionally now, except the hours involved usually bookend midnight, after both girls are asleep.) It’s a lovely break to just fly through and not worry about the detail stuff because many other people have already worked on this particular story and the details have been attended to. It’s just me and the story.
And yet, as Stephen King continues, “there is a learning process going on. Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.” Which I’ve found to be true as well. King tells about reading a book in which the author described everything as zestful and it became “the literary equivalent of a smallpox vaccination: I have never, so far as I know, used the word zestful in a novel or a story. God willing, I never will.”
A few weeks ago, I decided that the balance between work and play had gotten out of whack, so I settled myself down to read some novels. (Actually, I can pinpoint this to the day I edited a review of Lick by Kylie Scott. I finished editing the article, kept a tab open to buy the book, and read it straight through as soon as I could. Then I bought the next in the series. And I signed up for Smart Bitches Trashy Books’ Books on Sale newsletter and bought plenty more by other authors. I’m kinda backlogged with romance reading and it’s wonderful.)
So here’s to a new series of posts with short reviews of what I’m reading now. It’s probably gonna be romance-heavy for awhile.