Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Bitch Is Not Top of the Class in Reading

I really meant it when I said that I don't know how Susan Hill does what she does: all that reading while writing and publishing and blogging and all the other things she does - and not quite in the way some people took it. My tone was pure wonder.

You know, when I go to her site and to those of all those other omnivorous readers, something tightens in my stomach: that very same feeling I used to get when I stood on the sidelines and all those mega-athletic types ran the hundred metres etc. I feel inadequate, and because it's books, and because as a writer I'm supposed to be a well-read type, I feel guilty about it too.

It's pathetic, I know, but I just don't find reading books all that easy. They can take me over. They can affect me in such a way that they fill my mind, colour everything, they can even change me, as both a person and a writer. It's like a love affair in fact, it really is: if I like a book, I'm transported, I day-dream it, with no eyes for any other, sometimes going over its imagery and language for days, or even weeks after I have put it down. For this reason, as I have written on my other blog, it can be quite lethal for me to read while I'm in the middle of writing something myself. And in a way, if books don't do this, for me they're not really worth reading . It's precisely the effect I would love to be able to have on others as a writer.

No need to tell me: Bitch as I am, I'm also pretty weedy.


Ms Baroque said...

Loads of writers say they can't read anything while they're writing. I think the key is to develop a sort of 'fuck off' attitude to it. You know - 'fuck off! I can't read that. I'm WORKING."

THe other art is skimming. Most peopl ewho look as if they're reading all that, they're skimming. Or reading half. Or reading in a professional way, not in that immersed way which is essentially how kids read - for the love of it. (The children's novelist Lloyd alexander said, "I write for kids because kids' novels are written to be read. Adults' novels are written to be talked about at cocktail parties."

Having said which, if one had good eyes and no kids and wasn't working 9-5, one could read quite a lot more than some of us.

In other words, you don;t sound weedy at all!!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yes, it's the way kids read, isn't it? I guess I never stopped. Well, I tell a lie, of course, I do read books which don't turn me on like that, in order to be able to take part in the debate, and as a reviewer of course, but it's a totally different experience, not reading in the true sense, ie engaging imaginatively, emotionally with psyche of the author in that deepest way. And I certainly don't do that for fun...

Liz Dwyer said...

It's not so pathetic. I can completely relate to how you feel and sometimes I feel like if I just tried harder (or cloned myself) I could fulfill all my reading and writing pursuits in the way others do. But, if I really love a book, it is much harder to write because I spend all my time wanting to read the book and speculating on what's going to happen next in the story.

Anonymous said...

My personal summary:

Pre-blogging -- averaged 3-6 books a week all my life.

Post-blogging (and there's only been one year of it, dammit) --- averaged a book a week if I'm lucky, but accumulated an order of maginitude more books that I'd like to read.

That darn internet.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yup. Same with writing. I have to give up blogging while I've got any substantial writing project on

Debi said...

Give up blogging???

Stutter ... stammer ... sweat ... shake ... (and various other words beginning with S ...)