“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.” — Philip Pullman
I was that kid. The kid who read all the time. The kid who brought a book with her wherever she went. The kid who had to be told to stop reading so much and go outside and play with my friends. I could be found reading under the table at family dinners. Reading on the way to school, reading during lunch, and reading on the way home. Reading under the sheets after my mom had told me–repeatedly–to turn the light off, I could finish the damn book tomorrow. Later, I was the girl who read all her summer reading in the first two weeks of summer break, and then spent the rest of summer at the library. I was the girl who threw silent hissy fits whenever she was assigned a book she didn’t like; not because it was a pain to read but because there was nothing–NOTHING–she hated more than disliking a book.
Long before the thought of being a writer ever crossed my mind, I was a reader.
Reading a good book, for me, is one of the most pleasurable experiences imaginable. The joy of devouring a good story is almost impossible for me to express; it’s like defining love, or describing a surreal dream to a stranger. Joyce Carol Oates has a really beautiful quote that pretty much sums it up for me:
Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.
Sometimes I actually worry that my life revolves around books a little too much. I’ve been known to stay up all night to finish a particularly engrossing novel–to the devil with sleep, I’m reading a good book! I often get book hangovers, where I’m so unwilling to leave the universe of the last novel behind that I refuse to begin reading a new one, and instead sulk around the house wishing I could live in books forever.
I always find it somewhat baffling when someone tells me they don’t like to read. That reading is boring, or useless, or nerdy. It may be rude of me, but I usually assume that they just haven’t been reading the right books. I feel certain, in my heart, that there’s a story out there for nearly everyone, just waiting to be discovered.
Now that I have embarked on the path of a writer, reading has become even more important to me. Because aside from practicing my craft (ie. writing) the only other way I can improve myself and my chances of eventually writing something worthwhile is to read, and read, and read some more. Read old books and new books and bad books and blue books. (And Seuss books, apparently). Mysteries and romances and romans a clef and bildungsromans. (Yes, I’m showing off). Stephen King. The classics. Anything that catches my eye. Because without exposing myself to new styles and structures and worldbuilding and characters, my writing would never improve. Every bad book I read is an object lesson to be learned, and every good book I read is an example and an inspiration.
And sometimes it gets hard. Some days, the last thing I want to do after staring at my own words all day is to stare at someone else’s. Sometimes I just want to read without parsing the author’s sentences and analyzing the plot structure. And occasionally I get so frustrated and jealous and angry that I’m not there yet, where my words can inspire a person to stay up all night reading or make them feel like they’ve experienced another person’s soul. But at the end of the day, I keep doing it. Because I’m a writer, and a writer reads.
And I know that when I least expect it, I’ll pick up an incredible book and lose my heart and soul, for a least a few hours. And that makes it all worth it.
Do you enjoy reading? Do you like the feeling of being lost in a great book? Share you thoughts in the comments below!