They say that the number one thing a writer should do (besides writing, of course) is reading. You should be devouring other books. I think the biggest reasons have to be:
Know what other authors (your contemporaries) are writing.
Learn the tropes of your genre.
Pick up new techniques and new skills by watching how the greats do it.
Let your mind hang out in someone else’s world for a little while.
But really, the biggest reason is that it’s just fun.
Many, many years ago, reading was not something I did. I’m sure it was that way for plenty of folks. If you read anything it was because the school required it. But to actually seek out a book to read on your own? That sounds ludicrous. Why would anyone choose to do such a thing?
Yet, now I can hardly find the time to just sit down and let myself go into a book. That thing that is both important to the person and the writer in me. So I look back, to remember those books that probably put me most directly on my current path one way or another.
On A Pale Horse – Piers Anthony
I consider this my awakening into the world of books. I’ve talked about the moment on this blog before, but my friend Lee came to sixth grade one day and put this book on the desk in front of me only saying the words “Read this.” But even more than that moment, which sealed my fate as an avid reader, it also created my first “favorite” writer. It was one thing to read this book about Death and these other Incarnations, but then I found out there were 4 other books in the series (at that point).
There’s more to be read? I can hang out in this collective world for even longer? Where do I sign up?
Through a Tangled Skein (the 3rd book) is one of the first books that I ever reread immediately upon finishing.
And then I moved on to his fantasy series, Xanth, which was filled with puns and silliness, yet there was also a ton of heart waiting between those pages. I remember one particular week in 7th grade where I think I read 4 of those books in 7 days. Which, to be honest, isn’t as much reading, but simply devouring the text and then eagerly grabbing the next helping. The only thing that would stop me was if the library didn’t have the next book or if Lee didn’t. Then I had to wait until a trip to the bookstore could free me of such problems.
So we go from something that caused me to develop a love for the art form. Something that got me to reread something I’d just read. Something that changed the way I perceived books.
To something that caused me to realize that I don’t have to like everything I read.
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
It’s probably a bit of blasphemy, but I not only didn’t like this book, I actually never finished it. Oh sure, I know the end, I know where it was going, but for every bit that this might be a masterpiece of literature, I could not get into it. The writing style didn’t work for me, and later, when I found out that Dickens was paid by the word, I suddenly understood the role an editor might have in making a book even better.
It should have been so easy. There is history between those pages. I love history!
And I tried… I really tried. I was doing my best to get into the story and the characters and it just didn’t happen for me. I’m a fast reader, and it turned my experience into molasses.
So why did I bother with it at all? Why did I fight with it for as long as I did? Probably for the same reason many of you might have picked up the book: It was the next assignment in English class during high school. While I don’t remember completely failing the test(s?) on the book, I’m pretty sure I didn’t do as well as I normally did on those types of assignments.
I mean, I disliked it enough that I didn’t even bother with the Cliff Notes!
John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.
He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!
Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.
His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.
He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com