A few months ago, I played poker with a Famous Author (he was a guest of one of the usual assortment of schleps I play with). He had written a book that Everyone had read, a real Visionary Work of True Genius.
Of course, I hadn’t read his book, but that didn’t stop me from engaging the Famous Author in a conversation about writing. “Do you think you have to be an avid reader in order to write?” I asked him.
“Absolutely,” he replied. “I can’t imagine a writer who doesn’t read broadly. I’m reading all the time.”
“That’s interesting,” I said, “because I’m a writer and I don’t read nearly as much as, say, my wife does. But she doesn’t enjoy writing at all.”
I could see a look forming on this guy’s face that seemed to say that I must not be much of a writer (and certainly, in comparison to him, I wasn’t). “Well, I think it would be very hard to do,” he hedged. “You have to love reading in order to write well.”
I saw a similar point of view in a recent post by Dan Wickett on Conversational Reading. Wickett reads so much that he has to keep several boxes of unread books in order to ensure he has plenty to read. He actually has a system for determining the order he’ll read his books in. The substance of his post was to ask other readers how they prioritize their stacks of reading.
Let’s see… how do I prioritize my reading? Well, if I have a book, then I’ll start to read it until I get bored with it. Then it gets buried in a stack somewhere and I’ll probably never get back to it. Occasionally I find a book I like and I actually read the whole thing all the way to the end. This generally happens less than once a month.
Clearly I’m never going to be much of a writer.
In fact, I do read, all the time. It’s just that mainly my reading consists of blogs and newspaper, magazine, and journal articles. Oddly, though, what I’m generally inclined to write is books.
Am I a hypocrite? I don’t think so. The books I’m working on now actually read more like a sequence of magazine articles than a sustained narrative. It’s not that there isn’t a continuous thread through the text, it’s just that the books owe more to the journalistic tradition than the literary tradition. In some ways, then, I am writing the same kind of stuff I like to read. So maybe I’ve got more in common with Dan Wickett and that Famous Writer than I’m initially willing to admit.