Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Lost Pleasure of Reading (For a Writer)

In an interview with Joselyn Vaughn on Amy Corwin's blog (do check out the interview--great stuff, great author), something came up that made me stop and go "huh."  It was Joselyn's answer to the question: "What makes a great book?"

This is her answer:
"When you start writing, you notice the writing in other books. You don’t get to read for pleasure very much anymore. You notice that they repeated a word or phrase within two sentences or you pick up the sly hints/foreshadowing much too easily. For me a great book has become one where the story is so engaging that I don’t notice any of this stuff—that is allows me to read purely for pleasure.[...]"
 Huh, I went.  Because this is so totally f*cking true.

I've noticed, since I started writing seriously (as in, since I quit my job and devoted days and nights on end to learning this craft), that I don't read the same way.  Since I learned to read, at around age four, books have been a treasure trove for me.  An alternate universe to lose myself in, a source of experience for things I may never have the fortune (or misfortune, depending on genre) to live through myself, a journey into the deeper side of humanity.

And all that is shot to hell now.

Because now, when I pick up a book--and I don't mean just trashy stuff, although I am reading the new Jean M. Auel and...  Ok, I'll save that for another post.  No, I mean any book.  Garcia Marquez.  DH Lawrence.  Mr. Patterson.  Mr. Koontz and Mr. King, my two steady literary love affairs from the beginning of time.  Jane Eyre.  The Master And Margarita.  Good stuff.  Stuff that once made the "real" world blur and disappear by the end of page one.  Stuff that got me so absorbed, even after several rereadings (I know, I'm weird like that), that my family got used to me being present only in body if I was holding a book.

But now...  Oh God.  Now I analyze.  If it's good--and most of the time it is, especially with these previously named stars of my bookcases--then I notice why it's good.  I make notes about how a certain thing was handled, or not handled, or skipped, or not skipped.  And if it's bad...  Jeez, I'd be the worst possible editor.  And my critique group has absolutely had it with me.

I rewrite sentences in my head.  I go back and reread--would it sound better like this?  Or like that?  What would I have done for this scene, for this bit of dialogue?

The pleasure of disappearing that was once reading for me is gone.


  1. So, after learning to paint, do you think the same would hold true when standing in the Louvre?

  2. Oh God... I hadn't even thought of that. I studied art (a little bit), and I do know it made me look at paintings everywhere differently--notice the brush strokes, how light had been managed, what colors had been used and what their significance was--but I thought that's how painting *should* be looked at. I guess... reading has been such a wonderful thing for me for so long, such a personal thing, and now that that experience is *changed*, I'm not sure how to not miss it--even when I do appreciate the learning and the added depth I find in it. Plus, when I studied literature (also a little bit), no one ever insisted I rewrite Shakespeare's lines in my head, hahahahahah!

  3. Ignorance is bliss, right? :)

    ...though having knowledge can make you, not only appreciate different things, but figure out better what lines you personally want to draw, whether in paint or in words.

    I know my extensive background in art has refined my preferences, but also I no longer feel like I'm mucking around in a number of different mediums. I know what suits me best :)

    Shakespeare is Shakespeare. What lines suit you best?

  4. You know, you're absolutely right. I mourn the passing of that previous experience--the losing of oneself in the pages of a book, of total detachment from the here-and-now, but you're right--the benefit is that you acquire a criteria, you learn to see what works and what doesn't for you.

    Thanks for the input, Ms. Monkey!

  5. Too funny. Don't worry, you are not alone.

    I was reading something (a published work by a well-known author) on someone's e-reader and found myself about to type out a least it would have been positive feedback!

  6. Ah yes, I know this feeling well... I can tell from the first paragraph if I really want to continue. But then I can still lose the words from the page if the writing is good and effortless. Though that happens less these days, when it does happen, it's a breath of fresh air.


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