Why Do You Read Whatever You Read?

Different people read for different reasons, and even individuals read for different reasons at different times. I find the variety intriguing and also the logic behind our choices.

For example, I can tell my progress in the book I’m writing by what I’m reading. When I’m in the middle of writing a book—which seems to be most of the time these days—I read to be distracted from the job at hand, to take a trip out of my book’s world into that of another author, to be entertained. To be reassured even, although I’m not sure whether the reassurance is that the good guys will win, that language conquers or that every book really does have an end.

I used to read romances when I was really busy creatively—in my former day job—but now that I write them, that doesn’t work anymore. Reading in my own genre is a busman’s holiday: I’m looking for the wires, analyzing what works and what doesn’t, too busy peeking behind the scenes (or trying to anticipate what’s going to happen next) that I can’t enjoy the ride. When I’m writing, I usually read murder mysteries. When I’m navigating the sticky middle of a book, I’ll read more genre mysteries. They’re short. They’re more consistent. I’ll often read mysteries I’ve read repeatedly, often at this same point in the creative process. I gobble these books up, sometimes reading one a night, when I’m in that phase. Favourite authors are Agatha Christie (classic!) and Donna Leone. (Venice and its food are a big lure for me with her books, but I also enjoy the moral ambiguity she illuminates.) At other points, I’ll read more literary mystery authors, like Minette Walters.

When I’m not in the crunch of a book, I’m an omnivorous reader. I acquire books faster than I read them these days, so there are stacks of books everywhere in the house, as well as full bookshelves. The one thing that’s consistent in my reading is that a book has to grab at me. It has to get a grip on my imagination for me to keep reading. Lots of books fail at that, which is no big deal. It’s just a subjective measure. I move on, because there’s always more to read.

No matter what I read or when I read it, the books I enjoy have one thing in common: they catch hold of my imagination. There’s something about them that grabs my attention. I love to read literary fiction for this reason. Literary fiction is often more about voice than about plot, but it’s certainly less regimented in structure than genre fiction. I read literary fiction to be surprised—by ideas, by structure, by the use of language. I don’t always love the book in question, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be intrigued by some facet of it. Literary fiction tends to be good at grabbing my attention.

For example, right now, I’m reading The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. (Amazon. iBooks.) I picked up this book because every online portal was promoting it heavily during its publication week. When publishing gets excited about a book, I always wonder why. The cover doesn’t particularly appeal to me and I would have walked past this book on a shelf without a second glance. I was drifting along, giving it another chapter of a chance, until I reached the following passage.

The characters are in King’s College Chapel at Cambridge, and the painting in question is this one, The Adoration of the Magi by Rubens. And here’s the passage from the book:

“”Mortality is inscribed in your cellular structure and you say you’re not ill? Look at the painting. Look at it.” She nods towards The Adoration of the Magi. I obey. I always will. “Thirteen subjects, if you count them, like the Last Supper. Shepherds, the Magi, the relatives. Study their faces, one by one. Who believes this newborn manikin can one day conquer death? Who wants proof? Who suspects the Messiah is a false prophet? Who knows that he is in a painting, being watched? Who is watching you back?””

I just love that twist at the end, so now I’m in for the rest of the ride.

What about you? Do you read certain kinds of books at certain times? What’s the variable that influences your choice of reading material? And what determines whether you finish a book or put it aside? What’s the hook that brings you back for more?

4 thoughts on “Why Do You Read Whatever You Read?

  1. Your words, “they catch hold of my imagination” is what keeps me reading. I’ll read in any genre except erotica (that on occasion, but find myself uncomfortable) and sci-fi (it’s not a genre that makes me have a touchy feeling). I’ll read regency to fantasy to historical fiction, to classical, to paranormal to mystery. It all should have a connection of human to human. Once I’ve read a genre for awhile, I’ve shift and read another. Each fill a crevice within my heart. Love your work. Keep writing!

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