When I am writing, which has been constantly for this past six years, I find it near impossible to read as I once did. I used to read three or four books a week at my peak and dip into non-fiction and magazines every day. Every night I would struggle to find sleep as a novel demanded I finish it. It has to be said that problem ceased when I met my beloved ‘B’. Then other things kept us from sleep. My reading fell off a bit then and oh how wonderful that was and is!
Now I’m sorry to get personal but, one place I always read and still do is when sitting in the smallest room surrounded by tiles, white porcelain and activity best ignored. Many I times I emerged with a deep ring embossed on the flesh of my thighs having become immersed in my reading.
When I joined Goodreads and had to try to recall all I’d read, I was suddenly confronted with what a huge number that is. Literally impossible to accurately recall. A bit of maths and averages suggests a number over 22,000!
But in the past six years I’ve read no more than four or five novels. I still dip into non-fiction often as research and I’ve read much on-line as part of that research, but novels newspapers and magazines have been all but abandoned. Why?
I was made aware of this two days ago when I picked up a little book from my library that was published in the UK in 1945, during the war. ‘Book Production War Economy Standard’ by Quality Press Ltd London. This little volume is yellow with age, the cover is protected by a film of clear plastic, the title is only on the spine and reads: The Pastures of Heaven. John Steinbeck.
I bought it in a second-hand book shop in Smithfield Market, Belfast, when it was already nearing twenty years old. I now read it again for the first time in twenty years.
I was shocked by how it touched me. This was one of the first works by Steinbeck I read, I went on to collect and read all his work. I read a few of the short stories in it to ‘B’ as we lay in bed and she said, “I see where you found your poetry and the concise but powerful way you write. You do not mimic Steinbeck but you share his way of seeing and his ability to mine the language for gems of meaning.”
Ok that’s a paraphrase of what she said, but it stunned me and made me see why I don’t read novels now. I am reluctant to have my voice tainted or my creative process coloured by other writers voices.
I also don’t want my imaginative living of my characters and plot blunted by intrusions from the pages of another’s imagination. Unless it’s Steinbeck.
So to all my fellow writers whose work remains unread I say: sorry but until I dry up, that’s how it will remain.