Reading, for writers, can become a distracting fluctuation in the writing process. It may lead us down a lane lined with ego - the ‘I can write better than that’ bug can bite hard. Once bitten, it can be tough to get through a book. Most readers don’t doubt themselves because of how well, or poorly, a book is written. There ensues resentment (how did such shoddy work manage to get published?) and self-criticism (when the books are outstanding). I doubt that happens to orthodontists, or construction workers. It’s a special treat for writers, to periodically lose the wonder and fun of reading. It all depends on the author.
I find myself going back to established favorites; EB White, Marion Zimmer-Bradley, Tolkien, Brooks, and Pratchett. They almost never fail to engage me. Some authors recently added to my bibliotheca are nearly as reliable; Rowling, Mankell, Louise Penny, and Connie Willis. Actually it’s a long list of truly excellent writers, they set a high bar.
There is another, 'other’ category, the untested writer. Oh the joy of finding a new favorite! And oh the crashing disappointment when such a book brings out heavy doses of criticism. The reading experience is altered so profoundly that this once precious moment of entering the vortex of a new world is muddied, sullied, exposed, and debunked.
Writers bring to the reading table a special kind of reading hunger, one built on respect for the work of another writer. There is true empathy with other writers. Books offer writers hope that their own idea will flame as brightly, and remind writers of humility.
For writers, reading is research. New ideas, methods, and techniques for our toolbox. Every author has their own way, as we’ve discussed before on this blog, some eccentric and others as boring as a laptop on a desk facing a blank white wall. But every author brings their ways, their style, into their work, and they offer possibility, and a standard of excellence we strive for, or strive to surpass.
Reading is ambition, fieldwork, respect and - hopefully - escapism, all inside one dusty cover.