Thursday, June 13, 2019

Yes, No, Kinda.

Q: Do you read different stuff when you're writing from when you're not? Why?

A: No. Sort of. Yes.

By Catriona

No - let me explain. When people (like Cathy yesterday) say they don't read while writing, I ache for them. I know if writing stopped me reading, I wouldn't be a writer. After all, when studying English literature threatened to get in the way of reading all those years ago, I switched to linguistics. I remember the very day it happened. I couldn't face reading the next few chapters of Jane Austen's Persuasion before a tutorial. There were two possibilities: she had written a dud* or I needed to find my bowling bag and get outta there.

*If she had written a dud, it would be the book chosen for study. After all, the Shakespeare we were assigned was . . . wait for it . . . The Winter's Tale. Because life doesn't have to be good.

I read whatever I want, whenever I feel like it, and count it as one of my great good fortunes that I'm literate, live in a time of electric light, with leisure, with libraries, and with enough disposable income to buy the books I need to feed my habit.

Sort of - let me explain. I read about a hundred books a year. Some of them I've "got to" read: to interview someone; to moderate a panel; to write a cover quote; to give encouragement to a pal. Most of them I choose to read, though: prowling the bookshops and review sections; building up my TBR shelves so I've always got exactly what I'm in the mood for, right there at hand; occasionally going back to old favourites and re-reading them, or re-re-reading them, or even re-re-re-read- . . . 

And usually, I'm writing through it all. But for between two and four weeks a year, I stop writing. Christmas-time and sometime in the summer, I declare that I'm on holiday. I don't write, and I don't read anything I've "got to" read either. Instead, I curate those mid-year and year-end TBR piles with a level of attention bordering on the obsessive. 

For example: the winter list needs at least one celebrity biography and one light non-fiction. Ideally, there'll be new poetry too. The summer list definitely needs poetry, but it doesn't have to be new. The summer list also needs at least one absolute banker: Harlan Coben, Lisa Scottoline, Kate Atkinson . . . 

And I try - I really do try - to keep Stephen King for these weeks. I usually fail.

That's as far as it goes with me combining reading and writing. I know I'm lucky. A writing pal of mine can't read first person while she's writing. She sometimes asks about a book I'm enthusing over, and I never know whether it's first or third because it doesn't matter to me. (Kind like how I said to my mum that Silence of The Lambs wasn't gory, because I'm not squeamish, and then spent the hour before she walked out going "Oh yeah. Sorry. Forgot about this bit.")

Yes - let me explain.There's one exception: P.G.Wodehouse. He must have the most infectious prose style ever to smack a scribbler right on the third waistcoat button. See what I did there? I love him and I laugh like a regiment marching over a tin bridge (did it again) when I read him, but I give him the extreme mitten (and again) while I'm trying to throw my own rose petal down the Grand Canyon in hopes of an echo. There's no more mordant description of writing than that, right? The man was a genius.



Cathy Ace said...

Yes, I missed reading, and am happier now I have more time for it 😃💕

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Yes, it's good to be literate, and thank goodness for electric light … and eye glasses.

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Dana King said...

You and I align almost perfectly here. It probably says something about me (and not necessarily something good), that James Ellroy lives in my niche where you have placed Wodehouse. The voice wants to take over.