It has been observed by my outgoing youngest child that the Viking and I don’t like people much. This isn’t strictly true, but I’ll admit that we might possibly be reclusive. And our dog, Link, really doesn’t like people outside the family. At all. So there aren’t a lot of strangers who get past the door of the house. But the other day we had cause for a plumber to stop in. He took one look around and said, “Somebody sure likes to read.”
Well, yeah. I read a lot, and although I do read on Kindle at times I prefer paper books. I guess the stacks of books and overflowing book shelves make that pretty obvious. But what the casual observer wouldn’t see is that not all of those books are here because of my love of reading.
Once upon a time I lived in the world of books more than in the place known as reality. I loved books with all the intensity of a steamy romance. When I was in high school I always kept one book in each bathroom, one in the car, one in my bedroom, and one in my locker at school, so I would always have something to read. I read while I ate and while I walked and when I should have been sleeping. I put books inside my textbooks in class so I could read while appearing to be doing my school work. I haunted the school library and the town library and read all the books my older brother brought home as assignments. And when I discovered an author I liked, I read every book they ever wrote.
Sometime later, life happened. Kids and work and all of the responsibilities that come from running a household and paying attention to a relationship. When the kids were little I took to re-reading old favorites a lot, because it was easier to pull my nose out of the book and disengage from the fantasy world so I could pay attention to what needed to be done. But I still loved to read.
When I got serious about writing my reading time became severely limited – there didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to both read and write. Besides, I have precious little willpower, and if a book has really grabbed me I’m probably not going to put it down and put my butt in the chair to write words of my own. So for awhile I wasn’t really reading at all, treating books a lot like a recovering addict treats their drug of choice. Fortunately, I figured out this wasn’t healthy either. I require books; I must read to be healthy. Also, I don’t think you can write well if you’re not reading. So I started reading again, but some of the magic was missing.
For the most part I no longer read like I did before I became a writer. A lot of the time there’s a sense of obligation involved. I read a lot of books because people I know and care about wrote them. Sometimes I love these books, sometimes not so much. But I want to be able to offer support, to post a review, to be able to say, “Hey, I bought your book! You are awesome! Keep writing!”
I’m also much more critical than I used to be. I read with one eye on the story and the other on the writer’s process. How did he do that? How did she make me care about that character? Or, alternately, why is this book just not working for me?
Even fun programs like the Goodreads Reading Challenge steal a little of the love from my reading. It begins to feel like something I’m supposed to do, rather than a secret pleasure – the sort of thing that happens to sex when a couple is trying to get pregnant. What was once covert and stolen (like hiding a novel in a textbook during class) feels obligatory with overtones of guilt.
Last week, a wonderful thing happened. I picked up the first book in the Martha Grimes Richard Jury Mysteries. I had already read this years ago, along with every other Richard Jury novel I could get my hands on. This re-read wasn’t meant to be for pleasure. I recently sold a paranormal mystery- Dead Before Dying – to Diversion Books. There is going to be a series and I haven’t done a series before, so I’m trying to do some planning before I dive back in with the sequel. After a quick scan of the internet to read articles on the topic, I had the bright idea that my best instruction manual would be to actually read a series written by a successful author I love. I would start from the beginning, take notes, and see if I could see the plan and how it all is done.
I opened the book, and fell head over heels in love with Richard Jury and Melrose Plant and the other characters of Long Piddleton all over again. I found myself reading when I was supposed to be doing other things. Sneaking out the book and saying to myself just one more chapter when there were a million and one items on my To Do List. Staying up past my usual bedtime.
And loving every single minute.
This feeling is why I started writing books in the first place. I hadn’t really even noticed it was missing, but having it back is like a little precious bit of magic I can hold in my pocket throughout the work day. I’m a little anxious, not quite sure how to hold onto the newly awakened love and keep it from slipping away again. I’ve read some other fabulous books this year, and I’m not sure why they didn’t make me feel this way. Funny thing though, now I want to go back and re-read some of them.
So what’s the point of this long ramble? I’m not entirely sure, just yet, but it feels important. I think maybe it’s about not letting the business of writing get in the way of our passion. It’s so easy to get sucked into word count and deadlines, edits and formatting, reviews, marketing, and all of that other stuff that’s necessary for writers. But somehow we need to hold onto that all consuming love of words and characters and story–and the magical something that makes it all come alive.