What do your reading choices say about you? Since beginning graduate school, I have been turning this question over in my mind as I listened to others in my classes mention who their favorite authors are. Most of them are people I have never heard of or read but are rather famous in the contemporary lit world. Typically, I hold my tongue and don’t mention what I read for fear of being ridiculed or looked down upon. This led to a greater question: why do people read certain books?
Do people (especially those in academia) read for fun or do they read certain books because they feel it is expected of them? As I continue my journey through the MFA in Creative Writing program, I find myself wondering what my professors read, especially when they are writers or poets as well. What we read automatically becomes ingrained in our beings and eventually comes out in our writing. I can attest to the fact that when I read a book I love, I am inspired to write and often I will lean toward that genre or some theme found in that work. If I read a book I had to drag myself through, it typically slows my writing to a crawl. Oddly, while I didn’t love reading Virginia Woolf for the most part, her works had a huge influence in the way I deal with close narration and “head hopping” as others call it.
What would happen if we only wrote and read what we thought we were supposed to as defined by the literati? This sheep mentality would only serve to stifle creativity. Every writer would be reading the same books and be inspired by the same authors, and therefore would more than likely regurgitate a similar style, which would then be read, and the cycle goes on. As much as academia would hate to see the world move forward, most people are abandoning the notion that literary fiction is the only fiction worth reading, which can be seen rather strikingly in the adoption of young adult literature by many scholars for analysis. Even *gasp* science fiction is moving up the ladder, reaching to knock the academics off their Chevok and Joyce high horses.
No matter what I wonder about my peers and professors, I know why I read. I love to read. I love to be transported from life and deposited into a world like my own yet so vastly different. The picture at the top of the post is my current to-be-read pile along with a hundred other books up in my room on the floor awaiting a new shelf from Ikea. I don’t focus on genre or author when I read; I just want to read a really great story. I want books that are well-written with deep, compelling characters and a world rich in texture and depth. If that book is literary fiction, so be it, but if it’s fantasy, historical fiction, or scifi, even better.
My definition of being well-read isn’t reading all of the classics and every contemporary author the establishment has deemed worthy of praise. Being well-read is reading across genre lines, across nations and time periods, to have a myriad of experiences. That way, when I write, I am able to pull from many genres and styles to create a story that meets the criteria of what I want to read. For as long as I have been writing, I have never written to meet the standards of society or academia, I write because there is a book out there that I want to read that does not yet exist.