Monday, February 27, 2006

Reading 4 Pleasure

One of the worst things about becoming a writer is the way it has affected my reading. Ann asked in the previous post, how we indulged ourselves. And the question bugged me all day. I *used* to indulge myself by reading. It was my greatest pleasure. (Well, up there close to the top of the list, anyway. And one of the few great pleasures you can do--and in fact, do best--by yourself. ) And it was such a guilty pleasure. There were always things that I should have been doing. It made it seem all the more like I was giving myself a treat, which made reading a real indulgence.
Then I started actively writing and found myself critiquing everything I read. That took some of the joy away. As I became a better writer, I learned not critic quite so extensively, partly because I also learned that I didn't have to finish every book I started. If I can't get into the book enough to shut the critic up, I quit reading. As I became more secure in the strength of my own writing, I felt less obligated to 'learn' something from every book I read. That also took some of the pressure off and gave a little of the pleasure back. I also gave myself permission to go back and study later--I don't have to stop in the middle of the book and examine how or what the author did so right--the books or passages that impress or blow me away, that helped bring back some of the enjoyment. But where is the indulgence? Where's that guilty sense of pampering myself, just because I settle down with a book?
Part of the problem, I'm sure, is that I read very few books, for no other reason than I want to read them. There is never enough time. My 2 B Read pile, if all stacked together, would rival Mt. Kilimanjaro. But when I start looking at the various stacks for what to read next, at least 2 dozen books seem to holler, "Hey. Me, next. You *need* to read me." There are research books, books from a publisher or market I'd like to submit to, books by friends, books to judge for some contest. In other words, books I *need* to read for some reason that has nothing to do with the pure joy of reading. That doesn't mean that I don't find books I enjoy along the way. (One of last year's RITA books was a surprising joy, especially since it was in a subgenre I don't normally care for.) It all means that reading isn't the greatly anticipated indulgence it used to be.
It isn't even as much fun to buy books. I remember when a couple of hours wandering in a bookstore brought almost as much pleasure as reading. The big challenge was not buying more than I could afford. Now, I rarely find myself buying books that don't have some 'reason' attached to them. It's like reading has become part of my job. (And I remember when that thought would have excited me sooooo much. Getting to read as part of my job? Who could ask for anything better?)
I know I can't be the only one who has felt this way. So, how do I 'fix' it? How do I bring back the passion and the joy of it? I sure hope someone has an Rx. I sorely miss the guilty pleasure.


Ann Roth said...

I'm in the same boat. Alfie. Lately I've been reading non-fiction stuff--biographies, advanced writing craft books.

We all have authors we adore, right? I buy new books by these authors whenever I find one on the shelves.

There are loads of great novels out there. Finding them may not be easy, so ask your friends for their recommendations. Or read some of the classics. They're classics for a reason--timeless themes, beautiful writing, wonderful characters.

Sometimes a celebrity, politician, or author will mention their favorite writers in an interview. I always pay attention to their choices. And judging published author contests, such as the Rita, often leads me to an author I want to read more of.

JoAnn Ross said...

The same thing happened to me years ago and I always know it's one dynamite book if I stop mentally editing as I read. Unfortunately, this ailment seems to be contagious. After living with me for the 23 yrs I've been published, my sweetie complains about the same thing. And he's probably the only person on the planet who never wanted to write a book! LOL

Sally MacKenzie said...

Here's a sad story--I was standing in the ladies' room this weekend, waiting for a friend, and I started proofreading one of the wall signs. Found two errors and a wording change I'd make.

Yes, Alfie, I've definitely found that writing has affected my reading. But one good thing--every time I go into a bookstore, I see books by my friends. I want to grab someone's arm and say, hey, I "know" that author.

Alfie said...

Okay, Ann. What's your recommendation? What book would you tell me to read, strictly for the guilty pleasure I'm sure to have?

And JoAnn, don't tell my honey that, will you? He loves reading enough--maybe more than me?--that he would probably divorce me if he thought living with me would ruin it for him.

Ann Roth said...

Hmm, Alfie. Do we share the same tastes? I love Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Ain't She Sweet is a favorite, though I must say, I like all her stuff. Anything by Barbara Samuel. Most of Rachel Gibson's stuff. That's a start, anyway.

Allison Brennan said...

I used to read 2, 3, 4 books a week until I started writing seriously. Now, I'm lucky to read 2 a month. I miss losing myself in books, and it takes an exceptional author to allow me to disappear for a few hours. There are a few, though, that I enjoy immensely.

Alfie said...

Sally, don't ya love the impulse to edit the handwriting, even on bathroom walls? I do agree that it is fun 'knowing' so many fabulous authors. (I get a lot of mileage out of it at various places, especially at my bowling league.)

Ann, SEP's Ain't She Sweet was one of the most recent books I got that really lost in it feeling reading. Guess I'll try one of Rachel Gibson's.

Allison, now you name names? What book last allowed you to get really immersed?

Allison Brennan said...

The last book I absolutely lost myself in and stayed up until after 2 am to finish was Tess Gerritsen's VANISH. I read it in virtually one sitting, starting in the morning during naptime (the kids), then only putting it down because they wouldn't let me read, and picking it up at their bedtime. I still can't get the characters out of my head, I loved her first person present that actually went through the past, interspersed with the third person past that was taking place now. (My grammar terms are lacking, LOL)

There have been a few books that I enjoyed, but I can't say I "lost myself" in them. One RITA book came close, and it wasn't something I would normally pick up. I have SEP's latest sitting here staring at me and I've enjoyed some of her books in the past, so that has a lot of potential. I also have the newest JD Robb book waiting, and the NF book MARLEY & ME which I bought for my husband, but now I want to read it.

Colleen Thompson said...

I just have to mention that I loved MARLEY & ME. I laughed, I cried... yada, yada, yada - but I was totally sucked in.

THE GLASS CASTLE is another *wonderful* memoir I've read recently. Though I'm normally a novel reader (and writer), I literally could not put down this story of a girl growing up in the most strangely creative yet lethally-impoverished/irresponsible household imaginable. You HAVE to read this book!