Spring break is a time to refresh, renew, and for me at least – soak up some sunshine. For many folks, it’s also a chance to read. (Not everyone reads books like they’re made of crack. Sadly.) I read books all the time, every day, for pleasure, for education, for art – the reasons just pile up. Writers are advised to read as much as possible – especially in their preferred genre – because reading is the most immediate way to learn the craft.
But there comes a time when reading as a writer interrupts the sheer pleasure of losing oneself in a good book. I found myself reluctant to read The Secret Tree over break. It’s right up my alley as a reader and as a writer: middle grade, Rebecca Stead loved it, a setting full of mysteries, a quest to fix a curse – but I couldn’t bear to read it. I bought it, packed it in my bag, and there it stayed. Now it sits on my shelf like the last solid chocolate Easter egg, waiting to be enjoyed. Why?
Well, lately, I find myself critiquing the books I read, especially kid-lit, instead of just relishing them. I’ve always been a picky reader (yes, I notice every typo and lacking copy-edit, but no, I am NOT the crazy lady who pencils in corrections in library books), but it’s getting worse. So much so that I find myself always reading as a writer. Too much of a good thing is as bad as not enough.
This hit me over the head one day when I realized I’d read five YA novels in a row, all well-reviewed, and I thought they were simply okay. Granted, there’s only so much paranormal YA historical romance a girl can take, but these books were good. They were represented by an agent, published, reviewed in reputable journals, read and enjoyed by lots of folks. Why was I so fussy?
Looking back, the books were good. Not amazing – that accolade goes to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, which I did read over break – but good. They weren’t lacking; my willing suspension of disbelief was. I was perfectly willing to accept, say, that a girl might discover she was related to a mermaid and fall in love with the mermaid’s lover. I was not willing, nor able, to let go and immerse myself in the book’s world, to allow myself to read as a child reads, entering into a partnership with the book where its reality overtakes the world outside. I was critiquing where I should be complicit.
Time to step back. Put the books down, and take a deep breath. I won’t stop reading – for me that would be akin to stopping eating, or even breathing – but I will take a hiatus from reading like a writer. I will approach each book as a world unto itself. I will immerse myself in its rhythms, its spaces. That’s not to say I’ll enjoy every book. No book is good to every reader. Sometimes it’s a surfeit of similar books, as with my YA choices; sometimes, the book just isn’t appealing. But I will give every book a fair chance – reading as a reader, not as a writer.
Now if I can only get through my stack of library books so I can get to The Secret Tree!