Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Reading - It's the Right Thing to Do

A topic I've had bouncing around in my head for a bit now is that of good books... and why to read them.

This follows up on both my "Permanence of Words" post about words and what I like about them and "Words Written Down - The School Days" piece about writing. Main difference between those and this is I want to write here about reading.

I recall from his excellent book "On Writing", bestselling author Stephen King extolling the virtues of reading for any writer. He was referring I believe to fiction writers, but a non-fiction writer would me thinks have even more of a need to be well read. If you're writing about actual things (i.e. non-fiction), helps to actually know something about said things.

Through reading, you're going to be able to both envelop yourself in a story (whether it be real or fictional) and have time to draw your own conclusions and thoughts on it. If you compare reading to say, watching a movie... the experience of film I believe just isn't as immersive and as a result, the viewer has less opportunity for take-away than the reader.

This import of reading established, I think the question becomes what to read. There's obviously a lot of options ranging from novels and non-fiction books (and me thinks both type of books valuable) to magazines and newspapers, and then blogs and all the way down (in size) to Twitter posts.

In terms of online writing, one criticism I've seen is that a reader there not likely to think as deeply about and gain as much as from a book. While I do agree with this generally, I think it not a reason to skip reading online, just an argument to pick up a book as well as surf the interlyweb. In fact, a great thing that vehicles like Twitter and magazines can provide is a recommendation of books to read.

To that end... the July 12 issue of Time Magazine contained "What to Read This Summer". The article featured authors and other public figures saying what books they're reading now as a form of recommendation. Many of the books noted in this piece I'm not terribly interested in, but one that did jump out is "The Tender Bar: A Memoir" by J.R. Moehringer. Written by the co-writer of Andre Agassi's fantastic memoir "Open" (which I reviewed here), it's about Moehringer's time spent in a bar and how that related to his life and writing career. Man, by a guy who wrote (well, co-wrote) a book I love and this book involving stuff about becoming a writer... "The Tender Bar" sounds like catnip to me.

Ok, that's quite a progression I ran through in this post. To whit...

(A) previously wrote about writing, now writing about reading, (B) writers should read stuff, (C) writers should read all different kinds of writing, (D) online writing can lead to books, (E) here's a link to an article recommending books and (F) hey, here's a book I want to read!

Again, lots of steps there, but ones I'm happy to have walked through reaching this point.

Closing thought around this whole reading theme is a link to a most excellent writer in Roger Ebert blogging about the value of a great video game vs great book ("Huck Finn" to be specific). Interesting comparison from the film critic...