At the Day Job I meet a lot of interesting people. And by interesting I mean people who have punchups at the service desk, entitled crusties who bring 60+ items through the 15 or less counter while berating anyone who dares to tell them they can’t do it, and that bloke who always comes in with striped thermals under his knee-length shorts. (Seriously, I love that bloke. I get a kick out of seeing what colour stripes he’ll be rocking each time).
Then, of course, there are the ones who are interesting for a different reason. Quite often as I’m putting a customer’s groceries through, it’ll come out in the conversation that I’m a writer. The conversation then usually veers in one of three directions.
- Customer is VERY interested, and wants to know what sort of thing I write. When told that I write YA and NA Fantasy (most particularly rewritten fairytales) they ask to know my name so they can look me up. They are thereupon given my card.
- Customer is interested, and confesses to reading quite a lot, but not usually fantasy/YA etc. Depending on whether or not they are also interested in blogging/self-publishing/etc, I may or may not hand out a card.
- Customer wishes to tell me ALL THE WISDOM and let me know exactly how I should be writing, what I should read to be successful, and that I should give them my phone number so they can encourage/mentor/teach me the ways of life. (None of these so far have actually been writers, just rather pompous but kind-hearted individuals who genuinely seem to care about my growth). They make me want to back away slowly, but mean no harm. I try to avoid giving them my card.
This afternoon I had one of the less off-putting interesting ones. We had quite an interesting chat about The Classics (which he wanted to know if I had read, and was kind enough to approve when I said that I had— well, some, anyway). He then wished to know which classic authors I enjoyed. Of course, I mentioned Austen, Dumas, Scott et al, which he seemed mildly pleased about. I was on the right track, he said. We then moved on to Shakespeare, where we had slightly differing views on his tragedies (I find them highly amusing, and full of rich themes like hope and love and forgiveness).
Then he asked if I had read Kafka, Dostoyevsky (yes, I had to Google it to find out how to spell it) and a few others that I either didn’t recognise or found vaguely familiar but was uncertain of their body of work. When I confessed my ignorance, he smiled kindly and said that I was going in the right direction, but that I should broaden my horizons. I agreed generally, but said that some of the classic authors I didn’t enjoy at all; to which he replied that reading them wasn’t about pleasure, it was about broadening the mind. Sometimes, he said, you have to force yourself through them: they’re heavy going, but worth it in the search for illumination (my paraphrasing here).
That got me thinking. As a writer, everything I read has an effect on me, even things that I really dislike. In one way or another, every book I’ve read has contributed to my ability as a writer, even if that contribution was how not to write. Sometimes I’ll dislike a set of characters and love a setting. Sometimes I’ll greatly admire a plot and dislike everything else about the book. Sometimes I’ll just hate a book so much that I can only think of how I would have written it AND NOT RUINED IT. In one sense, therefore, reading for the sake of broadening my mind and my skill isn’t to be lightly dismissed.
I do not, however, tend to continue reading things I don’t like. I don’t read just for the sake of broadening my mind. I read for pleasure. (With the exception of Christian authors like Sibbes, Spurgeon, Goldsworthy and others, whom I read both for pleasure and instruction). I’m not even sure that I should read merely for the purpose of broadening my mind. If there’s no love for what I’m reading, why bother? Even when I read biographies and autobiographies, I read because I’m interested in the person, and thus could still be said to be reading for pleasure. I’ve gotten past the age where I feel that I have to be able to proudly proclaim that I’ve read this great author or that famous poet: I feel quite happy in proclaiming that I read for pleasure.
Will I read Kafka and Dostoyevsky? Possibly. Probably. Maybe. But I’m pretty certain it’s going to be because I want to, and not because I should.