Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Reading as a Writer

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Reading as a Writer

Reading As A Writer

You remember how as a kid you’d check a book out of the library– a hardcover with residues of ketchup stuck to the pages – and curl up on the sofa and soon you were lost. Maybe you set off on an ice floe with your harpoon; launched a Viking ship– or went spelunking in a cave. You slipped the novel under your plate with the grilled cheese sandwich and ate without tasting, letting crumbs fill the spine of the open book, as others had done before you.

It never occurred to me then that the immersive act of reading would change. It would have broken my heart if I’d known. Reading as a writer is nothing like that childhood experience. I’ve lost the knack of disappearing into story. There is always the ‘I’ who is reading the book and passing judgement, in appreciation or perhaps snorting criticism. That ‘I’ is often noisier and more present than the world inside the book. When people ask me, as they often do: –‘What are you reading these days? – I frequently go blank. The books, and there are always a few on the go, haven’t created deep impressions. I’m with them while I’m reading, but they don’t haunt the rest of my day.
The writer-as-reader is a on the lookout for a sentence or image to admire, a cliche to scoff at, an unwieldy paragraph. It’s forensic, hardly romantic. Do you suppose when a doctor looks at a lover that her gaze fixes on the suspicious mole planted over his left eye?

4 comments

acr: I suspect what you mean by 'what works' is what gives you pleasure, or interest. YEs? Am I right? I'm with you – life is way too short to force oneself to plow through a tedious book.
Thanks for your comment,
ANN

bg: What if you didn't worry one bit about what 'smart people' do or, as you say, 'what works'? Reading is, first and foremost, pleasure. I wouldn't read if I didn't love doing it. Sometimes I worry that children are told over and over again that reading is worthy and they get points for reading each book at school- and it becomes yet another 'duty'. Certainly I never thought (or think) of it that way at all.
Thanks for your comment, bg.
ANN

I feel like I know exactly what you are saying however I have never been that into reading even as a kid. It's something I do because it is what smart people are supposed to do but I do not have the critical faculties to rip it to shreds or pick up any subtleties really. I simply do not know how it "works" so I just look for what I look for, if that makes any sense. I am slightly afraid that with some new knowledge of the inner workings of fiction it may be even harder for me to "get through" a book. That's me the big risk taker...look out...

Hmmm....maybe it is because I love reading so much and depend on books for such a variety of reasons that I cannot let this happen to me. When I think about "reading like a writer" I think about what writers do to make their writing, for lack of a better work, "successful". So, I only focus on what works - if it isn't working, I don't read it.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Ann Ireland

Ann Ireland is the author of A Certain Mr. Takahashi, The Instructor and Exile. Her most recent novel is The Blue Guitar. She lives in Toronto.

Go to Ann Ireland’s Author Page