Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Reacting to a good book
When reading a good book, I am always torn between wanting to continue, to find out how it ends, and not wanting it to end. I sometimes have to use great willpower to put the book down and go to sleep, or to do other things, rather than read on to the end. In such cases, telling myself I am rationing the pleasure of reading by postponing the experience until later can help me convince myself to stop reading for a while.
Good books ask to be read again. Sometimes I reread a book immediately after the first read, wanting to have the very different experience of the second read, with the knowledge of the conclusion. In the second and later readings, the reader can notice all the small hints the author put into the book, foreshadowing the ending. Later readings don't have the urgency, the desperate need to find out how it ends, and thus allow readers to take greater pleasure in the process of building up the plot and the characters.
For as long as I can remember myself, I have wanted to write, and so reading is always a learning experience for me. Whatever I read, I try to notice how the author shapes the plot, creates suspense, builds characters, and structures the story. I notice things like the pacing, the construction of dialogue, and how much can be revealed and how much concealed to keep the reader's interest. While it is possible to learn from badly written work how not to write, it is naturally much better to choose good writing and draw inspiration from those masters who do it well.
We all have our weaknesses, and I must admit that sometimes when I read something really good, I become vividly aware that I am not yet able to write this well. I try to stay positive and tell myself that I am learning from the best, and I know that as I practice my writing regularly, I will improve. I have learned not to idealize even the writers I admire most. Everyone has a few faults, and even the best books are not perfect. I can always find something I would have done differently, a phrase that irritates me, or some logical flaw in the plot. When I see these things in good books, I know that when I write, I create something that is purely mine. My own writing will contain my own strengths and weaknesses, which I am learning, just as every writer's writing does.
There are some skills I know I will never develop. I can't sing, and it has always frustrated me that my voice cannot follow a tune I can hear clearly inside my head. I put aside this frustration so that I can enjoy music. With writing it is different. I write, to the best of my ability, and to do this I have to learn from writers better and more experienced than myself. With this in mind, I have to balance my admiration of their skill with the knowledge that my own skill is developing as I work on it. I may not ever write works equal to those I most enjoy reading, but one day I will write work that feels to me good enough to attempt to publish, and that should be my short-term aim.