I think it is an axiom that all writers love to read. For myself, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a book that I was either reading or planning to read. There have been times when I had two or three going simultaneously, usually from a mix of genre. My go to genre is science fiction and/or fantasy, but I have worked my way through horror, mystery, thriller, and many others. I have gone head to head with some of the “classics” of literature and spent months working my way through 1930’s pulp thrillers (Doc Sampson, anyone?). And through all of these hundreds or possibly thousands of books, there have only been a few that I couldn’t finish. I am a very accepting reader and a gentle critic. Who am I to judge? Right?
Besides reading for the sheer entertainment, writers are supposed to read to help learn their craft. The thought is that you can learn that hard to put into words factor that makes a story great. Or conversely, you will learn to avoid the things that can sink an otherwise okay novel. Personally, I hated the thought that I should learn from my reading. I firmly believe that a lot of students are turned off of reading due to this very reason. How can you truly experience the story if you have to take notes on every paragraph? For me, a good story will pull me in until the words blur on the page and the scenes play out in my head. Since I started writing, my reading has slowed down. Time is limited, so choices must be made. Why would I want to ruin my escapes, my way of shedding life’s tensions for a while. It shouldn’t by any means be work. However, without my realizing, it happened.
The last book that I read (I’m not going to name it, it wouldn’t be fair) was very entertaining and well written. I found it difficult to put down and it had me nearly skipping ahead to see i the ending was what I expected. The end of every chapter left the reader wanting to start the next. The concept was original, the characters were well-rounded, and the pacing was spot-on. See what I mean. I started paying attention to these “behind the scenes” qualities of the story. I found myself admiring a particular phrasing or hating an oft-repeated joke. On one hand I marveled at the lean chapters with tight prose that moved the story along without burying it in detail, and on the other hand I couldn’t believe the same person had written some of the dialogue. At one point I caught myself contemplating breaking the story down to examine the pacing better, and it scared me.
Now I am almost afraid to pick up the next book off of the pile (yes, a literal pile of books to read). I still enjoyed reading the book (I will definitely be picking up the next in the series), and to be honest, most of the observations I was making didn’t bubble to the surface until I closed the book for the night. So they weren’t too distracting, I suppose, but I wonder about the next. Will I enjoy it as much as would have before I started writing? An impossible question to answer. I will just have to trust that the author is good enough to distract me from the disassembling of their words. If not, then I will pick away and expose the bones of their story to the harsh light of criticism. Either way, I just might learn something. All the more reason to read.