Wednesday 9 January 2019

The Writer as Reader


My history as a reader

I’ve always loved reading and I’ve always been fascinated by books. My father was the youngest of nine siblings and we lived with his mother. After school, at weekends and in the school holidays there were nearly always a few cousins in the house and from time to time they would read. This seemed to be a process of staring at page for a long time. I tried it and made up my own stories about the pictures in my books. Of course many of these books I knew almost off by heart anyway. As far as I was concerned I was reading.
I learnt the names of the shops we visited and began to recognise the shapes of the letters. I insisted that my dad taught me by reading the Children’s Bible to me and pointing out some of the words. School and the Dick and Dora books arrived. These predate even Janet and John. Then suddenly I was off the reading scheme and reading fluently. The little black marks on the white page disappeared and instead I got a film in my head. In my second year at junior school I discovered the local library and the Famous Five. There was no going back.  
My grandmother used to say “You should do something useful with your hands instead of reading that book.”
I could see her point but I also thought reading was useful; it was taking me to other places, it was teaching me all manner of things and it was making me ambitious for a better world.
I had to read a lot for Grammar School andUniversity, so it became a bit of a chore, but reading for pleasure came back after the children were born and I enjoyed reading to and with them.  


And now?

I buy books and I borrow them from the library. I avoid second-hand books and some free books because I know how important it is that writers get paid. I read at least 50 books a year as I’ll often get through two or three a week and considerably more when I’m on holiday. Occasionally a dense book will take longer. I keep a diary with brief notes about everything I read.
I spend little on clothes or household objects and always give these items a lot of thought before I buy. I make my mind up much more quickly about books. In fact, I’ve often been known to go out looking for an essential item of clothing and come back with a book. However, it’s not breaking the bank: books are actually good value for money.


Sourcing books  

Amazon recommends a few by email though they often don’t give all them much detail.  I’m more inclined to respond to their “Customers who bought this also bought …..”  
I’m on a couple of email lists which send me news of books that might suit me.
I’ll often buy a book by an author I know personally. I may or may not buy more of these depending on whether I enjoy the one I’ve sampled.
I have some favourite authors.
I love going to book festivals and talks and find it very hard to resist buying a “souvenir” book.
I’ll often react to an interesting review.
I review for a couple of publications so that also provides me with books.
I belong to a book group so that also suggests titles.   
At the library I always look at the latest additions and selections the librarians have made if the theme of the selection suits me.
Occasionally I’ll buy a book that will help me with my research.

My choices

So what do I read, in fact?
Books similar to the ones I write e.g. young adult, science fiction, near future, historical fiction (especially those set around World War II), books about feisty women
Books by authors I like
Books by authors I know
Books for other young people.
Books on the craft of writing
Literary criticism
Short story collections


Kindle or physical book?

I’m becoming more and more in favour of the Kindle.  Certainly I never take physical books on holiday any more. And here’s a quirk: at the beginning of the summer holiday and the Christmas break I read one book by Dickens. I’ll carry on doing that until I’ve read all of his works. For my sixtieth birthday my husband gave me the complete works of Dickens uploaded on to a Kindle.
I find reading on Kindle easier than reading physical books these days. Even though I have the correct prescription for my glasses, I like to have the print a little larger. In addition, the Kindle is easier to hold.
Yet I still love physical books, particularly if they are beautifully illustrated or have a very tactile or attractive cover. I tend to buy a lot of picture books.

How I decide what to read when

Generally, I’ll read the book I’ve had the longest first. However, if I’ve just read, for example, a biography and the next book that pops up is a biography, I’ll skip that and come back to it.
Occasionally I have a deadline for a book review or for the book group.


Do writers need to read?

I believe they absolutely do. We strive to get that picture in our head into our reader’s heads and occasionally as I’m reading and getting a very good film in my mind, I’ll pause to ask myself how the writer is achieving this.
We should expose ourselves to good writing and learn to identify - and forgive – what is less good.
Some writers avoid reading as they don’t want other writers to influence their writing. Ah, they deprive themselves and anyway, couldn’t they read something that was totally different from what they write?
In the end, reading is probably my default activity, followed by writing, day-dreaming and watching good drama.      
If you’d like to know more about what I read see Gill’s Recommended Reads

1 comment:

Jim Bates said...

I'm so glad you shared your love of reading, Gill, and you can put me in the category of writers who love to read. I always have a book going. I'm reading Tana French's "The Witch Elm" right now and enjoying it immensely. I Read 38 books this year and 55 the year before. What happened? I guess I was writing more!! Thanks for your interesting post. It was fun and inspiring to read.