I blog about writing a lot, but I haven't touched on the topic of reading in a long time, which is a pity, because reading is a huge part of writing. In fact, Stephen King said something along the lines of, if you don't have the time to read, then don't even bother writing. Or something like that. Anyway, this topic bubbled to the surface in the Twitterverse, as it usually happens, and I have realized that I actually have a particular reading strategy that I follow, doing it instinctively (or foolishly?). I read every day, a lot, in the hopes of becoming a better writer, and now I have the best excuse in the world to read as much fiction as I want. I tell people, hey, it's part of my job!
Every day I write for 4+ hours and read for 2+ hours. So I'm being a bad girl, obviously, because originally I wanted to write/read 50/50, but somehow the second part of the day tends to slide right out from under my feet, with kids and dinner and laundry and whatnot, so I gave up on this dream of reading for 4 hours everyday, but I faithfully read at least 2 hours, sometimes more, if I can help it. I sort of view it as an extension of my writing, a plunging of my emptied brain (after 4 hours writing) right into the brain of someone else, preferably genius, and by contrast immediately see things that I can fix in my writing the next day, like dialogue, or a particular way of describing things, or new words (I have a little notebook where I write them down). If I can, I try to do longer than 2 hour spells of reading on the weekends, or, recently, I read for 7 hours straight on the plane, which was an absolute dream, if not for my Kindle that decided to die after 7 hours.
I read only the books I like, by the authors I like. This is something for which I'll be beaten up, I'm sure, but it's okay. Go ahead. It was my decision after I honestly tried reading indie books, and people's manuscripts, and stuff people sent me. I did, I promise! Then I stopped. Because I realized that life is short and I only want to read something that I like or from what I can learn. The last book that I started and never finished was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and I felt really awful about it, because there was such a hype around it, that I thought, something is surely wrong with me, because all these people liked it and I didn't. But after a while it downed on me that if I don't like the book, I also don't learn from it. It doesn't inspire me. I know someone big and important said that you should read everything, but it doesn't seem to work for me. Here comes my confession. I don't read indie books, unless someone very very legit tells me that they are good (I'm not implying that my books are any good, I still have miles to learn to be satisfied with my writing). The last one I read was Wool by Hugh Howey, and I really liked it. I also stopped reading mainstream hyped up books that everyone is talking about, because it doesn't mean those books are mine. I'm a fan of a few big names like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman, as well as a fan of a few singular books by authors whom I haven't necessarily read through and through, like Lolita by Vadimir Nabokov, or Perfume by Patrick Suskind, or The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. That's all I read, until I discover a new author (more on how I discover new authors below).
I pair the tone and the genre of my reading to what I write. This is something I heard other people avoid, but I don't know why. On the contrary, I like to "swim" in the world I'm creating, both in my writing and in my reading. For example, when writing Siren Suicides, I read the entire The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, as it was dark fantasy that fit very much with the mood that I was trying to get across in my books. I felt like Stevie held me by the hand, telling me how to write this, how to write that, how to break up the dialogue, etc. It's not like I stole his methods or structure, it felt more like encouragement, like we were swimming in parallel worlds that intersected. I also discovered Haruki Murakami while I was writing Siren Suicides, and I devoured him, as his tone fit my tone perfectly. Now, when I started writing Rosehead, the first thing I did, I reread all of Harry Potter, to get into that YA zone, and am now reading the entire Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, to tickle my funny bone, because Rosehead is both dark and funny, very different from Siren Suicides. For my next novel, Irkadura, I have already a list of books lined up, like The Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, for example. Does my reading affect my writing? You bet! But it also acts as a guiding light. I see how other authors do it, and I see that I can do it too.
I rely on my friends' recommendation to discover new authors. All right, you can officially call me the reading snob, but after being burned several times, I started being very careful about picking up new authors. I typically trust my friends with their choices, or occasionally I would go out to a local bookstore and grill a clerk on a particular theme I'm looking for - this is how I discovered Murakami. I then sit in between bookshelves, on the floor, and read a few pages of three or four books by this new author, until I sense that, yes, I like it, I want to read it. With Murakami, as soon as I opened the book, I forgot about everything until 1 hour later I found myself still sitting on the floor, engrossed in the story. This is actually interesting, as it tells me how people will discover my writing, same way! Their friends will tell them (hopefully), that's why I'm prepared to not make much money for at least 3 years, because word-of-mouth takes time. Anyway, I got sidetracked here, sorry, back to the topic. So... new authors. Once I fall in love with an author, I usually read everything she or he has written, like right now I'm on a quest to devour everything by Terry Pratchett.
I write a review of every single book I read. I find it that summarizing my reading experience helps me to understand what kinds of books are mine, and what kinds aren't. So I review every single book I read on both Goodreads and Amazon. And I honestly would love to find more independent authors to read, but I'm so afraid after the many negative experiences I had, that I don't know when I will pick up my next indie book, because book reviews are the things that help indie writers to get noticed, and I would love to be able to help as many indie writers out there as I can. So, please, if you have read an awesome indie book recently that fits with my writing style (fantasy, dark, descriptive, choppy, direct), please let me know in comments? I will honestly try and read an excerpt and see if I can pick it up and read the whole thing.
This is pretty much it. Oh, no, wait, one more important thing. I have made an interesting calculation, when I tried to gauge my reading list, to see how many books realistically I can read in my lifetime, and here are my numbers. I read with the speed of approximately 1 book a week, that makes it about 50 books a year, that makes it about 500 books in the next 10 years that I will read. How many years do I have left to live? I don't know, but in my lifetime I will probably not read more than 2,500 books. That's not very much, is it? Do you see why I'm picky now? Yeah. By the way, by all means, if you pick up one of my books and don't like them, don't read them. Drop them and find something to read that is truly yours. Life is too short to spend on books that don't make your heart beat faster.