On Robin McKinley’s blog, the rotating selection of quotes in the top right hand corner occasionally declares: “Sometimes I think a writer should make up his mind whether he's going to be a writer or a reader. There isn't time for both.”
These words of the writer Jessamyn West make me scratch my head.
|This is my general attitude towards books!|
See, I started out as a reader. Books were my drug of choice as a child. I’d curl up in the over-stuffed chair in the den with a stack of seven library books on the floor by me. Five motionless hours later, I’d have read most of the stack. Mom would call me to dinner and once her voice actually penetrated my otherwise absorbed brain, I’d emerge sort of red-eyed and staggery, but blissfully happy. Sounds like an addiction, doesn’t it?
It was the best kind, though, since it could be cheaply fed and actually made me a brighter child over all.
That’s why it has made me sad that my reading rate has plummeted during the past four years. I teach and write and keep in touch with people via chat. Somehow that specific combination of activities leaves me with no reading time. I console myself by thinking about the quote above. ‘At least I’m writing,’ I tell myself.
The written word needs to be nourished by the read word, though. Writers require an atmosphere of stories and knowledge and style and fluent vocabulary and ideas and good punctuation in order to keep their skills from growing rusty. Where else can they find such an atmosphere, except in books (combined with blogs and periodicals, of course)?
|What can replace a work of art like a book?|
On the other hand, as someone who has tried it, I can attest that reading a book while trying to chat online is well-nigh impossible. However, sometimes it’s necessary, especially when your allotment of free time during the day is the only chance you have to communicate with friends, but also the only chance to read. As you can imagine, though, picking up a book, reading a page, putting it down, typing a response in the IM window, losing your place in the book, finding it again, reading an IM response, reading another book page, etc., etc.—the process doesn’t work too well.
Recently I had a breakthrough, though. For years, you see, I’ve been regarding electronic readers with suspicion. ‘What about the beautiful texture of paper and the dusty book smell and the weight on your knees and the sound of pages turning?’ I thought to myself. After all, the sensual engagement in reading certainly contributes to the pleasure of it.
Then over Christmas I decided to read the Hunger Games trilogy. My brother let me borrow his Amazon Kindle, since he had the books loaded onto it. Suddenly I realized that I no longer had to worry about losing my place. Granted it wasn’t perfectly convenient because I still had to switch between devices to read and to chat, but at least the unwieldy element of the book was removed. I managed to get through the entire trilogy in two days, in spite of reading it at night when I do most of my chatting with friends.
|Reading makes my mind prance with energy!|
After ruminating over this experience for a while, I remembered that my friend, Vasnefy, has been reading Kindle books on her computer for several years. Perhaps I could do the same, without having to invest in the actual reader. So I downloaded the program to my computer. Voila: reading material and chat engine combined in one convenient laptop!
While I do think that the many conveniences of our world can enable us to pack too many activities into each day, in moderation that ability can be a blessing. In the three weeks I’ve been experimenting with my PC Kindle reader, I’ve managed to read a novel and two memoir/self-help books. My brain is being reenergized by the new ideas and stories. In the same period, I’ve edited a chapter and a half of my novel and started thinking about how to rework old story ideas.
This blog post may sound like an advertisement for Kindles and Nooks, but actually my point is more general. In a busy life, reading is one of the first things to get sacrificed. It’s hardly essential, we reason, and so we chuck it out the window in favor of work and projects and friends. Perhaps we hardly even notice that a certain sterility starts creeping into our minds and ideas at the same time.
The wonderful thing, though, is that the sterility is almost instantly obliterated when we find something stimulating to read again. The influx of new words and new points of view rush in and wake us up to the wonderful world of writing. So even if it has to be squeezed into odd moments, through unorthodox means, don’t be afraid to make reading part of your multi-tasking. I think it will pay off by revitalizing your writing and relaxing your mind.