Read In Order To Live

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” Charles William Eliot

Like most of you, I am not only a bookworm, but I also am passionate about books and libraries. I can easily get lost for hours in a library and:
“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.” Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus 

Years ago, while doing a novel-writing correspondence course, a section of the course was designated to learning to read as a writer. As a beginning writer, I was advised to consider a book in the light of what it could teach me with regard to the improvement of my own work. And as an exercise I had to read a contemporary novel (preferably a bestseller) and analyze it according to the points listed in the assignment: Write a short synopsis. Say whether you like or dislike it and why. Are the characters drawn skillfully or badly, or maybe even both? Is the dialogue natural or styled? Do you feel the author’s effort or presence throughout the book, or only in some parts? Do the plots or scenes transition successfully? Are there any make-believe scenes, or unnecessary passages? What about the surprise element, the ending? And the list went on….

For this assignment I chose two books from my library, one from Danielle Steel and another from Barbara Taylor Bradford. Reading as a writer, I paid careful attention to the technical details. After jotting down my answers, I read the books once more, this time even more thoroughly.

After submitting my assignment I found myself being more judgmental while reading any book. Being analytical while reading just took the pleasure of reading out of me! And I personally disagree with Dorothea Brande:

“When you have learned to read critically you will find that your pleasure is far deeper than it was when you read as an amateur.”

While I continued to read Barbara Taylor Bradford I became more critical of her writing. For example, I noticed that in some of her books she has a main character dead by the hands of a terrorist group from the Middle East. Almost always she fabricates a scene describing an attack by the same terrorist group, which by the way she does so quickly that I feel as if I was reading a news item, and the impression she leaves on me as a reader is not plausible at all. While Danielle Steele creates drama by placing her characters in situations that I, the reader, feel are fictitious. In real life things don’t happen that way. But isn’t that why we love to read books, to escape reality?

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” G.K. Chesterton

It took me a while to enjoy reading the way I used to before. Now every book I read I try to read twice, the first time as me myself, uncritically, rapidly, and as I did in the old days when I had no responsibility to a book but to enjoy it.

And the second time not to boast about it like Bertrand Russell said:

“There are two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.”

But as a writer, with every faculty alert. And yet in the words of Gustave Flaubert:

“Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.” 


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2 Responses to Read In Order To Live

  1. seanjrankine says:

    I don’t read enough! My fiance has the enviable ability to read a novel in hours. Takes me weeks! I can speed read news, but I like to really take my time with literature. Not sure if I analyse it. I just like to savour it…like a fine meal! Cliche alert!

    Great post!

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