I can’t remember a time when I haven’t preferred the sanctuary of my own private, sometimes weird library of mind-stories to the extensive and fully utilized library my husband and I share in our home.
One that includes everything from literary classics (all the usual suspects befitting a Lit major, from Herodotus to Franzen) to agonized Eastern European poets and writers that any self-respecting Slav must possess (Milosz, Kundera, Dostoevsky) to tasty genre specialists (Tom Rob Smith, Laurie R. King, Stephen King, Silva, Ludlum, Hiassen) to downright cotton candy (EL James, David Lee Roth’s rock-n-roll memoir “Crazy From the Heat” and let’s not forget “Rock Star” by Jackie Collins – a personal favorite).
I have read most of them – swear. Except for some of the less exciting business books my husband collects – “A Brief History of the Boeing Company” for instance.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading – I do and very much. Rather, inventing stories as opposed to merely savoring them just offers me a more three dimensional experience – sort of like working a crossword puzzle. eating strawberry shortcake and listening to Dusty Springfield all at the same time. Heaven.
And once I had kids and my time became more precious, I had to pick a team. So, I chose to spend most of my time writing.
But in the last couple of years that’s changed a little bit.
Since joining an online community of writers – a group of sad, if lovely individuals, who don’t usually leave their homes except to tend to basic needs, and may not even get up from their computers unless they absolutely have to go to the bathroom or something – I’ve been forced, as both a professional courtesy and to avoid seeming like an idiot, to amp up my reading time.
As a result, I’ve strayed way far out of my usual interests, diving head-on into paranormal erotica, gushy romance, hippie-lit and contemporary drama. All of which I would have passed by in the book store in favor of a great thriller or engrossing historical novel.
And besides giving me the pleasure of immersing myself into someones else’s story for a change and getting to relax and put my feet up, it’s also taught me a great deal about reading itself and has made me more aware of my own mind. Actually finishing books that aren’t my cup of tea – that I would have surely put down were it not for the fact that I had promised the author I would read his work – has expanded my universe of interests. There’s something about having to reach a story’s conclusion – like it or not – that opens your heart to the author’s intentions. It’s like making yourself listen – really listen – to the other side of a political debate.
So, yes, it has made me a better reader and writer, but I’m not going to bore you too much with that cliche, because in all honesty, it hasn’t changed my approach to writing all that much. At least not in the way teachers and writers will contend, insisting that you simply can’t be a real writer without being an avid, even obsessive reader. I’ve never quite bought into that particular myth.
What reading more has done for me – a most unexpected and glorious blessing – is actually far more personal than professional. It has helped me maintain a strong bond with my children as they’ve begun the move from childhood to full-on teen-dom.
Now that my older kids are readers, I can share more with them than merely the content of their days. I can learn what inspires them, the kind of love they want to find, the friend they want to be, the daydreams they have about if their wildest dreams came true.
Reading what’s on their Kindles has been a window into their worlds – one made of stained glass. I get to share with them books we end up loving together – The Book Thief, The Apothecary, The Hunger Games, How We Fall, and ones where, perhaps, we appreciated where the author was heading, what she wanted to accomplish with her story, but it wasn’t quite the journey we wanted to be on. Twilight comes to mind (no throwing rotten tomatoes please – we’re not haters here). And then there are the novels I tried to get them into but failed completely – like Harry Potter (“Sorry mom, wizards freak me out”) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (“Just don’t groove on vampires, you know?”).
As a mother, reading has helped me understand my children’s thought processes, allowing me those rare glimpses behind the mask of shrugs and dismissive fines andI don’t knows that follow any question about how they’re feeling. I’ve noticed, for instance, that I haven’t heard the words “You just don’t understand!” in a pretty long time.
Reading YA, especially, has brought me back to my own youth and reminded me of how raw, confusing, dramatic, hopeful and harrowing growing up can be.
And how magical if it’s done right – wandering the woods, jumping on trampolines, just dying to meet Taylor Swift, playing doctor.
That has been a splendid realization, and one that reminds me that no emotion is trite when you’re feeling it for the first time.
So, there you have it.
Reading more has not necessarily made me a better writer. And I’d still rather write my own story than enter someone else’s. But what reading more has done for me – with an emphasis on reading fiction – is what it has been doing for human beings since the dawn of the written word. It has helped me connect with others – particularly those most dear to me. It has reawakened parts of me that I’d long since forgotten about, put aside in my busy life. And it has helped me understand the plight of my fellow man better than a thousand diversity seminars.