Nowadays, we readers have more choices than ever. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, classics or indie literature, paperbacks or e-books, there are countless titles out there that can enlighten and entertain us. But how do we choose what we read? Based on bestseller lists? On what the critics say? On our friends’ recommendations? Or just on the beauty of the cover? Should we make a conscious choice at all, or simply read any book that comes our way?
It’s a question worth pondering if your reading time is limited by the busyness of life, if you can’t just sink into your favorite armchair or lie snugly in bed all day with a good book in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. And especially if you read not only for pleasure, but also to improve as a writer, to acquire new words, discover new voices, and explore new styles.
Now reading anything is better than not reading, I grant that, but I cannot help but feel that we get more from some books than from others and that some books help us improve our writing faster. We can always learn by bad example, it’s true, but we need plenty of good examples first for comparison.
The books we read have a major impact on our writing on multiple levels, from our vocabulary to our voice, style, sentence structure, and the prevailing themes and plots we develop.
We are what we eat, and we write what we read.
Rather than just read any book that chance tosses my way, I’d rather read something worthwhile, something that enlightens, amuses, or moves me, or otherwise triggers some other positive reaction, or at least helps me relax.
Some factors that influence my decision, in no particular order:
We have all stumbled upon a great book at least once. But we don’t just keep stumbling upon books all the time, do we? We have each devised some kind of book-buying (or book-borrowing) strategy, which is influenced by our reading experience and taste.
For my part, I prefer reading in English to reading in Romanian, my native language. I am fond of old books and stories – classics you can call them – books that have stood the test of time. I usually grab them online, from the public domain, and read them on my Kindle. English paperbacks are quite expensive here in Romania, and to order them from abroad means high shipping costs.
I like the past centuries to which the classics transport me, and their slowly unfolding plots, and their imperfect sentences and paragraphs, and the occasionally misplaced punctuation, and the over-elaborate sentences, the unnecessary adjectives, and the overall looseness of style that today would not survive the pen of any editor. All these remind me that great writing owes more to the imagination, the heart, and the sheer pleasure of playing with words than to the technicalities of language, and give me hope that I, a high-school drop-out from Romania, may one day write a great English book myself.