A Writer’s Lament – and a second goal for 2015

I read slowly.

I don’t mean that I’m a slow reader; that is, I’m lucky in that I don’t struggle reading. I read aloud to my daughters at a conversational pace. When I’m reading quietly to myself, however, I don’t read that much faster. Over the years, I’ve noticed an upside and a downside to this.

I tend to retain story better, I think because I read the language more carefully. I remember reading The Hobbit in my early teens, and for whatever reason, I put it aside after the first thirty pages. Two years later, I picked it up again and continued from the same point, remembering the relevant bits and lots of the tangential detail. It’s the same way with movies–I can watch half a movie (either half), and years later, see the other half and piece together the whole story. (Mind you, this only works with story – I’m horrible at recalling names).

The downside of this is that I’ll tend to enjoy maybe ten books a year.  That makes me a little sad. There are a lot of great books that I would love to read. I keep a running list of things that catch my eye, but for a host of reasons, the list grows faster than I can get to them. And often the glitter that caught my eye one day fades after a month, and I’m left wondering why that book is on the list. As a result, I’ve abandoned and restarted several lists that I re-discover every few years.

For this reason, book stores depress me. Don’t get me wrong, I love brick-and-mortar book stores. And I love that there are brick-and-mortar bookstores. But I found that every time I go in one and just browse, I impulse-buy a stack of books that I rarely ever read.  I still support those stores whenever I can, buying books at author readings, seeking out gifts, that sort of thing. I just don’t browse much anymore.

For a writer, this is precarious. I need to read much more than I do, so that I can absorb good writing, identify bad writing, and use the knowledge of both to improve my craft. I know this, and I struggle to make the time, to choose the book over a hundred other distractions.

I’ve found some peace by taking a serendipitous approach. I’ll read a book when it crosses my path at the right moment. I might buy a trilogy, let it gather dust for five years before I devour it in a couple months, or sample it over a few more years. (I’m 2/3 of the way through at least two trilogies right now…) Or I’ll read a review or get a recommendation right when I’m in between books, and that recommendation gets immediate attention.

I also tend to abandon books. Unless a story is really compelling, I’ll move on to something else after the first hundred pages. I have to. I don’t have the time to languish on something that doesn’t inspire me, and I want to read more compelling works so that I create a more compelling work. It’s actually less practical than that—it’s an emotional decision. Once a book descends into a meh, I just don’t have the energy to finish it.

Sorry for the long way around, but this brings me to my second goal for 2015. I will attempt to read twenty books this year, starting now. With ten months left to go, that’s two books a month. For me, it’s a stretch, but it’s do-able. I’ll revive my account at goodreads and track it there. If you have an account, ping me over there, and we can share our progress.

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One Response to A Writer’s Lament – and a second goal for 2015

  1. bvanlaarhoven says:

    Pete reading 19 books is damn good when you have small kids. Great job on the blog too.

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