Shoulding all over oneself

Posted on May 13, 2011 by

Like a lot of writers, I often feel I should read more. Which is ridiculous, in a way: I read research books and novels and mountains of student fiction. But there’s always more, and I want to keep up with my friends’ books, and learn all of history evar, except the parts that bore me stiff.

So I review. This makes me responsible to others for the reading, and I’ve always had the good fortune to review for editors who give me a lot of latitude to pick books I expect to like heartily, or even love. (I have no interest in reading bad books or panning same.) I get a deadline and a free copy and a financial carrot for pushing something I’d do anyway to the top of the pile. Ideally, everyone wins.

In recent weeks this strategy has led to my reviewing Lyda Morehouse’s wonderful AngelLINK prequel, Resurrection Code and M.K. Hobson’s delectable bustlepunk romance-romp The Hidden Goddess. Now I’m onto a delightful and surprising mystery, by Wayne Arthurson, Fall from Grace, which among other things evokes the prairies and Edmonton so vividly it’s a miracle I don’t have hives.

Still. I should read more, dammitall. And when I’m reading fiction I think I should be reading research stuff, and when I’m deep in a history book I think about how I write novels and should read them. And someone gave me that book out of the goodness of their heart, and I asked for that one as a birthday present… oh, I know it’s ridiculous. Shut up, inner voice, and all that.

But this month I’ve taken that fortune-cookie advice I mentioned awhile ago, by way of a discussion of characterization and revision, to heart. (It’s the one that goes, roughly: “if you want something you’ve never had, you have to try something you’ve never done.”)

I’ve never ever been one to read more than one book at a time. I’ve always been a serially monogamous reader; I’ve met people who claim to have three, four, even five books on the go and goggled at those individuals like wondrous marvels of nature, like chameleons or sperm whales or Venus flytraps. Now I’m making an effort to go poly: to have one novel and one non-fiction book happening at once. So, along with the Arthurson, I’m poking my way through American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century, by Howard Blum.

Normally when I catch myself shoulding, I do try to go for more of a “Shut up, inner voice!” type of strategy. But fictional and factual texts satisfy related but different parts of my brain. I feel not only happier but healthier when I’m reading history or science or political theory, just as I do when I eat a delicious and thoroughly wholesome meal: I feel smarter, sharper, enriched by the experience. A fine novel, on the other hand, adds to happiness too, and it certainly doesn’t make me feel dumb. But the experience falls more in line with a hot bath, a good massage… there’s something sensual about it. Both are recreational and both are work, but non-fiction is meat and an invigorating hike, I think, while fiction is tropical fruit and sun on a beach.

My hope is that by reading a little of both, on an almost daily basis, my overall intake of books will go up. Since I track my reading so closely, I’ll be able to tell you how it goes, once January is here.

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