There are so many books out there… But your reading time is limited. You can’t read them all even if you want to. So, how do you choose what you read?
I have a few bookshelfs and a Kindle full of unread books, and I won’t say anything about all those fascinating Wikipedia pages and delightful blogs and websites that I would like to read all at once if possible.
“Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.” ― Gustave Flaubert
But I only have a few hours for reading every day, and that usually means no more than one or two books a week, and some blog posts and Wikipedia pages squeezed in between them. On some weeks I have a bit more time for reading, and it’s those weeks that I fear the most.
Because I have a hard time making up my mind about what to read next. I’m trying to become a writer you see, and I think that bad writing is contagious, and so I try to read the good books first. A reader who’s not interested in becoming a writer is free to read anything she pleases. I don’t have that freedom. If I read bad books I fear I won’t become a good writer fast enough.
My personal taste usually makes me prefer books whose author is dead. I tend to shun books on whose cover the name of the author is bigger than the title. Also, for me, references to contemporary events and technology takes the charm out of reading, which is why I don’t read that many contemporary books.
I have to admit though that I often learn more about writing from contemporary novels than from old ones. Contemporary books are more compact and distilled than the classics, a feature which often makes them better writing manuals than the latter.
“Classic – a book which people praise and don’t read.” ― Mark Twain
So I’m a bit of a snob and I stick to the classics. That probably reduces the list of books on my reading list by say 25%. I still have hundreds of possibilities. Bleak House? Uncle Tom’s Cabin? As I Lay Dying? Titus Andronicus? The Miserables? Bloody hell! I waste half an hour scratching my head, not knowing which to pick.
All reading is good reading, I know that. As a writer, when you read a good book, you learn by good example; when you read a bad book, you learn by bad example – you identify the errors and the weak parts, and this will help you later to avoid making similar mistakes in your own work. Still, I cannot help but feel that some books will make me a better writer faster than others.
At length I pick a book and sink in an armchair and read. After a few pages I forget my indecision. The joy of reading takes over me. Half an hour later I’m hooked, and I remain like that until I turn the last page. I’ve never abandoned a book after I’ve started reading it. All reading is good reading.
“Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.” ― Voltaire