“They” say that if you want to be a writer you must be a reader.
Well … I guess I am that. A reader, I mean. At least when judged on the basis of frequency – the writing comes sparsely and sporadically. I read about a book a week, sometimes more. I am indiscriminate in my reading only having a penchant for fiction -- especially the fictional likelihood of historical or real events. I am the worst when it comes to knowing authors -- to my shame and their chagrin. I pick books from the canvas pop-up tent at the library book sale and from the musty shelves at Goodwill. I actually DO judge books by their covers; I pick them because of the way they look, the way their titles sound rolling off my tongue and even, sometimes, simply because of how a book feels in my hand.
I panic -- like someone out of “Hoarders” on TV -- when I have less than a dozen tomes awaiting, like patient pets, by my bedside. If, on a trip to the doctor’ office, I’ve forgotten to bring a book with me, I’ll read every last magazine in the waiting room. I have even resorted to reading candy bar wrappers and cast-off drugstore flyers when no other words are available to lay my eyes upon. I love words. But, more than that, I love the images they create in my mind. A candy bar wrapper, for example, can instantly conjure up the mental image of a laboratory where chemicals combine with cocoa, white-coated lab technicians smell, taste and research variations on a product in an effort to hit on the perfect mouth feel for the latest Hershey company offering.
But these wrapper-conjured images, as important as they are, pale by comparison to the places I travel and the people I become through the skill of someone’s prose. An olive orchard in Italy becomes my own, a train ride in China becomes my trip. I become the Queen of England one moment and a prairie wife the next. Time travel and shape-shifting are not only possible, they are my diet; consumed with relish and motivated by an unappeasable appetite. I am the tattooed lady on Coney Island. I am the super sleuth navigating the back alleys of Marrakech. I am a lover in Paris and a beloved in Alabama. I am a murderess in Iceland and a condor feathering its wings to catch the thermals over the majesty of the Grand Canyon. I dip and soar and weep in the clouds of my down comforter, pillowed by the magical words of an author’s skill at arranging words into stories that transport me, inform and educate me, entertain and enlighten me.
Ah … that enlightenment element … How I wish I could tell you of the wisdom contained in in the humblest of bound pages! It is a treasure hunt to find these nuggets but the search is often rewarded. Sometimes a wise author urges me to embrace humor (I have been known to giggle like a school girl in my solitary reading) and to look to the absurd to cushion the trials of everyday life. Sometimes an author will take me on a much-needed vacation to a place that refreshes my soul. Sometimes the philosophy of the author comes through with startling gut-punching clarity and lets me own it.
“What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed.” (from “Animal Dreams” by Barbara Kingsolver)
I am envious of the skill, in awe of the research, intrigued by the plot twists and the lives and minds behind them. I love these authors’ willingness to share. If the seed of the Great American Novel has not taken root in the soil of my writing, I can at least write about reading.
“Sometimes I’m asked what my advice would be for emerging writers, and it is always simply, to read.” (author Hannah Kent)
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” (the oh-so-wise Dr. Seuss)
Read I will continue to do with much frequency. And write too – even if sparsely and sporadically.