On writers and (not) reading

I’m sure I read a quote somewhere recently that said something along the lines that eventually a writer must decide to be either a reader or a writer.

Has anyone seen this quote? Do you know what I’m talking about?

The idea behind the quote struck me as intriguing (and maybe a little self-serving). After all, the common wisdom is that all writers must be readers. You have to read the language to know how to use the language, to know the history into which your words are joined. The thing is in my daily life I face a constant dilemma: when I’m not working at my day job, I can read OR write (or watch TV, sleep, do household chores, pay bills, cook, do laundry, buy groceries, socialize, etc.). Most often, though, it is choice between reading and writing. Writing usually wins out, and the guilt-inducing pile of books (in print and ebooks) grows larger and larger.

If I didn’t read, though, and if that quote that I think I saw recently that I can’t place now has any merit, then maybe I don’t have to feel guilty about not reading all the books that I haven’t been reading. (Though it isn’t clear to me if that quote means I can excuse my guilt when I’m not writing because I’m watching TV, sleeping, socializing, etc.)

The thing is, though, I’ve always been a big reader. A slower, reader, sure, but I have a large appetite for books. One of the best things anyone has ever said about me is that for me reading is like plugging me in.

There was a time when I only read big, old books: Les Miserable, Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Crime and Punishment. There was a time when I plowed through novels and short stories, consuming the published works of single authors such as Raymond Carver, Kazuo Ishiguro, Michael Chabon, Jayne Anne Phillips, Tolkien, and people whose new books I often consume right away, like Margaret Atwood. Lately, it’s taking me longer and longer to read anything.

My most recent purchase, the 1998 comic book series called Stone, which incorporates Philippine folklore in its story, has taken me more than two weeks just to read the first issue, and its not long at all — and its mostly pictures, too.

In some ways, with all the reading I do on the web — news, social media, work-related articles — I might be doing just as much reading, if not more, as I was doing when I was in graduate school, when the web was but a wee thing.

So instead of me thinking that my reading has slowed way down because of my age and my new need for reading glasses, I like to think it is because I’m a writer first and need my free brain time for not only the act of writing but also the thinking and processing and nurturing of the ideas, characters, actions and sensations that go into my writing.


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