When I was young and still in school, when I had two and a half months in the summer every year to sit in our shady back yard by the pool or on our screened-in porch all summer, I used to read voraciously. There wasn’t much else to do. I wasn’t exactly the popular kid that everyone wanted to hang out with. We didn’t have any money at all for vacations or movies or trips to the mall. My mom worked and by that point I was old enough to stay home without a babysitter. We lived with my grandmother, but she and I never got along. So I would spend all summer devouring book after book after book.
I started reading romance novels during these long, lazy summers. But I also went through a phase where I read everything that L.M. Montgomery wrote that I could get my hands on. Yep, I went after the classics and not things like Sweet Valley High or The Babysitters Club. I spent a lot of time writing too back in those days, but nothing serious. It was more about reading for me.
Somewhere in the last couple of years writing took over my life. I’m sure my writer friends out there will know exactly what I mean when I say that. I spend every spare second writing something. That is when I’m not working my day job or going to cricket matches. The biggest problem that I can see with being a grown-up is that you don’t get two and a half months off in the summer to sit by the pool or on the beach or in the mountains reading.Here I am, doing all this writing. This summer has been all about writing The Courageous Heart, and it’s been a bit of an ordeal. This is the most difficult novel I’ve ever written for several reasons (some of which you might be able to see when you read it). Couple that with the fact that a lot has been going on with my day job. Good stuff, mind you, but stressful.
Okay, so where am I going with this sob story of how busy I’ve been lately? Am I going to complain that I haven’t had time to read? Partially, although I have been dutifully doing my homework and reading novels within my genre. But that’s sort of the point. It feels a bit like homework.
So there I was the other day, chatting with my BFF Kristine. She was telling me all about how she had picked up the L.M. Montgomery book The Blue Castle. She couldn’t believe that she’d never read it before. I, of course, gasped and grasped my chest, because The Blue Castle is, perhaps, my favorite L.M. Montgomery novel. It’s the only novel for adults that Montgomery wrote. She wrote it in the mid-1920s, long after the Anne or Emily books. It has a maturity and understanding of humanity that is deeply touching. And it has one of the best premises of any novel I’ve ever read. Kristine told me that she had to force herself not to stay up until midnight reading it.
Well, that put the bee in my bonnet. Because that’s precisely what I used to do on those hot summer nights in our house without air conditioning. So what did I do? I whipped out my Kindle and downloaded The Blue Castle on Saturday. After dinner I stretched out on my balcony (it was a gorgeous night in suburban Philly) and started reading.
And I read. And read. And read. The story captivated me. The life of Valancy Stirling and all of her oppressive relatives, her sweet friend, and the mysterious and handsome Barney Snaith drew me in. This wasn’t homework reading. This was pure joy. I moved to the living room sofa when there wasn’t enough light outside anymore. About 10:30 I relocated to bed. But I kept reading.
Yep, I read that entire book in one sitting. I stayed up past midnight to do it. And it was wonderful. All of the stress and pressure of finishing and editing my own novel dripped away. All of the tension of responsibility and raising the bar at work relaxed for a moment. Just for those hours I was back in the summers of my youth, reading for fun. I wasn’t trying to learn from the writing style or pay attention to structure and detail. I wasn’t even focused on how I would write a review. I just read the book, enjoyed the story.
I think that readers who don’t write know a lot more about enjoying a story than we writers do. They approach it as it is without looking for its warts or hairy moles. They accept the characters and the world that has been created at face value. Whether they enjoy it or not is entirely up to whether the author has painted a complete world and not because the three-act structure isn’t pulled off effectively. It was so good to be reminded of what a reader sees by just being a reader for a change. I’ve forgotten how wonderful that could be.
So my advice to myself, and to other writers out there, is to take some time now and then to pick up a book, maybe one you’ve already read and love, and read it for the sake of enjoyment. And as long as we’re offering advice, what books have you or do you read just for fun and to remember why you love books?