In today’s #AuthorTakeover, Tam May is talking about the reading habits of authors … Over to you, Tam!
Avid Readers = Avid Writers?
Today, I came across author and graphic novelist Belle Brett’s article Confessions of a Non-Voracious Reader http://deaddarlings.com/confessions-non-voracious-reader/. Brett makes the bold statement – she still doesn’t really read voraciously. It’s a bold statement because writers are supposed to be voracious readers. We’re supposed to devour books like M&M’s, feeding our addiction to the printed word every chance we get, getting ourselves lost in books while those around us are staring glass-eyed at the TV screen sopping up the latest season of The Bachelor.
While it’s true you aren’t likely to find a writer who is not a reader, voracious or not, it’s not necessarily true that being an avid reader will automatically make for an amazing writer or even a good writer. True, reading gives authors a kind of layman’s literary education (or, if they study English in college, a more guided education) about storytelling, character development, word usage, shaping ideas, everything that is valuable to a writer. But I tend to agree with Brett that it’s more about quality than quantity. Brett suggests reading mindfully, or, paying attention to what you’re reading beyond its entertainment value, looking at how the author tells a story, creates suspense, draws out characters, makes you feel you are in the place and time he/she is writing. This is more important for writers than having a million books read on your Goodread’s profile.
A college friend of mine (a non-writer) once complained that reading books as part of English literature courses spoiled the joy of reading the book for her. This is understandable for someone who is reading books primarily as a reader. English classes teach you about literary devices http://study.com/academy/lesson/literary-devices-definition-examples-quiz.html and pick apart literary texts to examine them in light of these devices, writing papers and doing oral presentations. Let’s face it – the goal is not to enjoy the reading (although many of us did enjoy the books and stories we were required to read) but show how closely we could read and analyse a literary text.
Like Brett, I wasn’t a voracious reader when I was a child. My parents didn’t encourage me to read (though they didn’t discourage me) and they didn’t read to me as a child. This wasn’t their fault. They were raised in another country so they weren’t familiar with American children’s literature enough to read to me. I had to discover the joys of reading on my own. When I reached my teens, I was reading bestseller romance novels (Judith Michael and Danielle Steele were some of my favourites), which were fun to read and fed my teenage romantic fantasies but even then, I knew they wouldn’t help me be the kind of writer I wanted to be.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I began to discover the kind of fiction I wanted to read and really enjoy it. My choice to study English literature was fairly obvious in my eyes (my dad tried to get me to study social work in an understandable effort to steer me towards a “practical” degree – something I talk more about here: http://thisnortherngal.co.uk/guest-posts/life-after-uni-tams-story/) because I knew my literary education was severely lacking and I wanted to get myself up to speed. Later, when I made the decision to get my master’s degree, I chose again to go the English route. The school I went to had a Creative Writing degree program but I chose not to pursue that direction because I knew an English major would be more useful to me at that point in my writing career than writing and getting feedback on that writing. I wasn’t at the point where I felt comfortable with what I was writing to get feedback on it or share it in a classroom and I wasn’t even quite sure what it was I wanted to write. So it made more sense to me to do more literary analysis and reading.
Today, I’m not reading as much as I did in school and not as much as I would like. So, I guess I fit under Brett’s definition of the non-voracious writer. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean I’m not as good a writer as someone who reads twenty books a month. Writing is not necessarily about reading a lot of books but about reading mindfully, as Brett points out, reading with observation and perception.
About the Author
Tam May was born in Israel but grew up in the United States. She earned her B.A in English before returning to the States. She also has a Master’s degree and worked as an English instructor and EFL teacher before she became a full-time writer. She started writing when she was 14 and writing became her voice. She writes psychological fiction, exploring emotional realities informed by past experiences, dreams, feelings, fantasies, nightmares, imagination, and self-analysis. She currently lives in Texas but calls the San Francisco Bay Area home. When she’s not writing, she’s reading classic literature and watching classic films.
Connect with Tam May
Gnarled Bones and Other Stories explores five tales of loss, fear, and guilt where strange and spooky events impact people’s lives in ways that are profound and unchangeable.
In “Mother of Mischief”, a newly divorced woman goes back to school to begin a new chapter in her life only to find herself circling back to where she started. In “Bracelets”, childhood nostalgia mingles with brutal fear during a circus outing for a mailroom secretary and her friends. In “First Saturday Outing”, a lonely woman ventures out of her isolated apartment one quiet Saturday afternoon to an art exhibit that leaves an eerie impression on her psyche*. In Broken Bows, a middle-aged violinist reveals the mystery behind his declining artistic powers to a lonely woman on a train. And the title story, “Gnarled Bones”, paints a portrait of the complex bond between an orphaned sister and brother through journal entries and first-person narrative. For these characters, the past leaves its shadow on the present and future.
* This story was featured on Whimsy Gardener’s Storytime With Whimsey and can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PW9mgw4qhuA.
Purchase Gnarled Bones and Other Stories
Amazon US: https://www.amzn.com/dp/B01MS7P9EM/
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01MS7P9EM
Thank you so much for this, Tam, what an interesting article.
Let us know in the comments below what your thoughts are, should all authors be reading when not writing?
If you’re an author and you’d like to takeover my blog, please email me at EmmaMitchellFPR@gmail.com using #AuthorTakeover in the subject line.
Have a great day folks!