When reading is part of your day job
Now just to be clear, I’m not talking about reading in general — I can’t actually think of any job that does not involve the ability to read to some degree. No, I’m talking books. The kind one would normally read for pleasure. And novels in particular.
I’ve always been an avid reader and nothing gave me greater pleasure than discovering a — for me — new author or series and chomping my way through the whole shebang. Then on to the next find. Flying in the face of clichéd wisdom, I’ve chosen books based on their covers a zillion times and seldom been disappointed. I knew what I liked, what I didn’t like, and which authors were guaranteed to please me.
I hadn’t read a book I didn’t fancy since my college days. Why would I? Being a mother while running a home and a business devoured most of my waking hours, and reading was a leisure activity. A luxury.
Then everything changed.
In 2012, I stepped away from copywriting and towards novel writing. My soul had come home, but my knowledge was sorely lacking. Commercial copy and creative writing are two very different skills, and while I could sell sand to an Arab on the beach, I knew nothing about plot structure, characters, tension or the rules re. dialogue. And even less about the publishing industry.
Every book on the craft of writing I picked up seemed to refer to two others I needed to add to my TBR (to be read) list. I’ve collected over 50 in three years. And every book on writing I read emphasised the importance of reading a wide range of books — including books in genres that I, now a writer, did not normally read. Makes sense.
But that’s one heck of a lot of books that I would benefit from reading.
And in a heartbeat, novel reading had morphed from being a solely leisure activity into a necessity. A most enjoyable necessity, but nevertheless a pivotal part of my new working life. Pretty much every book I read now is selected for a reason — new author, new genre, recommendation from a writing buddy, book club, spinoff from a craft book I have already read, or to expand my writing skills and technique toolkit.
But here’s the rub: a writer’s working day is never over because the brain is still sifting through ideas and exploring possibilities. Ideas that need jotting down or moulding into a novel outline, or chapters that need starting or finishing while I am still in the zone. Then there’s often a blog to prepare, social media to update. Etc. Etc. It’s all totally wonderful and I’ve never been happier professionally, but when is the right time to read all the books and material I ought to read without using time that may be better spent at my desk?
Because these days, now that I work from home, I don’t have leisure time in the same way as I did when working at the office. When an assignment was finished when I hit send. When going home meant no more working until tomorrow because my desk was 7 km down the road. When curling up with a book did not involve the guilt of the unfinished outline, chapter or blog waiting for my attention.
The whole reading experience has changed too. Now I have a much better idea of novel structure, plot, character, quest, theme, settings, beats and the rules of dialogue, I find myself analysing and evaluating the writer’s work from technical points of view rather than simply being carried away by the story. Which I suppose is inevitable.
I’m not complaining. Not even slightly. I consider myself to be a very lucky duck indeed to be able to devote my working day to writing and reading. But I am fascinated by my own guilty reaction to spending time on something that — according to every writing expert out there — I’m supposed to be doing anyway.
So I’m wondering whether professional book critics can ever read purely for pleasure, or whether they too find themselves thinking they should be reading something they have agreed to read.