On Book Promiscuity

English: Blotter

And that was how I learned if someone offers you a sticker for your tongue, say no. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve always been a reader. I was that kid who would figure out the number of books I was allowed to take out, and then choose books long enough to get me through the week before I could come to the library again. Although, to be fair, it was rarely a week. My parents were quite willing to encourage me in this kind of prolific reading. They didn’t even vet my choices or prohibit certain things*, reasoning that whatever I read was probably still better than getting involved with ‘The Drugs’ that haunted the school of every child of the eighties.**

So I read everything. Mysteries, horror, LGTBQ literary fiction, god-awful drugstore romance, non-fiction about dying in the Arctic…everything. Reading was my favourite thing to do, especially during classes when I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention.***

But when I went to university and generally became a Busy Adult, reading was the first thing to fall off the List of Things To Do. Not because I didn’t still enjoy it, but because it was the easiest thing to cut. Besides, I was focusing on writing, which can eat a lot of time. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t reading as much, because I was focusing on making my own stories. So I let the reading lapse.

And then I was surprised when the writing became harder.

There’s all kinds of reasons, from learning mechanics to finding inspiration and blah blah blah, but here’s how I think of it: I have a Word Tank. That’s where the writing comes from. But it also needs to be filled. To fill it, I need to consume other people’s words: books, articles, hell, even movies and TV and video games. If I go too long without filling up, I’m coasting on fumes and nothing works the way it should. Simple, right?

Every now and then I meet people who want to write but never read. Odd cats, those. One once told me that they didn’t read out of some fear that they’ll copy an idea or a voice or something. In the circumstances, this is like wanting to learn to cook but never eating, because you don’t want to know what other people’s food tastes like. And, having read a few pieces by these people, by the Lord of Undying Fuck, can you ever tell they don’t read.

I’m happy to say that I’ve made more time for reading the last few years—ten books in the last month, woot!—and it’s paid off. The words come easier and flow smoother. You know, most of the time. And I’ve read some great books that I otherwise might have never seen.

So, writers, do yourself a favour: read more. Read everything. Fill the Word Tank. You might be surprised at the dividends.

*Which is how I came to be reading Anais Nin at fifteen. Talk about your eye openers.
**What were these? Does anyone know? All I remember is a lot of vague lectures about the Dangers of The Drugs. And that one cop who showed us what LSD looked like.
***To date, I’m the only person I know who has ever gotten detention for, and here I quote the notification that got sent home to my parents, “reading too much”.

Monday Challenge: Literary Aspirations

Cardboard Box City

Go ahead. Open them. I fucking dare you. (Photo credit: James Nash (aka Cirrus))

It’s spring again*, so it’s time to spring clean. I’ve been going through all my junk, earmarking piles of it for friends or charity donation**.

A fair amount of the stuff I end up getting rid of at this time of year is books. I read a lot, so I’m always short on shelf space. And there are some books that, while good, I’ll probably only read once. Better to set them free to make someone else’s life more enjoyable.

While I was piling up this year’s donations, I got to thinking about the person who opens up this box of books at the donation centre. That clerk will probably never see me, but they will form some kind of opinion of me based on what they find in the box. Considering it will contain some fantasy novels, a collection of erotica, a Thai cookbook, and a guide on common organic poisons, I would love to know what that opinion is.***

It can’t just be me. Everyone I know who reads a lot, whether or not they write, has an odd jumble of subjects and genres cozied up on their shelves. Hell, all you’d have to do is check my Your Recommendations section on Amazon to see what kind of random shit they think I need based on past orders.**** I hope to Christ that it’s some robot that curates that collection, because otherwise I’m on a watch list somewhere.

So, today’s Monday Challenge: pick ten random books from your collection. Imagine them in a box for donation. Now try and guess what the poor soul who opens that box will think when they open that box and see your eclectic collection of literary detritus. Who will they think you are, based solely on that? Spy novels, video game strategy guides, slightly used copies of Farm Animal Fancier…whatever you’ve got.

And God help that poor clerk.

*For a given value of ‘spring’, anyway.
**Or the heavy garbage collection day, commonly known in these parts as ‘Scavenge Through Your Neighbour’s Trash For Good Shit Day’.
***Possibly that I had a really interesting date planned.
****Just checked this: a lot of graphic novels, Cards Against Humanity, a couple of French grammar books, Electronic Gadgets For The Evil Genius: 28 Build-It-Yourself Projects, and something titled The World of Poo.