Reads blowing in the wind
Pretty much the whole world’s on holiday this weekend, doing fun things that mean the last thing on their mind is a deep debate, or probably even checking out the interweb. Many of us, you, them, including those of us who are writers, will be taking the time out to spend some quality moments with a good book.
And that’s great, isn’t it? We’re always told the one thing writers have to do is read. I know I’ll be settling in with the end of Patti Smith’s Just Kids, and a copy of Bukowski’s The Most Beautiful Woman in Town I picked up from The Albion Beatnik,and maybe I’ll get to start a enw Ryu Murakami I’ve been itching to get to.
But is reading REALLY good for us as writers? Or rather, what should we be reading, given the ludicrously finite stretch of time we have. well, first up I’d suggest Tony Buzan’s Speed Reading, but even so, we have so little time. Where do we start? And where should we stop?
I want to ask – and yes, ask, not go all didactic – these four, very related, questions?
1. When you read do you find yourself mimicking the style of what you’re reading?
2. Do you tend to read lots of books of the same kind in chunks, or always have a variety?
3. Do you read things that you’d like your WIP to be like? Does it work, and if so is that because it inspires you, or you find yourself borrowing?
4. How do the books you read relate to your voice as a writer? Do you find yourself emulating one, then another, and ending up with a mess, or is it by reading and synthesising a vast repository that your own voice is able to emerge, fully-equipped with the tools and insights its raw self lacked?
Those are the questions. the following are simply observations from my reading history.
1. I’m an obsessive personality type. I always have been. Be it a hobby or something I’m a fan of, I’ll find out everything there is to know about it, and then, sudden;y, I’ll move on to something else. As a reader I’m the same. Be it Piers Anthony as a young boy, Kundera and Sartre as a student, Irigaray, Kristeva during my Masters, or more lately Murakami and Houellebecq. And my writing follows similar patterns. I experience my writing self as a mimic. Yet when I move on, I find it almost impossible to detect what went before. As though I’m not moving on, as though I’m not synthesising but copying one thing after another. And whether “I” will emerge at the end I just don’t know.
Then again do we all feel like fakes, like copyists, even those whose work is desperately original?
2. When I’m working on a project, I get fascinated by it,and I seek out books to read that are about similar subejct matter, or in a similar style (the two are different – for example, my current WIP has a similar subject to Colette’s Cheri, a similar style to Ondaatje’s The English Patient – I am drawn to both books but for different reasons). And I can feel my inner copyist emerging, rehashing, collaging. But – and here’s the crux we have to address as simultaneously artists and lovers of art – as a writer I find myself wanting to read something uterly different from my current project so that I can find my own voice; but I am also a reader, a passionate reader, and I draw energy and pleasure and escape in equal measure from reading books to which I find myself drawn – although I can feel them damaging my writing.
And a final couple of questions – have you always loved the same sort of books, and found you had to force yourself to read other styles and genres, or have you always flitted between types. Either simultaneously or serially, and if so, over what kind of cycle?
Last of all, and in summary, when you read, do you read as a writer, or do you read as a reader? And do you write as a writer or as a reader? Do you find these two halves of your self in constant conflict, or have they come to a peaceful coexistence?