Posts Tagged Reading

Reading as a Writer

Last week I went to an event at Birmingham University where the novelist Helen Cross was speaking.

Cover of "Charlotte's Web (paper-over-boa...

Cover of Charlotte’s Web (paper-over-board)

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.

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Giving-up on a Book

I feel guilty this week because I gave up on a book half-way through.

It’s something I never used to do but as I get older I am gradually doing it more often. And every time I do it I feel bad. I don’t know why I feel bad – it’s not as if the author is breathing down my neck checking that I read every word or that I’m going to be tested on it at a later date.

Maybe it’s because I’m acknowledging that my choice of book was not up to scratch or because I’ve wasted my time getting as far as I did with the book – when I could’ve been reading something better.

I won’t name this book but the jacket is covered with glowing review excerpts from all the major newspapers. So I feel that I should have enjoyed it. Does that mean there’s something wrong with me?

I’ve just had a look at the book’s Amazon reviews, they are all 4 or 5 star except one. That single 2 star review makes me feel better – so at least I’m not alone in being unable to appreciate this book which the Guardian tells me is ‘a real page-turner’ and the Literary Review says is an ‘impressive piece of storytelling’.

How do you deal with books that don’t live up to expectations?

Finally, here are a couple of quotes that I’ve come across. Take them as a confidence booster. Forget all those ‘I’m not good enough’ voices in your head and just sit down and write!

To live a creative life we must lose our fear of being wrong. Joseph Chilton Pearce.

I am the MASTER of my FATE. I am the CAPTAIN of my SOUL. William Ernest Henley.

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