I am an avid reader, and have been my entire life. I read for the escape, the story, the characters. I am normally something of a speed reader; if a book grabs me, say “goodbye” to Amy.
My children could be hungry and late for practice while I just finish “one more page.” I stay up far too late on work nights, completely engulfed by a great book. When I do have to put the book aside and function as a responsible member of society, I find myself thinking about the story. I can’t seem to escape the vortex of a good story. I’m literally sucked in. I power through it, anxious to find out what happens.
Then, I’m sad. The book is over. I’ve lost a dear friend.
Not all books affect me like this. Some I can actually read at a normal pace – well, normal for me. My family still thinks I read books freakishly fast even if it seems to me that I’m taking my time and really trying to savor each word. The writer in me has been pondering this lately.
What is it about some books that completely take me over so that I ignore everyone and everything in my life, keep the book on a shelf and read it again while others I enjoy but don’t completely lose myself and all sense of responsibility as I read? I can take them to the used book store without any feelings of loss, and sometimes I don’t even finish them.
Maybe its just genetics. My sister does the same thing, but as a single mom with younger kids, it’s a little bit more dangerous for her. She avoids good books until the perfect time; I used to do this too, but my kids are now teenagers who can at least feed themselves, get dressed, and out the door with their shoes on the right feet.
If its not genetics, and authors actually have something to do with this phenomenon, what is it that pulls me in? Is it the plot? The characters? The action? The realistic dialogue? I hadn’t ever really thought about these questions until I started writing (actually doing it and not just thinking about it), and my life as a reader has changed. I keep stopping and thinking about all the elements, the structure, of the stories. I’ve slowed down . . . a little, but I still ask, what sucks me in?
The first, not-so-profound answer I came up with is that they’re just great stories. It’s all of the elements put together in a compelling way that somehow pulls me in. But that’s not really an answer; it feels like a cop out. The books are good because they’re, well, good. As a debate coach, I would hammer a student who used that circular reasoning in a case, so I need a better answer.
I guess, after much thought, it comes down to what I would call writing style, that elusive, indefinable way with words that every writer has. However they approach their work, whatever it is they do to draw us in is their style. Sometimes it works for me, sometimes not so much.
It’s much easier, and not quite so intimidating to think that I can pick and choose what I like and what I want to focus on in terms of my own writing style. I now read, paying attention to why the authors made the choices they did in their story, and then if I want to, I can try that strategy myself or I can chuck it. Any book I read, whether I get sucked in or not, has become something of a textbook. What works? What doesn’t?
This has even brought me back to some old favorites that I have re-read as a writer. When I’m writing dialogue, for example, I find myself randomly pulling old favorites off the shelf and opening up to sections of dialogue to see how that author wrote it. It’s hugely helpful to have these masters sitting in front of me as I write, helping me develop. And even if they aren’t “masters,” they’re at least published which, in my book, makes them a master.
The end result of all this reading and writing, my own writing style. Maybe someday it too will suck some poor, unaware reader into a literary black hole they can’t escape until the last page. (Wow – writing fantasy is fun too!)