|Kuper's piece in last Saturday's FT Magazine|
In this past weekend's FT Magazine, Simon Kuper wrote a piece entitled How I lost my love of reading - the illustration by Luis Granena was of a man struggling to carry massive tomes on his back. Kuper writes:
My daughter (age five) simply lives the book. Better, she doesn't know yet that books are both status symbols and good for you. For children, reading is an uncomplicated pleasure, like eating chocolate ...What Kuper thinks he's lost is the ability to be totally immersed in a story ...
The problem was that I learnt to read like a literary critic. I learnt not to lose myself in a book Reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory now, I get distracted musing on Dahl's socialism (rich kids bad, poor boy good), and his colonialism or anti-colonialism (the Oompa Loompas). Read the articleI meet so many enthusiastic adult readers that I can't believe this is a universal adult problem - but I have to admit that writing novels has definitely spoiled some of the joy of reading for me.
When I read any book, I study the first line of the first chapter and think, "Ah, good opening - that will hook the readers!" I read some more and admire the fact that the author placed an inciting event so close to the beginning. Then I search for set ups - "okay, this means such and such will happen later." I identify the doorways of no return, saying to myself, "right, we're in the second act now." I make a list of what I think are plot red herrings and what plot points will pay off in the end. As the story peaks to a crisis, I look out for the rug pulling moment. And instead of bursting into tears at the end, I nod and say, "Well done, that ending may have been expected but it was emotionally satisfying."
Instead of reading books like this:
This is how I read:
A psychiatrist friend of mine once opined that one of the differences between men and women was that women as they get older increasingly lose their ability to play whereas men don't.
In the case of writing and reading - has the mechanics of writing made me lose my ability to "live the book"?
What a tragedy. My love for reading was what made me want to become a writer in the first place. But maybe there's an antidote ...
Last summer I attended a talk by Shaun Tan (best known for his worldless book The Arrival). I was going to blog about the talk but I'm afraid I couldn't understand my notes, one month on.
What I can do is share the one thing that really stuck with me.
|Shaun autographed one of his books for me. He used his thumbprint to create a robin.|
Shaun said he hoped his work made people take time to look. He said people these days no longer knew how to look, the multimedia generation just skims over everything. When I heard that, I almost leapt to my feet, shouting "Guilty!" Everyday I skim through so much - emails, blogs, Facebook - I click 'like' or leave a quick comment, then move on to the next thing.
|Is it time to get off the fast lane?|
I thought, Shaun was right. Not looking was not quality of life.
After Shaun's talk, I tried to take the time to look at things, really LOOK.
Sketching helped. And sitting still helped. And not doing two things at the same time helped. And actually, turning off Facebook helped a lot too.
|I've hung this sign up on my Facebook profile|
And an odd thing happened. After months of struggling with a manuscript that wouldn't come to life, I began to hear the voices of my characters (And hurray! Writing is now going well!)
And because I was not skimming, the books I was reading developed an emotional quality that I had not noticed before.
It will be very easy to slip back into rush rush rush mode again of course. It's not easy to stop and look. I'm still learning.
My takeaway? Yes, writing will affect your love of reading. And it can't be helped because you can't become a better writer without learning the technicalities of story.
But you've got to make the time to restore your wonder. How can you hope to inspire your readers if you yourself have lost the joy?
Besides, writing books is not just about writing books, it's about living a creative, writing life. And if the best thing about living a writing life is the writing, the next best thing is the reading.
So stop, look and listen. Allow yourself to live a book again.
Outside looking in ... or inside looking out? My new novel may be telling a new story - but the themes in Tall Story - of being 'other', of being different, of being someone on the outside - continue to persist. Read my latest post on my author blog
I also blog on the brand new DFB StoryBlog - which features authors and illustrators (some of them extremely famous) of my lovely publisher David Fickling Books. Check us out!