Last week I went to an event at Birmingham University where the novelist Helen Cross was speaking.
Helen was explaining how becoming a writer had taken away a lot of the ‘magic’ she previously experienced when reading. She told us that the first book she remembers getting utterly enthralled in as a child was Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. The book made her cry. Even after she’d finished it Helen spent a lot of time musing over the book and wondering what the characters could have done to make things turn out differently and more happily.
But as she’s got older Helen has found such connections with books becoming increasingly rare. She puts this down to the fact that she now ‘reads like a writer’, for example she is looking to see how the book is constructed and what sort of tricks the author has used to withhold information from the reader. Helen finds herself mentally ‘editing’ the book and deciding which passages she would cut or how the dialogue might be changed.
I found this rather sad. To me the joy of reading is escaping into another world – something that can’t be done if you find yourself constantly critiquing the novel. I do admit to being more aware of the difference between good and bad writing since I started to write myself but I can also take off my ‘writer’s hat’ and just enjoy a book for what it is.
But maybe one of the secrets of becoming a good novelist is to analyse everything you read, and thus learn what works and what doesn’t.
What about you? Do you read as a writer or as a reader? Can you still get emotionally involved in a book?
Finally, thanks to Sharon Boothroyd for alerting me to this opportunity at the BBC. The next window for sending in material to Opening Lines – BBC Radio 4’s showcase for short stories is January 6th – February 14th 2014. They are looking for short stories that work well when read aloud i.e. with the emphasis on the narrative and not too much dialogue or character description. Stories should be between 1,900 and 2,000 words and only one submission per writer will be accepted.