Everything a person or a society believes is shaped by the written word, yet there are people who don’t read. When one of these nonreaders hears that I’m a writer, they’re happy to let me know their truth.
“I don’t read,” a person will tell me, the declaration delivered proudly and defiantly, as though I’m their pejorative seventh grade English teacher.
“A lot of people don’t,” I say agreeably, though inside I’m appalled.
If you don’t read, how do you write? How do you bring anything but ignorance to any discussion? How do you communicate if you have no vocabulary? Where do you obtain your concepts about human behavior, right and wrong, the world we live in?
Some, upon finding that I prefer to read and write fiction, take on a superior tone when they tell me they’re only interested in nonfiction. I’m fine with that. Absorbing words and ideas, some concurrent with one’s beliefs, some contradictory, is what implements change, promotes broad-mindedness, and drives healthy relationships. Though in defense of fiction, I will point out that there are millions of situations presented in stories that a person will never confront. It’s through fiction that empathy comes to nestle in a person’s soul.
I’m frequently invited to give talks about creativity and the mechanics of writing at libraries and to readers’ groups; and one of the questions I’m most often asked is, how can a parent get their kids interested in reading? This what I say:
“You tuck your babies close every day, and you read them a story. You point to the words on the page so your little ones will connect the dark lines and shapes with the sounds coming out of your mouth. You make it a love thing, not a struggle thing.”
This is so idealized that it’s embarrassing. It’s what I did with my kids and, as adults, they’re both voracious readers. But during their period of development we were in an ex-pat situation where mommies stayed home and did nothing but nurture their children. In the real world mothers and fathers are out in the world working hard. They’re tired and they’re preoccupied. Where’s the time? Though I will posit that if you’re a parent who doesn’t read, your kids, also, will likely not be readers.
I was raised in a reading household. My mother folded a trip to the library into our Saturday errands. For my whole childhood and into my teens, the family teased me because I kept an ongoing book on every surface in the house—the kitchen table, my nightstand, the couch, the piano. Wherever I found myself, there a book would be, waiting for me.
When Fifty Shades of Gray came out a friend from my readers’ group in Singapore was shocked when she discovered that her thirteen-year-old daughter’s friends were passing a copy around, sneak-reading it. She, of course, would never allow her daughter to read such trash. (And my-my, it was trashy, so poorly written that I put it down after the first ten pages. But oh, how I do envy that subpar hack her publicist!)
But really, censorship? My mother would never have thought to tell me what I could or couldn’t read; though allowing me to read Sweet Savage Love at thirteen probably wasn’t the wisest way to go. Nothing plants fallacy in a teenaged girl’s head like abduction and sex on the high seas. Was it rape or was it seduction? Did she love him or did she hate him? How was I to know? After SSL our girl trips to the library were for the purpose of fetching potboilers with covers so risqué that my sister made us fabric book covers so we could carry them in public. Thanks, Resi. I have mine still!
And as I am inclined to do, I got off my intended topic, which is readers’ groups or, as they’re also called, book clubs. Everywhere we’ve lived I’ve joined a group that sits in a circle once a month and discusses a book. The chosen books have always been a mixture of classic and current. In most cases, a participant who has read it and thinks it will lead to a lively discussion suggests the book.
To those who are indifferent to reading this sounds tedious. To people who love to read, talking about words and nuance, plots and social relevance is the most fun pastime in the world.
I have yet to join a group in Marble Falls. There are several home groups in the area. I know many who belong to them; and though I’ve hinted that I’m looking for a readers’ group, I haven’t been invited to join. My feelings are kind of hurt by this, but I know myself well enough to realize that I can be annoying.
Two groups meet at the library, one for classics that meets at an inconvenient time, and another for mysteries, which is meeting this afternoon. I’ll be going to this one. The selected book, She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper, is an Edgar Award Winner for Best Debut Novel for 2018, an impressive achievement.
A brief review: The book opened with a prologue so wildly literary that it was as though James Joyce and Virginia Woolf decided to collaborate on a thriller. This would have worked had the author possessed the stamina to carry the style throughout, but the first chapter takes a dip into the clear modern narrative of a page-turner, rendering the prologue pretentious and inexplicable. After this baffling start, however, the book is an easy read; the characters are well defined, and the story is compelling. The multiple typos and overuse of certain words were a distraction, but most aren’t as persnickety as I am. So if you like a fast-paced book, you might enjoy this.
And the many small errors served to prove what I already suspected, which is that the art of editing isn’t as valued in the US as it is in the UK; and for this I’m thankful to my British publishers who hired my British editors to help make my books as tight and clean as possible. Attention authors: In writing for the American market a writer must be dogged and meticulous when it comes to editing because no one’s going to do it for you, and no one will ever care about your work as much as you do.
So. A book club that reads only mysteries and thrillers. Here I go.