Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Death of the Obsessive Reader

I need books that make me think lest my brain go to rot.

Give me words I have to research and settings to stretch my imagination.

Characters ought to fill my dreams long after I have finished the story.

Plots should be complex and threads resolved by tale's end.

I am a close-reader. Every word. Every mark of punctuation. Every twist of phrase.

Opening a book is a commitment to the author.
I never skim.
I never skip.

I take my time to enjoy the experience.

That is the kind of reader I have always been and continue to be.

What changed once I became a writer? 

I have higher expectations of the books I read. The stories to which I give my time and attention teach me something about my craft -- very much like James mentioned yesterday. I read a book once for the joy of the story and again to dissect the artistry. I verbally summarize what I've read, making notes about which parts of the story stayed with me and why they did. Post-It notes mark passages where the author succeeded in something at which I am struggling (how/when a cast of dozens is introduced, for example).

The dissection for the sake of craft, the time taken to learn from good examples, and the application of the newly-found knowledge to a WiP seriously cut back on the number of books I read. My pre-author book consumption was five books/week. I know I'm not a fast reader but I was a dedicated one. I'm not a fast writer either, but the dedication to stories remains.

There are styles of writing I can no longer tolerate; head-hopping being of particular note. I notice things now I didn't before: pandering to trends, formulaic plots, and disturbingly similar stories by different authors.

I take greater umbrage when encountering dreck. I hold publishers more accountable for failing the consumer. The surfeit of supply is legend. No P&L is improved by pushing crap on the public. Speaking of crap, I despise industry undercurrents to dumb things down. It is pervasive in certain genres. I resent a book from which "dullard" bleeds from every page. There are publishers whose books I will not buy because their business strategy assumes I have nothing more than a third-grade reading level.

I hold self-published books to the same standards as those printed by a publishing house. Anyone can write a book. Not everyone should inflict that book on the world. I view poorly written books and authors who chose to put those books on the market as cautionary tales. I study the hell out of the self-published books and authors who "succeed" in "my" genres. Again, they have something to teach me.

Becoming a writer changed the way I read by changing what I learn from a book. What started eons ago as history and vocabulary lessons embedded in spectacular storytelling has evolved into lessons on how to write spectacular stories.

I may not read as obsessively as I once did, but now I'm getting more from each book.

What about you, dear reader? For what do you read?

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