Recently, I started and became a member of a family book club with planned monthly Zoom meetings. This past Sunday was our first. Let me say up front it was great fun. Cousins all, we enjoyed spending the time together, not only discussing the book but checking out one cousin’s latest crafting, briefly talking about football (well, I wasn’t, but I listened really well after asking who the heck was actually playing in the Super Bowl) and reminiscing.
The majority of the meeting did seem to be focused on the book we’d read, though. Amazing how many differing opinions there can be about the same work, especially when the book is a genre in which the reader doesn’t usually have an interest. Once we got past the general opinion that the characters’ drinking (and loving) lake water was the most disgusting thing imaginable, everyone got into an emphatic discussion regarding the various characters, the shortcomings in the tale, the aspects they enjoyed and what they all felt to be an unsatisfactory ending. They verbalized being let down by not knowing exactly what happened, not only to the unlikable character whose inner thoughts ended the story, but with the turmoil left behind by the discovery and consequence from long-ago actions. I had previously been satisfied with the conclusion. I’m not saying I’ve changed my mind, but the debate definitely provided me with an appreciation regarding viewpoint. This is why discussion is good. It opens you up to recognizing a perspective other than your own.
When the meeting looked to be winding down, my cousin Bobby asked a pointed question of me. He wanted to know what I thought about the book from a writer’s standpoint.
All kidding aside, I was quick to answer. I told him I don’t read books as a writer, that I read them to be entertained and enjoyed, which is a true statement, but perhaps one requiring a little more explaining (you have some ‘splaining to do, Lucy).
As a child I used to read books I enjoyed ten or more times for the sheer love of the words written, the story told. At some point during these multiple reads I started to absorb why I loved the words written and the story told. Eventually I looked to them with a conscious eye to discovery, to learn how these wonderful worlds were created, how words made magic. I suppose at that point it became impossible to separate the reader from the writer in my brain.
Even so, immersion in my craft didn’t mean I no longer read books for the joy experienced (or the heartache, or the anger, or the thrills—whatever the author chose to evoke). However, I do sometimes find myself rereading a passage with conscious recognition as to the absolute beauty and writing skill defined therein. I can’t help that reaction. It is, after all, who I am.
But if and when I identify good writing or poor writing ,or note, sometimes with a screeching halt, typos, unintentionally poor sentence structure, glaring errors such as a character’s eyes being blue on one page and green two chapters on, plot failure, disappointing endings, etc., it doesn’t mean I’m doing so because I am a writer. We, as readers, notice all these things. I was a reader before I made the conscious decision to write. I enjoy reading books. My enthusiasm or disappointment comes from the reader in me, and yes, quite possibly the writer as well, but not as separate, conscious entities. The writer and the reader don’t sit on my shoulders like cartoon angels and devils, spouting out arguments in my ears. The writer and the reader are intertwined unless otherwise directed. They live in reasonably happy cohabitation.
So, when asked about reading as a writer, the above is my expanded reply. With that addressed, let’s move onto the next book, the next read. Cousins, I just ask that you don’t make it one of mine. The reader in me would be fine with it, but I’m not so sure the writer could take your brutal honesty. 🙂