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Posts Tagged ‘my reading life’

Reading Shamelessly

From the Archives

http://www.listchallenges.com/books-youll-never-brag-about-having-read

 

No doubt you’ve all seen the checklists that periodically go around with must-read books, or the hundred best books of all time, or the checklists that test how well read you are. Honestly, who can resist? And who can resist possibly even cheating just a little bit and ticking the boxes of a couple of the ones we’ve not actually read, but maybe we’ve started, then got bogged down and finally just gave up and watched the movie or the mini series instead. Oh come on! Admit it! I’ve done it. Being thought of as erudite, well read and worldly is just so damned appealing.

 

There’s a link on List Challenges that goes around on Facebook periodically to another such list. But this list contains the titles of ‘books you’ll never brag about having read.’Some of them are just mindless guilty pleasures and smutty bonk busters. Some of them are infamous for being poorly written, but making their authors a mint. What writer isn’t a little green around the gills where those books are concerned? Some of them were the trend of the day — all the rage one week, forgotten the next. Some of them were written by people who were once admired, but have now fallen from grace. Some of them are rubber-necking books – you know the type – literary train wrecks and gossip fests just too juicy to resist. Some of them had me scratching my head and wondering why they were even on this list at all – especially when I could think of a few of my own I’d have added if I’d been making up the list.

 

Of course I had to test myself and felt slightly smug that I’d only read six. Yup! That’s me, Social Media folks! I pat myself on the back, I stick my nose in the air! I read only the highest quality literature. As for those six, well everyone lapses a little now and then, right?

 

But the lovely refreshing surprise that really got me thinking about what we read and why, was that most of the people who responded to my sharing this link on Facebook were unabashedly unashamed of reading their share of the books on this list. It’s reading, rights? These very smart people realize that. Whether it’s a bonk bust or a train wreck, the power of the written word is totally awesome! It’s an eye on the world that’s nothing less than magical.

 

The world we experience in the rarified air of what’s considered great literature is no more the real world than the one we get when we read fluff ‘n’ stuff. Reading isn’t now, nor has it ever been a reality check. If anything it’s the ultimate escape, the voyeur’s view into how the other half lives. It’s the opportunity to be entertained, titillated and even occasionally transformed. Being educated and well read is a thing we all treasure, and rightly so. But the experience of the written word is as much about pop culture and gossip and trends and history unfolding in all it’s marred, messed-up glory as it is about being educated. In fact, it seems to me that there is a point of cross-over that we can’t really afford to miss if for no other reason than because it’s a part of our culture, a part of the world we live in — bonk busts, bunny fluff, woo-woo and all. Besides, we need the escape, we need the view from outside ourselves. Guilty pleasures are often the best, and they’re never better than when we feel we should be reading Dickens, but end up reading Dan Brown over a pint of chocolate ice cream consumed straight out of the container.

 

Don’t get me wrong, some of my best, most life-changing reads have been classics, and they were wonderful and transforming, and I see them as mile-markers in my life. But I have my own list of fluff, woo-woo and mindless pulp novels, my own dirty little secret reading list, and I’m fine with that. Those books make me feel good when nothing else will. The fact that I canread, that I do read, that everything is out there for me to read; the fact that the written-word, no matter how shallow or forgettable is still the written word, well that’s nothing short of wonderful. At the end of the day, reading is an activity worthy of respect in its own right. The fact that we DO read is of far greater value than just how highbrow the reads on our checklist are.

 

Voyeur, Body Thief, or Something Else

This is my second post about reading as a writer and writing as a reader. Today I’m looking at how one experiences a good book and what that means to me as a writer.

 

One of the most intriguing parts of story for me has always been the way in which the reader interacts with it, more specifically the way in which the reader interacts with the characters in a story. I find that interaction especially intriguing in erotica and erotic romance.

 

To me, the power of story is that it’s many faceted and it’s never static. And, no matter how old the story is, it’s never finished as long as there’s someone new to read it and to bring their experience into it. Like most writers of fiction, I’m forever trying to analyse how a powerful story is internalised, and why what moves one reader deeply, what can be a life-changing experience for one may be nothing more exciting than window shopping for another.

 

In my own experience as a reader, there are two extremes. I can approach a story as a voyeur, on the outside looking in from a safe distance, or I can be a body thief at the other end of the spectrum and replace the main character in the story with myself.

 

One extreme allows the reader to watch without engaging and the other allows the reader to create sort of a sing-along-Sound of Music- ish experience for themselves. As a reader, I’ve done both and had decent experiences of novels doing both. As a writer, however, I don’t wish to create a story that allows my reader to be a voyeur or a body thief.

 

As a writer I want to create a story that’s a full-on, in-the-body, stay-present experience from beginning to end. I want characters that readers can identify with and are drawn to but don’t necessarily want to be. I want a plot that feels more like abseiling with a questionable rope than watching the world go by from the window of a car. My goal is to create that tight-rope walk in the middle, to create that place in story where the imagination of the reader is fully engaged with the story the writer created. That place is the place where the story is a different experience for each reader. That’s the place where the story is a living thing that matters more than the words of which it’s made up. It matters more because the reader has connected with it, engaged with it, been changed by it. In that place, the story and the reader are in relationship. Neither can embody the other, neither can watch from a distance. The end result may be an HEA, the end result may be disturbing and unsettling, but at the end of a really good read, the journey to get there is at least as important as the end result.

 

Erotica and erotic romance are by their nature a visceral experience. Though I believe that’s true of any good story. I don’t think good erotica can be watched from a distance any more than it can be the tale of the body thief. While either will get you there, there’s no guarantee that the journey will be a quality one. And I want a quality journey. I want to come to the end wishing I hadn’t gotten there so quickly, wishing I’d had the will power to slow down and savour the experience just a little longer. I want to come to the end wondering just what layers, what subtleties, what nuances I missed because I got caught up in the runaway train ride and couldn’t quite take it all in.

 

A good read is the gift that keeps on giving. Long after I’ve finished the story, the experience lingers, and little tidbits that I raced through during the read bubble up from my unconscious to surprise me, intrigue me, make me think about the story on still other levels, from still other angles. When I can’t get it out of my head, when I find myself, long after I’ve come to the end, thinking about the journey, thinking about the characters, thinking about the plot twists and turns, then I know the story has gotten inside me and burrowed deep. There was no pane of glass in between; there was no body for me to inhabit because all bodies were fully occupied by characters with their own minds and their own agendas. The experience extends itself to something that stays with me long after the read is finished and makes me try all the harder to create that multi-layered experience in my own writing.

 

 
© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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