I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. The stories inside their covers transport me to other countries, other worlds, other universes. I am me, and not me. For the brief time I am immersed in a story, I am looking out through someone else’s eyes.
Not even majoring in English Lit at University and the subsequent dissecting of a plethora of classic works, didn’t spoil my love of fiction. But during the last couple of years most of the reading which I do for pleasure feels like a busman’s holiday.
This is for a couple of reasons. One of them is that now I am a writer myself, I am much more conscious of the mechanics of the craft. As I read, I realise I am subconsciously wondering why this character did that, or why this particular piece of information was inserted here and not somewhere else. I also find myself thinking things like, ‘oh, that was a good twist’, or ‘that was skilfully done’.
And another reason is that I spend a considerable amount of time beta reading and critiquing other authors’ work. Analysing a novel in order to submit an essay involves a different set of skills and priorities to beta reading. I have no interest in the motivation behind the writing, or the social and cultural history of the author, which may affect their writing, and which students are expected to comment on. For example, when I submitted an essay on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I was expected to include details of her private life – the fact that she had lost a child, and how this influenced her ideas for bringing the dead back to life.
With beta reading, critiquing, and reviewing, all I am interested in is the story, and the things that go into making it work. The more alpha and beta reading I do, the better I hope my own writing becomes because I am constantly analysing what is good and what is not so good. I nit-pick at grammar and typos, spellings and homophones, and at the same time, I am looking for clichés, both in the actual words used and in the concepts. I am looking at believability and consistency, and plot lines and how well characters are drawn, and how they develop.
I hope every book I read adds to my own author skills set, but there is a downside to this: I now find it very difficult to completely lose myself in a book when reading for pleasure. Even those written by well-known authors are subjected to only a slightly lesser level of scrutiny than when I am critiquing. And in fact, I am probably harsher because of the level of editorial support the major players receive. If a high profile author produces a novel with typos, weak plots, etc, then what hope is there for us far less resource-rich indie authors?
Okay, rant over. But my point is that I now do not get the same level of enjoyment as I once did from reading. And that is such a shame…