Monday, January 5, 2015

The Art of Reading

Before I started writing, I read a lot without thinking much about what I read, beyond the momentary enjoyment of someone else’s imagination. I can be a seriously patient reader: if something about the concept or the plot or characters speaks to me, I can tolerate a LOT of subpar writing. Plus, I have always had a thing about finishing what I start. So, in all my years of reading, I remember vividly two novels that defeated me as a teen because I just couldn’t finish them: Across the River and into the Trees by Hemingway (*major yawn*) and Don Quixote by Cervantes (*scratching my head cause I just didn’t GET it.*)  Somewhere in the delusional part of my brain that thinks someday I’ll have as much time as I want, I plan to revisit both to see if I was just too young for them at the time (along with War and Peace, which I actually enjoyed, but...just. So. Loong.).

Since I have begun studying the craft of writing, I find myself annoyed sometimes at what I read, but almost always finish. (Cuz ya know, if I thought it looked interesting enough to pick up, surely at SOME point, I'll get to the good part!) In spite of that part of me that recoils at having to analyze, the necessity of analyzing for content and quality is becoming increasingly paramount. There are some really awesome writers who string beautiful prose together that makes me weep, but plenty of books that just don’t have the magic spark that converges when a capable writer latches onto to a unique premise, creates magnetic characters, and pulls off a plot keeps me engaged long after the last page is read.  My reading time needs to balance with the time I spend on my own writing, and I have realized I need to be even more critical and willing to let the mediocre ones go (along with the outright bad ones).  Of course, reading is subjective so what I think is tripe you may think is brilliant and vice versa. But, considering the elements of a story (premise, plot, characterization, voice etc.), I know often I hang on reading a novel with a meandering plot because the voice is captivating or the character is interesting or the concept was intriguing. Or sometimes, the writing is overall beautiful with one or two glaring problems that I have to grit my teeth to ignore. So, critical readers, as I become less of a mindless reader, what keeps you reading and what makes you likely to put a book down permanently?