Writers devour books. We haunt libraries, bookstores. When we visit friends, we glance around looking for the bookshelves. We ask people, Whatcha reading? hearts pounding when they tell us about a novel we haven't read yet.
I'm fortunate to have close friendships with fellow writers, and while we do manage to squeeze in other topics, we always, ALWAYS talk books. We exchange lists of who is reading what. We question each other about books we've read. What did you think questions abound. We pour over the themes and literary devices as a stamp collector would pour over the faded lines of a 1901 half cent stamp.
It's fun. And even better - it's a super power.
Now, it's subtle at first. The way it works. You don't notice it at first. You read a classic your Mother told you about (The Fables of John Gay, visit Nathaniel Hawthorne's May-pole). Maybe you're forced into it by a bald-eyed English lit professor who promised to explain Milton's Paradise Lost but never did (at least, not in a way that made any sense), however it began almost doesn't matter - only that it began. You stumbled through dense language, read and reread lines until they made sense - lost the story line, picked it up again, wondered what all the fuss was about. You couldn't feel the super power at work.
Until the next time.
This time you picked up a novel of your own accord. No one made you read it - you decided to take a whack at it. Why not? You liked the movie (Pride and Prejudice, Whuthering Heights, Rebecca). You don't stumble too much this time, the themes present themselves in tidy rows. You see beyond the words, at least sometimes. You finish the novel, set it aside. Think about it sometimes. You feel. . . stronger.
You start talking about books with friends and discover what they are reading. You check a few titles out of the library. You hate some of them - but you hate them for a reason, not simply because you didn't like it. You know WHY you didn't like them. Others, you love and you know why you love them.
You pick up the pen. Not any pen, but the proverbial pen, the one that has you pouring story onto the page. It's terrible. Nothing comes out right. All the characters are over acting, there's no theme, all is disconnected.
Until the next time.
This is where you begin to feel the super power of reading at work. As you craft your story, your brain, under the influence of past reading, pulls together the threads of your work, tying the novel together. You know how to work the parts together, to create a whole because you read. And reading brings understanding. And understanding clarity. And clarity - excellence.
And so I ask you: What are you reading?
I bid you good writing. . . and reading.