Confessions of a Less-Than-Avid Reader

As a kid my nose was always in a book. I made a tent with the bedspread of my lower-bunk bed and read under it with a flashlight. When I went into the woods, it was usually to find a tree that I could climb and read in without being bothered.

I’m a writer.

I’ve reviewed books. I’ve sold books. I’ve written a novel.

I make my living as an editor.

I rarely read for pleasure any more. It’s not that I don’t have the time but that I’ve got more interesting things to do with the time I’ve got: write, go walking with Travvy, sing, drum, read e-mail, post responses to the e-lists I’m on, mess around on Facebook . . .

When The Mud of the Place was approaching completion, I circulated the manuscript to pretty much everyone I knew who was willing to slog through 400+ pages of typescript. Close to three dozen people in all. Their ages ranged from early 20s to late 70s. Nearly all of them liked it. Many waxed seriously enthusiastic, and many gave me useful comments about it.

Several of those people told me that they hardly ever read. They probably didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t either.

Educators and people in the book trades are forever bemoaning the decline in reading. The decline is well documented and ongoing. And I, writer and editor though I am, am part of it.

What to say about this?

I spent years working in a community — the women’s community of Washington, D.C., and the larger feminist movement — where words saved lives, words saved sanity. As a bookseller, I saw it happen over and over again. It happened to me. We knew books were important. Not a luxury. Not a duty. Important.

In theory I know there are books like that out there today, but I wouldn’t walk very far out of my way on the off chance that I might find one of them.

On the other hand — since I got my first e-reader in December 2011, I’ve been reading more books. Nowhere near as voraciously as I did growing up, or in my bookselling and reviewing days, but considerably more, and more enthusiastically, than in the previous 15 years or so. Most of these books have been recommended either in the (few) blogs I follow or by friends, often on social media.

I think not enough people have had their lives changed by a book, and if they have, they don’t know where to find another one like that. Neither do I. I have an especially hard time with general fiction. (With fantasy and science fiction, I know how to find the books and writers worth reading.) My life has never been changed by the technically flawless prose of a writer who wouldn’t know a moral conundrum if s/he met one on the road.

I’m looking for books that show me the world from new angles. I’m looking for books that can disturb my dreams without putting me to sleep.

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One thought on “Confessions of a Less-Than-Avid Reader

  1. I walk a parallel path — writer, editor, reviewer (though I never got to bookseller) — but find that I read as much for pleasure as I ever did. While the number of books is lower because I must read so much for a living (that time thing…), the pleasure factor has become more important because so much of the must-read material is, well, work. At the same time, I’ve come aware that I will read only upbeat fiction and nonfiction, especially fiction, as fuel for my personal furnace. Fiction presents endless examples of good people getting out of trouble and overcoming problems and deep internal issues. There’s so little of that in my life, I need to constantly see how it’s done, know how it’s done, so I believe it can be done and keep striding boldly forward through my own life. In that respect, my life has been profoundly affected by hundreds of books vs. any one work. The folks I know who are prone to depression or a negative attitude feed themselves with downer material, either by reading it, watching it, hanging out with like kind, or failing to feed themselves any art or vision at all.

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