What I learned from my Recreational Reading: Part One

dp275102This past week I got sidetracked from writing (after 3 weeks in a row where I achieved my stated goal of 5000 words a week) because I was putting together all the figures l needed for my 2016 taxes. However, in the process I made a list all the books I bought in 2016, whether or not they were ebooks or print, and what I paid for each, and this has prompted me to do a little more analysis on my reading patterns.

First of all, I was pleased to discover that I had bought 65 books this year and had read almost all of them. This meant I read, on average, more than a book a week, nicely confirming of my impression that I had read more books in 2016 than I had the previous year.

Second, while the list also confirmed that a large proportion of those books were short story anthologies, something I have already discussed in my last post, I was also interested in the patterns I saw in the full length novels I read.

When I looked at the list, I was struck by the fact that most of the novels I bought were either books I had read before, new books by favorite authors, or all the books in a series by a newly discovered author. This makes sense and actually dovetails with my reasons for reading so many short stories. Because of the limited time I have in my life as a busy writer, when I commit to reading a full-length book, I want to know there is a strong chance I will enjoy the experience.

It is one thing to try a short story by an unknown author—if it turns out it isn’t my cup of tea, I have only lost 10-15 minutes. But since I have difficulty just dropping a novel in the first sitting, when I eventually decide to drop a book I have usually spent at least an hour so, hence I have been sticking to full length books I know I will stick with.

I haven’t always been so risk averse in my reading choices, but I have noticed that when someone mentions that I should read some book they have just read by an author I know nothing about, I say: “Oh that sounds good, maybe when I really retire and I go back to reading all the time I will give a try.”

However, I was also struck by a third realization. I was choosing books that I thought would give me tips on how to improve my own writing. Also, not surprising when I thought about it. I am a firm believer that a writers should above all be a reader. And, if you want to write books that other people enjoy reading, you need to be aware of what improves your own enjoyment of a book. Continue reading

2017 Goals #2: Do More Recreational Reading

child_with_red_hair_readingIn my goal setting post last January, my third goal was to do more recreational reading. And that is a goal I can definitely say I accomplished. The primary reason for that success was that I discovered the fun and convenience of reading short stories.

While I have written short stories—about minor characters from my Victorian San Francisco mystery series––and I have even written about why I like to write short stories in this blog post, I hadn’t actually read many short stories for years…maybe decades.

In fact, except for a number of years in my youth when I found the time to read the New Yorker from cover to cover (including the short stories), I don’t really remember when I ever chose short stories for my recreational reading––certainly not mystery and science fiction short stories.

So, what caused the change in my reading habits in 2016?

First, ever since I retired from teaching and started writing full-time, I stopped finding the time to read for pleasure. I read non-fiction as research, other authors’ works as a beta reader, but not fiction for the pure joy of it.

Trying to figure out why, I determined that one of the reasons for this is that I have never liked to start reading a story when I know I won’t have the time to finish it right away. I am not one of those readers who is content to spend weeks slowly making my way through a novel.

I solved this problem when I was a busy history professor by binge reading fiction over holidays and summer vacations and during the rare days I was too sick to go into work. However, once I started my second career as a writer, things like holidays and summer vacations became irrelevant, and I started working seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. (The reason for that is for another post!)

In short, without really even thinking about it, I began avoiding novel that weren’t directly related to my writing because that would mean a couple of days when I wasn’t making progress on the newest manuscript or working away at my long marketing to-do list. As a result, I got out of the habit of reading strictly for pleasure.

But then in 2015, I discovered the Future Chronicles, a series of science fiction/fantasy anthologies published by Samuel Peralta. Peralta had expressed interest in publishing an anthology of short stories in the Paradisi Chronicles series, the open-source science fiction world I helped create that year. It only seemed sensible to read some of the anthologies he’d published to see if this felt like a good fit for those of us writing in the Paradisi World. (Here is a blog post about this series and the subsequent Chronicle Worlds: Paradisi anthology Peralta published.) Continue reading