Grieving the Reader’s Experience

Let me be clear on one thing: I love literature.  I really, really do.  That’s why I’m a writer!

But being a writer has also drastically changed my reading experience.

In the words of Billy Collins, “Readers read great work and feel appreciative.  Writers read great work and feel a burning jealousy.”

I know I’ve talked about this before, but I just wanted to share that– in some ways– I grieve the true reader’s experience.  It’s becoming more and more rare that I can just fully take in a great book with an open, generous heart.  There is this little flame of envy that licks all over my body, and while I think it’s a bit uncharitable, it also both reminds me that I’m a writer and fuels my writing.

Though I am terribly grateful that I’m a writer down to my bones, sometimes I do long for those golden moments of childhood when I could just embrace a book with nothing but love.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love books– with a deep, passionate, fiery love– but there is usually envy in that matchhead too.  Envy and analysis: how did the author do that?  Can I do that?  What if I were to …

Sometimes I miss it.  That’s all I wanted to say.

Había una vez... (Once upon a time) by Carolina Pratto

Había una vez… (Once upon a time) by Carolina Pratto

Billy Collins & Validation

Last night, my friend Elyse and I ventured downtown to hear Billy Collins, my favorite poet, read at the Pantages Theatre.

He read for about an hour, a lot of new stuff from Aimless Lovehis new book (I read all the new poems in one sitting– I can do that for no other poet than Billy Collins) but also some old favorites like “The Revenant” and “The Lanyard.”

If you’re not familiar with Billy Collins, please come out from under the dark rock you’re living beneath (I kid, I kid!).  No, but really, in case you didn’t know, Billy Collins is a brilliant and hilarious poet.  Hearing him read live is such a treat for his deadpan delivery.  Elyse remarked, “It’s like attending a comedy event … but a really highbrow one.”

We laughed and laughed and laughed– and then made those soft sighs and murmurs that follow poignant poems.

Afterward, he had a very short Q&A session (which he called a conversation) wherein he said (and I’m paraphrasing as best I can here), “If you read great work and feel appreciative, you’re not a writer.  Writers read and feel a burning jealousy.”

YES!  I was so just discussing this on my blog.

It was a delightful evening with delightful company.  Elyse and I were some of the youngest people in the audience, and I felt bad for the rest of my generation that was spending their Friday without Billy.

Click this image to link to the book's Goodreads page.

Click this image to link to the book’s Goodreads page.



When a Writer Reads

readerWhen a writer reads, a lot is happening.

If the book is good, there is one level of enjoyment, a second of envy, and a third of collecting style and ideas for future mimicry.  If the book is amazing, sometimes the envy hits like a punch in the gut.  If the book is flabbergasting, sometimes the enjoyment wins out and puts the envy on the backburner until the book is over.  Sometimes.

If I’m re-reading a book I love, my brain is whirring like a machine: pictures … could I introduce characters with pictures? The author started with a flood of memories … interesting way to get it all on the table.  Dual POV … is it working?  Structure, repetition, imagery, setting … 

Whirr …

Whirr …

Whirr …

I never regret being a writer, since it’s one of my truest joys, although it makes my life exponentially more difficult.  The closest I get to that regret though is probably when I’m reading.  It’s been a while since I’ve been able to just. simply. read.

It’s easier to read outside of my genre, which makes sense, since the envy lessens.  I don’t have aspirations to be an incredible fantasy writer, so it’s easier to give fantasy writers their due accolades and move on.  But then again, my favorite genre is contemporary, the genre in which I write, so of course I want to read those books.  And they’re often going to be the ones that will propel my writing the most.

What a strange tightrope writers walk!  There is almost nothing I love more than a good book– and yet, I’m doomed to have my enjoyment tainted simply because I’ve chosen that writing life for myself (or that life has chosen me).

I read a lot of book blogs, and I marvel at how differently a reader reads from the way a writer reads.

This sounds like a lament, and I suppose it is a little.  But then again, I get to be a writer, and for that it’s all worth it.