Peeps, Life is happening today, so I’m reposting a popular essay. If you have time, there’s also gold in the original’s responses.
I was three when I learned to read—or so my mother supposed. In reality, I had heard Old Doctor Goat so many times I had soaked up the words and could recite them from memory, moving my finger along the pages to suit.
Then I was about twelve when we drove the thousand miles to the ocean, and my mother says she had to yell at me to look at the view. “That’s nice,” I guess I said, then put my nose back in a book, where it stayed the entirety of the trip.
In short, almost from the moment I first drew breath, I have been a slave to the written word.
And from the vantage point of my forties, nothing much has changed. I cannot conceive of a day where I don’t wish to read myself to sleep, or a week that would elapse without a visit to bookstore or library. These things are as essential as eating to me, yeast in the bread of my life.
But writing — more specifically critiquing — has put some kinks in my relationship with books, and something another writer said on the weekend made me wonder whether I’m alone. See, whereas I’ve always struggled with the issues of storage and time around books, now my biggest issue seems to be one of quality. Let me explain.
I have a loooong way to go before I’d consider myself competent when it comes to craft. However, now that I have a critique group, my understanding of what makes good writing has undergone a sea change. I’m picky. Well, pickier.
The unhappy result is that a lot of books — both old favorites and newcomers I’m almost certain I would have enjoyed in days of yore — have lost the ability to pull me in to the story and keep me there. Nowadays, I’ll be cruising along, enjoying myself, and then, whammo! I’m distracted by head-hopping, irritated by dialogue tags (yes, the ones I’m extracting from my own work with the diligence of a dentist in pursuit of a diseased root), and noticing the hero or heroine’s passivity. 🙁 Grrr!
So on one hand, I feel like I’m mourning the loss of my readerly innocence.
On the other, my bookshelf now groans with books by better and brighter writers, which should be a good thing, yes? Except they’re books I dare not read.
See, my Internal Editor is alive and well, and although — as some of you may recal l— it resides in the hunkalicious personhood of Daniel Craig. Still, who really wants the IE to interrupt a moment of writing genius? Particularly when they’re all-too rare.
And that’s what happens to me if I attempt to read a book by the writers I hugely admire. It’s like I succumb to the worst case of sibling rivalry you could imagine, invoking self-doubt on a Nobel Prize-winning scale. Except on steroids. In Technicolor. It’s gotten to the point I feel like I’m walking a minefield each time I open one of my papered friends. Will I be bored, irritated and frustrated? Or blinded by brilliance, dazzled, and dejected?
But I cannot not read!
The only solution I’ve found thus far is to do one of the following: stick to reading non-fiction, or reading something so completely outside of my genre that I’d never have the ambition to write anything similar. It’s good that I’m reading more broadly. I just hate that it’s at such a high price.
So I have questions for those of you who write and are passionate about reading? Have you experienced anything like this? Or am I alone in this neurosis? And if you have gone through this already, will I improve? Can I hope to acclimate to this new level of readership and go on as blissfully as before, albeit with new literary friends? (Sniff) What say you, Gentle Readers?