Why do you read what you read?

13 Oct

If you want to write, first you must read. A lot. And you shouldn’t just (only) read whatever it is you want to write. It’s not helpful to narrow your sights that much – too restrictive  for your brain muscle. Just as it’s too hard to breathe easily when your corset is too tight (trust me on that one, please!) your brain will get stunted if you only feed it one kind of food. That’s why you’re supposed to eat a balanced diet – not just one kind of whatever. Even ice cream can be boring after a while.

So, potential writers must first be readers. Compulsive readers, actually, always with a book in our hands. I was brought up with the classic English mysteries, and when I’d run though those of that category approved by my Mom, I switched to the American branch: Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley gardner, primarily. I’ll never forget the day I learned the most astonishing fact. I was probably 14 or so at the time, and it was like a whole new world opened up to me. I read The Case of the Drowning Duck.

Okay, I hear you say. ‘What was so special about that?’  Well, do you know how to make a duck drown? Not that I want anyone to do that, mind you, but if, for some strange reason, you did need that bit of knowledge, would you know how to make that happen? Neither did I until I read that book. It’s really quite simple when you think about it – you simply add some detergent to the water in which the duck is swimming. The detergent cuts the natural oils on the duck’s feathers, and it can no longer float so efficiently. Hmmm. Do NOT attempt this at home. Please.

I realized at that fairly young age that books could do more than entertain – they could also teach. Of course, I did already realize that school books taught, but did little else. Mostly they were boring then, and I suppose they still are. (I could not begin to tell you how many teachers have told me they wished they could use historical romance novels to teach history, because the characters were usually so life-like and human, as opposed to those single-dimensional folks in the text books.)

Anyway, I started looking for miscellaneous tid-bits of information (knowledge) in every book I read. Once I decided I wanted to be a writer, I made a conscious decision to finish every book I started, thinking that I could learn something from any of them, even the not-so-good  ones.  I felt that reading boring books would help to keep me from falling into that trap.  I’m not so sure that was right. Anyway, a few years ago, I suddenly realized there were too many books and too few minutes or hours that I could devote to them if I wanted to also earn my keep. And I did.

Therefore, I set a limit of roughly 50 pages as the determining number. If by that time, the book didn’t convince me to continue, I gave it up. There have been a few that didn’t make it that far, but then, too, I’ve learned to be more selective in my choices.

I read some of nearly every genre: mystery, romance, history, biography and other non-fiction. Mostly I read for enjoyment, although I’m certainly not averse to learning something in the process. About the only restriction I place on my reading is – if I’m writing a mystery story (or trying to) I’ll make an effort to avoid mysteries during that period, for fear of unconsciously imitating that author’s style. Same with romance of whatever type.

So, what do you read? Do you separate pleasure from work-related reading? Can you really read more than one book at a time? When you find an author you really like, do you immediately search out all/any other books by that author for a real binge? I do all of the above, and I really think it’s important for a writer to read nearly everything within reach – even cereal boxes!


Please accept my apology for missing last week. I just got so caught up in whatever I was doing that Tuesday went right by without my particularly noticing it. I’m sorry. Then, once I did realize it, it seemed easier to just wait for this week. I’ll try to keep up in future. If you have a question or a topic you’d like me to consider, please write to me at: bookmechanic@gmail.com

Happy writing!



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