Peggy Bechko: The Importance of Reading – and Writing

reading_and_writers

by Peggy Bechko

Yes, it is important.  This blog is focused greatly on writers and to a certain extent readers.  So it’s not surprising I repeat quotes such as the one from Stephen King, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Reading, though, is much more than that. By reading we can learn things, we can learn about places, we can jump into fantasy worlds, interface with intense drama or laugh ourselves silly or submerge in any part of  the human (or sometimes even not so human) experience.

But look back at the key words I used in the last paragraph; interface, submerge, dive into, jump into – all of them are indicative of active interaction, not simply the scanning of words. Don’t you find even if it’s text from which you wish to learn something that it needs to grab your attention? That you have a difficult time learning from something that is dry and pedantic?

So, what does that say about reading? It says you should be critical and choosey. If you’re learning from what you read you might want to have a pen handy or a device of some sort where you can make notes and comments.  If you’re a fiction writer you might want to make critical notes in a book you’re reading to remind yourself what you feel is good writing and not so good (unless what you’re reading is strictly to kick back and relax, then don’t force yourself to take notes!)

But you should consider being always critical in your reading whether you are the serious reader, but not a writer type or one who is both.  By critical I don’t mean dive in and be prepared to rip a work apart. Just be thoughtful. If you’ve decided to read a book that’s gotten fantastic reviews (or very bad ones) approach with an open mind. You may well like it (or not) for a lot of your own reasons. Don’t allow yourself to be totally swayed by someone else’s option.

That goes for so-called ‘classics’ as well. Just because it falls into that category doesn’t mean you have to like it and it doesn’t mean it remains ‘good’ by today’s readers’ standards. Writing method had changed greatly over the years. And no writer is without his or her flaws. Even writers whose books you’ve read and loved can come out with one you really dislike. That’s life. Be honest with yourself about what you enjoy, what you can learn from.  That’s when you learn and when you enjoy.

If you’re a writer, even more. Think about parts of the book that work for you, dialog you love, scenes you hate. Subplots you thought could have been left out or those that struck a chord. And think about why they work or don’t work for you. Remember that quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”  A lot of truth to that.

It can be fun to talk to someone about the book as well. Especially if you loved the book and the other person perhaps hated it. You can see it through someone else’s eyes. It’s entertaining, and if you’re a writer, educational as well.

Ah, and don’t pass up a book just because ‘reviews’ aren’t the best, or are flat out bad. If you can, read a sample. If you get drawn in, read the whole thing. Then perhaps add your ‘review’ to the stack.

We read for fun, entertainment and to learn. So read, a lot. Don’t miss out.