I never used to realize how important the written word was to me.
I was a huge reader, when I was a kid. I absorbed series like water, especially if they were fantasy or mystery, and I reread like a maniac. I read on the subway, I read on my lunch breaks, I read while I was walking. I don’t think I ever put much conscious thought into it; it was just that thing I did, right up there with breathing and staying up too late at night.
When I started university and life got busy, I kind of dropped the reading, and I didn’t really notice that anymore than I’d noticed doing it in the first place. That’s the danger with things that aren’t planned, I think; they can come and go without the recognition they deserve. I began writing more during that time, because it was a fun way to take myself out of the stress of classes and exams, but there were about six years there in the middle where I barely read a single book.
I claimed at the time that it had something to do with an inability to multitask – that is to say, to read and also do anything else. There’s truth to that, and it stands now as the reason why I listen to audiobooks rather than buying the physical things I love so much, but I think it’s probably only true now because I thought it was true then. However much sense that makes.
Regardless of the hows or the whys of it, though, the truth remains that I went bookless for a rather long time. I’ve heard many people say that any aspiring writer needs to also be a reader, and I have always believed that to be true. The writing I did during my reading hiatus was decent, and more importantly for me at the time it was fun, but I was writing little adventures. I wasn’t plotting stories, I wasn’t writing novels.
I went years with almost no exposure to planned narrative structures.
Then a friend heard the idea of a series I was planning on writing, and loaned me the first of the Dresden Files because he thought I might find it informative, and when I went looking for the second book I found the audiobook before I found a paperback. I started listening while I walked, on the subway, at lunch. I started looking for excuses to listen to books – I played way too many games of Solitaire as I listened to Tamora Pierce’s Wild Magic series. I started to remember how it had been, when I had other people’s strengths and weaknesses on hand to admire and learn from. Except this time, I actually see what I’m doing, and I know to appreciate it.
Now, I’m blessed with a day job that lets me listen to books while I work. I went from reading very little to listening to seven or eight hours of fiction a day, five days a week, and I’m finding that it’s a very different experience than it once was. The last time that books played this great a role in my life I was a student first, an aspiring artist second, a hobbyist writer on the side. Today I consider myself to be first and foremost a writer, and I think I’m past the point where I’ll ever be able to read anything without some critical analysis.
In a way, I’m glad I was oblivious to the usefulness of the books I loved when I was younger. I don’t know that I could have come to revere the power of a story the way I do now if I hadn’t been able to fall in love with stories as a child. I don’t know if I would want so desperately to succeed as an author if I hadn’t experienced those years upon years where books were just another part of what it meant to be alive. But I wouldn’t ever want to return to that place, either.
I’ve never felt that being able to be critical about something diminishes the pleasure of experiencing that thing – nothing is perfect; even my favourite books.Nowadays I love the flaws I perceive almost as much as I do the strengths, because they let me see that every story comes from a mind. Great novels don’t blossom overnight. They’re built, slowly, carefully. They’re glorious, and they have mistakes. Strengths, weaknesses.
They’re a reminder that I will always have something worth aspiring to, and a reminder that something can come of these aspirations I cling to. None of them came to be without sweat, blood, tears. Mine won’t, either, any more than mine will be flawless, or universally loved.
But goddamn if it’s not worth trying!
“You know,” Gwen said, “I was really hoping it wouldn’t come to this.”
The cat moved then, lunging to swipe at Gwen and Forbes with a paw that was nearly as big as she was. She sprang to one side and Forbes broke the opposite way, but she saw him flash a grin at her before she was rolling and pulling herself back to her feet.
“You know, I’ve been really hoping it would.”
Min had been fairly clear about this part of things; she knew better than to give someone a weapon without telling them exactly how to use it. Still, for all of the stories Gwen had heard growing up, for all that she had seen and to a lesser extent for all that she’d done, she still considered herself a fairly normal person living in a fairly normal world. She liked her hands and her feet, she liked guns and to a lesser extent she supposed she could get behind knives. It made even fighting a giant fuzzy cat-creature seem kind of tolerable, knowing she was doing it with a pistol held firmly between her hands.
The last traces of normality fell away, though, when she traced her index finger over the glowing red stone on her bracelet and felt coil of magical flame burst into being from her palm.