Monday, March 23, 2015

Birthday boys and their reading habits

I'm going to tie together a couple of thoughts, badly I might add. But this is what's been on my mind over the last day or so.

One of the most basic bits of writing advice is "read, read, read", to read widely, and to learn to read deeply or critically. Yesterday was Louis L'amour's birthday and to celebrate it I thumbed through what may be his best work, and is one of my favorites by him, Education of a Wandering Man. This is a memoir he wrote about his life, about being an autodidact, and about his reading life. The take away is that L'amour was a voracious reader who always had a book in tow, and who didn't read just one type or mode of book.

Recently Jedidiah Ayres was interviewed by Gabino Iglesias and gave the following answer:

And at this point there is so little money involved that it’s not an incentive to work faster. I read much more than I write. Hell, I watch movies (I guess you’ve noticed) much more than I write, and I think that’s the way it should be (for me). If I had to give up reading or writing, I’d drop writing last week. And yeah, I could think of a dozen other things off the top of my head I’d prioritize above writing. That said, I’ve got a half dozen novels I am currently working on. THAT SAID, I’ve been working on most of them for years.

I have a long internet memory and remembered hearing another writer give a similar answer. Facebook tells me today is Declan Burke's birthday and years ago, over on his blog, he wrote the following:

There’s a question in the regular Q&A that I run on Crime Always Pays which is for me the one that gives the most insight into a writer, or as much insight as can be gleaned from a 10-question Q&A. It’s the one about God appearing, and saying you can only read or write, and which will it be. For me, it’s a no-brainer - I’d read, because the books I want to read are better than anything I’m capable of writing. And, given that I’m a failed writer, Beckett’s dictum on failing and failing again better notwithstanding, the last thing I want to be reading is a book not fit to lace my own books’ shoelaces, if you’ll forgive the mangled metaphor.

I wonder if the answer that they both give is the common one? I'm tempted to say that writers would say writing, but obviously have nothing to back that assertion up. So maybe instead we can ask, What does it say about these guys that they choose writing?

Another question that I've been pondering lately that I'll throw out there: If you are a writer and you are only reading the books that your friends and acquaintances are publishing  are you doing your own work a disservice?

That's as far as I've taken the train of thought for today. What do you think?


John McFetridge said...

Yes, I may be doing my work a disservice by only (or certainly mostly) reading books that my friends have published, but I'm fine with that.

My "work" isn't groundbreaking or special or all that interesting to anyone but my friends and not doing it would affect exactly one person - me.

Most of us (me certainly) are like minor-league ballplayers. What I hope for now is to be Crash Davis and have a positive effect on a younger writer, so those are the writers I read and try to encourage.

jack welling said...

I buy my friends' books.

I don't often read them.

I read mostly from dead writers. I read broadly.

Our competition as writers largely comes from the dead. I try to keep a steely eye on the competition.