Being the Reader I Used to Be

I’m not the reader I used to be. Ever since I stopped being a student, I struggled with reading as many books as I did in my youth. Partially it was because of my limited time: I didn’t have gaps between lectures or workshops to fill with reading. Being employed full time meant 9 hours a day at my workplace. After that, I had to take care of my food and house chores. It was also the fear of losing sleep over a book – something I confessed to two years ago, and something I couldn’t afford being an employee. But lately, I realized the problem is more complex than just less time to read.

The older we are, the more picky readers we become

I remember one of my friends, a real music connoisseur, saying once, “they don’t make good music anymore”. I was somewhat inclined to agree, but then I realized I still come across good music that’s contemporary. That made me think.

When we first start our adventure, be it with books or music or anything else, we have access to decades (or centuries in some cases) of content. We get to find all the gems and favorite books, and they seem countless. Then, as we age, and we explore more and more, we only have the new releases left. This not only narrows our choice, but also dooms our perception. Only one book out of so many is going to be “good”, and while the ratio probably hadn’t changed, we tend to think so, because we feel we discover fewer interesting novels.

This might make people reluctant to explore or even disheartened about searching for new reads when so many books turn out to be disappointment. Compared to the memories of our early beginnings when every read was close to a revelation, the present time seem rather grim.

A writer should read a lot

I wholeheartedly agree with the idea, because conscious reading can replace countless craft books on writing. It also exposes the writer to various concepts and approaches to the story’s structure, characters, pacing, and even the use of style.

But, at the same time, it inevitably skews our perception as readers. As much as I want to enjoy a book I’m reading, I can’t help reading it with a writer’s perspective. I notice the deus-ex-machina plot solutions, I grit my teeth at the erratic behavior of the characters, and frown at pacing issues, to name just a few.

And it’s not the idea that “I could have done it better”. It’s not my story, and I probably wouldn’t give it justice even if I tried. It’s the thought that I know how it could be done. I know that the writing tools are out there, and to notice the writer didn’t use them affects my experience as a reader.

Being the reader I used to be

It’s not enough to realize the problem. Sure, I know I shouldn’t compare to my past experiences, but when every other book becomes a disappointment despite my desire to love it, it’s hard to keep positive. At the same time, as a reader who is also a writer, I want learn from the books I read. I want their plots, use of style, or interesting structure to amaze me.

I don’t want to lower my expectations just to read comfortably, but maybe I should? After all, I want to read more in hope to discover new great books, new favorite authors. I want to be the reader I used to be.

12 thoughts on “Being the Reader I Used to Be”

  1. I read a lot, but I also go through periods where I don’t read very much at all. Right now I’m reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63, and it is amazing. And it’s long, and I’m very much caught up in the concept of the book. I try not to critique books I read with a writer’s eye. I think it’s so important for writers to read! Have you checked out Goodreads for book suggestions? I’m not sure which genres you like.

    1. As we spoke on Facebook, I can’t really turn my writer self off as I read since it always was part of my process. I guess I need to try find a way to stop it affecting my reading pleasure. I can do that with books I know are mediocre, but with the ones I have high expectations for I can’t just let it slide.
      Goodreads doesn’t work too well for me. I’ve read several books “everyone” (well, majority) has been raving about, and found them very disappointing.

      1. Thinking about this–have you read any books on writing? Or on writers reading? That might be a good place to start. It might just jog your love of reading! I loved Stephen King’s “On Writing,” because I could relate to it–just another suggestion!

  2. Perhaps you should lower your expectations a tiny little bit. Enjoy even bad books, try to be more adventurous while choosing your lecture and/or genres. I admit some of the nicest surprises happened to me by accident which I allowed to happen.

    1. Apparently, I can’t enjoy bad books, unless they’re so purely bad it’s like watching a class D horror.
      And you know me, I try to like books I read. I want to like them. And then I end up writing a long ranty email to you, venting my disappointment.

  3. I’m sorry that you don’t enjoy reading the way you used to:(. For some reason, I am able to switch my inner writer off and simply approach books as a reader and I’m very aware that this is pure dumb luck. I know when I read poetry, for instance, I’m far more critical and picky than I am when reading prose and there simply isn’t the option to ‘lower’ my expectations. That said, you will be learning a lot with the books you have a problem with. I know when I was attending my Creative Writing classes as a student, it was mostly the poor writing I learnt more from…

    1. I envy you this ability to switch off.
      I’ve learned tons from poor writing, but I think I’m at the stage when I should be looking up to writers better than me. To see where I can get and what I can explore, instead of just reminding myself what kind of mistakes not to make.

      1. Yes – there is a point when you do feel you need to absorb what better writers do. Though I would also say you need to take care that you don’t let that paralyse you.

  4. I understand because you’re time pressed, Joanna that there’s a pressure for every single book you read to be wonderful. However, I would argue that as a writer, it’s also possible to learn from books that aren’t written so well – which you appear to do. I get bored if I read too many novels in a single genre and like to mix things up to keep my reading fresh. Try to be gentler on your reading self at this time (I had very little time to read when my children were small but now they’re in their teens and I’m loving reading a book per week) and hopefully in the future your reading mojo will return.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Rae. You’re right about the time influencing my expectations. I feel like life’s too short to waste it on unappealing things, though I also know not all of the books will be brilliant. I’d settle for “okay”. I think I’ve recently had a very bad series of disappointments (so not a single book being “wonderful”) that affected my current reading mood.
      I found that reading non-fiction helps at times, as I don’t have much expectation: there’s no plot or character building, and even if writing is dull, it serves the purpose of fact-sharing.

  5. I think it’s a combination of things, you’re strapped for time so you want the books you do read to be good ones. Perhaps strapped for cash, and therefor you’re limited on the amount of books that you can buy.
    But on top of that when you’re younger all stories are new, after years of reading it’s much harder to find a unique idea done well.
    And in the end you sort of lose enthusiasm, but never hope.

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