Learning How to Read (again)

I sat down the other day to read a book. It’s a fantasy book I’ve been interested in reading for a while now – the Magicians by Lev Grossman. It’s an interesting premise, and I’ve watched some of the show so I know it has the darkness I really like in my fiction.

First, let me say I have very little free time. Between a full time job, two young kids and two novels, I tend to devote my spare moments to my projects. (Hence why I said I’ve watched SOME of the show. I don’t think I’ve gotten past season two.) But I love reading. I love curling on my bed with the lights low and my book open in front of me. And it’s been a long time since I’ve really been able to do that.

So, sitting down to read a book was really exciting to me. I sat with a pillow at the end of the couch, enjoying the weight of the cover and the dry rustle of paper slipping through my fingers. I have a well-loved e-reader for convenience, but I’m still a sucker for the experience of a book in my hands.

As I started reading, something weird happened. I sort of twitched on the first page, being like ‘hmm… would I have put that ‘that’ there?’, then I was jarred by the word flow, a little wordier and sprawling than mine. I ended up closing the book and walking away, annoyed at myself. Far from sitting down to read a book, I was trying to EDIT it. And not just edit it for the author’s voice, but edit it for MY voice. How dumb is that? (For the record, I picked it up again after realizing what I was doing, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the book. The writing style fits beautifully with the characters and narrative. I definitely recommend it to read.)

I wonder if I’m the only one who has encountered this, but it seems I have the curious task of relearning how to read.

Change from Output to Input

When we’re writing, and by extension editing, we’re heavily in output mode. Our brains are busy shaping our thoughts into cohesive packages to drop back on the conveyor belt. But when we’re reading, that changes, and our thoughts instead start taking in information without the urge to hurl it back out, polished and presentable.

I think that’s why reading is such a divisive hobby – people tend to either love reading or hate it. As a culture, we spend most of our time in output mode, texting and talking, planning our responses as we’re in the middle of listening. (A crappy version of listening, anyway. True listening is a skill in its own right.) It’s a relief for many people to pause that constant outpour.

Writing, while an incredible experience, doesn’t offer the same reprieve from the grind. Our minds don’t have the chance to relax and just… listen.

To be honest, I was a little shocked by my own response- reading seemed like something too ingrained to suffer. I’ve realized I need to force myself back into input mode more often than I do. You’d think as a meditator I would have this lesson down pat, but apparently not.


I’ve let this one go, and I won’t do it again. READ. ALL. THE. TIME. Don’t stop reading. Its tempting, especially when you have little time and a project you’re passionate about, to focus exclusively on that project. But I think that hurts you in the end. After all, why are you writing if not for a love of words?

Not only does reading make you a better writer, but it makes you a calmer one, and one better able to focus on your tasks when you’re there. It also expands your worlds and all the things that come with them – vocabulary, grammar, twists, character quirks. Sometimes you can find the spark of epiphany from something as simple as a character’s name or an eloquent piece of prose. Don’t deprive yourself of that opportunity.

Read every day. Really. Not just blogs or articles, (though, do read my blog… it’s worth reading… just saying) but books. You might think it’s a skill you’ll never lose, but that’s just not true. Critical reading is as important as critical planning is as important as indulgent reading. Read because you love words, because they shape your dreams and because they flow from the tongue in a truly wonderful way. Don’t stop reading, and you won’t need to relearn how to do it.

3 Replies to “Learning How to Read (again)”

    1. It’s funny, because it’s something I never thought about until finding myself in the position. But it definitely requires a deliberate change of perspective! I always thought reading was something you could never lose – like riding a bike. Now that I’m conscious of the difference, I’m able to pick up my book and leave the critique at the door.


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