I’ve always loved this quote from Stephen King. Something about it rings very true for me. It speaks to my heart. It is why I want to be a writer… but it is also why I am an avid reader.
When I was very little, before I learned how to read, my dad used to read to me before bed. He had a big, ugly, plaid Daddy chair and I would climb into his lap so he could read to me. Usually Dr. Suess. I don’t remember if he did different voices or anything like that, but I remember thinking it was the most fun thing ever. Better than playing kickball and riding my bike. Better than TV.
Though our house seemed small to me when I was young, it was a pretty decent size. And one of the perks was the room my parents called the den. Aside from the one wall where the woodstove was, the other three walls were lined with built in bookshelves. Two of them were half-walls of shelves and you could sit on the couches beneath. But that third wall was floor to ceiling. And every shelf held books.
As soon as I learned how to read on my own, this became my favorite room in the house.
I am and always have been an awkward spaz, so there were a lot of days that I spent lying outside on a blanket reading a book in the sun while the other kids down the street played games.
(Don’t get me wrong, I played sometimes too… it just usually ending up with me hurting myself in some way. I still sport a scar just under the jut of my bottom lip where I attempted to catch a baseball with my face once.)
Winter was even better, because I could lay right in front of the woodstove and soak up the heat from the fire. I’m pretty sure my mother has some pictures of me napping there, a cup of tea near my hand and my face on a book. There might even be a cat. So, basically, my idea of Heaven.
It was all that reading that made me realize I wanted to be a writer. I think I might have mentioned that before.
Reading really does feel like magic to me. When the world around me feels too shitty or dark or chaotic to deal with, I can disappear into a good book. You know the beginning of the movie Stand By Me? How Richard Dreyfuss is typing in his study, and then it fades into the scenes from the past?
That’s sort of how reading works for me. It starts as words on the page, but then quickly starts playing like a movie in my head. And if it’s *really* good, it’s like I’m there. Not me, exactly, but like I’m an invisible observer, the way you are sometimes in dreams.
I don’t know if that happens for other people when they read. But it does for me. And it’s one of the reasons I devour books like candy. Only, candy that’s good for me. Because, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as a book that’s bad for your brain. Not even the books some consider “trashy”. I don’t hold with that.
It’s a pretty widely held belief that writers should also be voracious readers, and it’s one I happen to hold strongly.
Not only do I personally need it as an escape when my brain is overloaded, but it’s so incredibly important to keep learning and pushing yourself as a writer. Read outside your favorite genres. Read books by authors that look nothing like you, like these. Or these. Or some of these.
There are no end to the places and things you can experience, the people whose lives you can walk among.
Sometimes, you’re going to stumble on a dud. A book that either just doesn’t do it for you, or is actively bad. Now, usually in this instance, my advice would be to put it down and move on to something else. Don’t waste your time on bad books when there are so many amazing ones out there.
But, for a writer, it can be a helpful object lesson. While not as pleasurable as reading a good book, even a bad book can teach you something. If you’re reading and you think to yourself, “God, this _____ is terrible!”, make a note of it. Pay attention to what the author is doing that is burning your bacon, so you can avoid doing it yourself.
And, too, if you read something and you’re absolutely loving it, make a mental note of how the author has hooked you. What is it about that book that brings tears to your eyes, or makes your heart pound? More than just enjoying the story, enjoy the craft. Mentally mark a well done turn of phrase, or a deft bit of character development.
Some might feel that studying the nuts and bolts ruins the magic, but I disagree.
Books, in my opinion, aren’t magic like a trick, where if you know how it’s done it ceases to be impressive. Because a good book is not a con. It’s not sleight of hand, making you look one way while the author fakes you out.
A good book is alchemy. Like a good meal. Knowing the recipe doesn’t make the food taste bad. In fact, sometimes when you realize what skill went into a dish, it makes it taste even better. At least, that’s been my experience.
There are so many great reasons to read books. These are only a few. Though, they are pretty important reasons. Especially if you want to be a writer.
If you want to hear about some of my favorite books, and more thoughts on reading, you can check out my #ReaderoftheMonth post over at The Pink Heart Society!