Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Reading Road - by RM Greenaway

READING: Overheard at a recent convention: “I don’t read the way I used to before I was a writer.” Is this something you can relate to? What does it mean for you? Pros and cons?

I don't remember a time I wasn't a writer, and what I read has influenced my writing all the way along, but the relationship between reading and writing has definitely changed over the years.

As a very young writer, I didn't know that rich-and-famous was a thing.  The picture books I read -- Madeline being my role model, or the exploits of Winnie-the-Pooh as bedtime stories teaching me about society and empathy -- were shaping my world, and naturally the seed of desire to tell my own centre-of-the-universe story began soon as I learned how to cobble letters together. My ambitions were pure back then, though. Writing and drawing was just something you did, and books were just simply there for me to read, and everything was good and perfect and forever. 

Through my teens I came to the amazing realization that nothing is forever, and I wasn't even close to the centre of the universe. But I got over it. I learned that real people wrote books, and that I could too. I both wrote and read then for entertainment, vicarious thrills, and companionship ... fictional characters and problems were easier to deal with than the real thing. Still at that point I wasn't consciously trying to learn the craft from what I was reading, as I didn't place much value on my own angst-ridden poetry or rambling fiction. But as always, I was picking up skills along the way in spite of myself.  

Grew up, had a kid, got married, got a job, bought a house, in that order, and for several years to read the occasional novel was all I cared to do, to heck with writing. The adventure of life was fulfilling enough. I was not reading in order to learn the craft then either, though the critic inside was always muttering. What works for me, what doesn't? It was all part of the learning.

Then in my mid-thirties, when the adventure of life became more humdrum, I jumped back into writing with a passion, and at that point began to dissect what I was reading, trying to understand the mechanics of style, plot, word choices, etc. What makes a blockbuster (still don't understand that one) and what makes a book tank? I suppose reading has never been the same since.

Following being published though, I've regressed a bit. I easily forget to be analytical about what I read, except in a background kind of way. Truth is I've never been good at breaking a novel down to its skeletal form. I joined a book club this year run by my brilliant and enthusiastic neighbour, but soon dropped out as the discussion ran deep into the subtext of the books we read. I felt bad about my lack of ability to participate, and part of that is social awkwardness. All these smart things I'm thinking about don't come out so well, in a crowd. But also, my main criteria when reading, much like my evaluation of food or art, is do I or do I not like this, and I don't spend a whole lot of time trying to figure out why.

Maybe that's wrong, or maybe it's a good thing. Maybe it means I'm still more or less reading as I did When I Was Very Young, which is quite okay, at least for now. I'll get academic about it some other time. 

Also, I now know that rich-and-famous is a thing. It's just not my thing … yet!



1 comment:

Susan C Shea said...

First thing: There's no wrong in how we respond to books. As you said, do you like it or not is the key response. Second thing: I also tried book clubs and found myself not fitting in. either they didn't talk at all about the book they had supposedly just read, or they mined the poor thing for every message it implied or they could infer. I'm a snotty English lit major....