The Gentle Art of Reading

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The Gentle Art of Reading

New writers are always being told to read. Sometimes widely is added to that admonition. At other times the instruction includes the phrase ‘out of your comfort zone’. Occasionally it’s repeated for emphasis; ‘Read, read, read and write, write, write.’ But what is often left out is how to read.



Simply inhaling words is not enough. Reading should be accompanied by a notebook and a pen, or a pencil and margin notes, or sticky notes and jottings to self, or – if you must – an e-book with a notes function.

This is old-fashioned reading – and it’s the kind that allows what you have read to influence your own writing. If you take time to note particular words, lyrical phrases or an image that struck you with its vivid truth, your own writing will be enriched. Do you love the plot twists of a particular author? Write it down. Admire the characterisation achieved by another writer’s broad brushstrokes? Note that, too – and don’t be afraid to have a go yourself.

Somerset Maughan spent a lot of his writing apprenticeship deliberately imitating writers he admired. Note that I’ve used the word apprenticeship here. He consciously set out to make himself a writer – and to improve his own skills and one way he did this was to read with intent.

Yes, analytical reading can change your reading experience. You will become more conscious of a book’s shortcomings.  (Oh, no, he’s used that plot device before!) But it will also allow you to bask in and remember some delicious writing which may have otherwise been gobbled up too quickly.

This year I’m making myself read with intent. I’m slowing down my reading and learning to assemble my reading tools before I start. I want to bring to my own reading the quality of attention that I strive to bring to my writing. Inevitably there will be some fast food reading – but I’m looking forward to savouring and learning from my fine dining experiences, re-living them in the lean weeks and replicating a small element of the recipe, the ambience or the presentation in my own dishes.



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