Originally this was going to simply be a reading list of books I’ve enjoyed over the last few years, but really what authority do I have to ask you to read anything? Probably as much authority as I have to put out a weekly blog about writing … so, well, yeah.
I think a lot of very prominent authors have said it before and very well; read everything you can. I won’t bother reiterating that because you probably already know that.
Instead, let me try to articulate my own experiences with reading.
I think in some writers – oh, alright, myself – there is a preoccupied fear of not reading the right books. You know what the right books are, don’t you? Those ones that book clubs all discuss and laugh about together, or else wax lyrical about the themes and subtext of each and every word. The right books are the ones that win prizes, the ones that the Guardian says you’ve just got to read. When you start your writing career you’re inundated with the fear that you’re not reading the right books, books by people like Caitlin Moran, Ewan Banks, Margret Atwood and Kafka. You get the impression that you should be doing something more important with your time. How can you write, you ask yourself, when you do not read anything worth a damn?
Perhaps you will go through spates of not being able to recognise what the right books are. You’re simply able to recognise those that are not the right books, the wrong books in fact. Those trashy murder mysteries, the pulpy creature features, all those comic books and kinky sex books about fairies who love it up the bum.
You know what a wrong book is from half a mile away. No doubt it’s a book that you instantly want to read after looking at the blurb.
As I’m nothing like the authority I wish I was on this subject, I will just say this – the right books are the ones you want to read. If you get a small smile out of reading them then that’s a good book to read.
Let’s back it up a bit though. I’m not saying that you should indulge your butt-fairy erotica fetish to the exclusion of all else. Think of books like a meal. If you love Sci-Fi and fantasy then think of them like bacon; something that’s good to eat once a week maybe, but not every day. If you eat bacon books every day then your literary arteries will be clogged with too much Spoc. You can help keep your literary arteries clear by eating a bit of Mills & Boon broccoli now and then. This keeps you fresh and healthy. In the same way that a chicken with a varied diet will produce the best eggs so you will produce your best stories if you vary your diet of books.
Now, I’m a bit autistic – I have it in writing too – and I don’t like genre dipping very much. What if I don’t like it? What if it’s boring? I have to force myself to go into the library, grab five things off the shelf, often without really looking and take them home. I try to read the first hundred pages and if they’re any good then I finish them. If the story hasn’t gripped me by that point then fuck it, in the bin it goes.
*** Just so the lovely staff at the Lewes Library are aware, I don’t put them in the bin. I was just trying to sound cool in front of my friends. ***
I basically couldn’t read until I was seven. I think this is moderately normal – most kids have the basic concept down and have learned the multiplication of letters into words and words into sentences and sentences into stories.
I was reading Bangers and Mash – two gorillas who fucked shit up – and through them I learned the mechanics of reading. I didn’t particularly enjoy reading though.
In fact, I didn’t pick up a book of my own free will until I saw Jurassic Park. You’ve no doubt seen the film and loved it (if you haven’t then…. die). AT the time I hadn’t seen the film, but I was so determined that I was going to bath myself in sweet, sweet dinomurder that I grabbed it and started reading.
So, let’s just reiterate; seven year old reading a book intended for science nerds and adults. I think that stands out as one of my all-time achievements, indeed it’s something that I’m perplexingly proud of to this day.
After reading JP I read it again. And Again. And again. By the time I was eight I think I read that book about nine times. It’s still a book that I like to pick up now and again.
My dad, somewhat desperate to get me to read something else, flung The Lost World, the sequel, at me. I read that. I then read Congo and the Andromeda Strain. Incidentally I was told off in year six, when I picked up Congo again, for not reading something that was appropriate to my ability (for some reason I was in a remedial reading group). Of course the books that we were handed by the school were fucking atrocities and were about stuff that I found frankly boring after dinomurder, rampaging apes and flesh eating viruses.
My reading went in different directions after that. I picked up high fantasy like David Gemmal, J.R.R. Tolkien, even those bloody Pern books.
You see, reading for me is about escapism. I never liked books like Jacqueline Wilson’s or any of those written about real life. Real life was the thing I wanted to escape from. I was something I wanted to escape from.
Anyway, a conclusion;
Read everything. If you like it, yay. If you don’t like it, nay.