Monday, August 14, 2006

Here There Be (No Reading) Dragons

I recently went through a dry spell where I couldn’t finish anything book-wise. I grew bored mid-way through or started picking apart the writing style or the voice. I found myself harshly criticizing authors that I loved and older books that I’d enjoyed before. In most cases I couldn’t even start anything; the back cover copy wouldn’t grab me (or would just make me laugh), the cover itself was a turn-off, or something as basic as word choice or a questionable grammar decision will kill any reading desire on the first page.

It was driving me nuts, this not reading. I found myself watching more TV and mindlessly surfing the internet; anything to take my mind away from the fact that I couldn’t read.

This reading dearth didn’t seem to affect my job. I was still able to identify and order in books I thought my customers might find interesting. I could get excited about the books via reviews or their covers in the glossy magazines, but when they arrived?


What’s more is that I could enjoy how the looked on the table; fresh, new covers stacked in a neat pyramid formation to replace the stale titles. On the table they were intriguing, each book popping against the others top catch a reader’s attention, but once I picked them up I lost all interest.

I began to wonder if I was depressed or not getting enough sleep. Could that affect my reading habits? Of course it never had before, but people change right? Maybe it was my diet?

Name a neurotic possibility and I probably considered it: sleep, depression, diet, sickness, Mono? Could I have Mono?

(At least then my non-reading period could have been the result of some fun.)

But no, I was not sick (I didn’t even have a fever until after my reading dry spell broke), my diet had not changed and I didn’t feel depressed. As for sleep, well, that’s an iffy proposition for me if it’s hot out, but heat I could combat.

My problem, I believe, came from over-analysis. It came from viewing each book I handled as a thing to be marketed, a commodity to be bought or sold. I had stopped considering plot and instead focused on how I could talk a book club into such-and-such author or one of my regulars into following X series. Somehow it had changed from finding the right books for the customers to finding the right customers for the books, a set list that I kept in the back of my brain, the guaranteed would sells, not the possible could-sells.

I got caught in a box of my own making, and while it was still about believing in the titles I was pushing I wasn’t able to move beyond them.

I wasn’t able to just breathe in the smell of ink on paper and enjoy.

With all of our talk about marketing, bookseller/author relations, viral buzz and such I’d forgotten that sometimes a book can capture you just because.

Just because the writing—however flawed—speaks to you.

Just because one of the characters reminds you of your best friend.

Just because it is silly and over the top.

Just because it made you cry by the third chapter.

Just. Because.

It’s indefinable and indescribable. It’s what makes a book your favorite, what fills your voice with that passion, that conviction, when you talk the book up to others.

And if you’re looking for it—if you’re trying to come up with the magical algorithm that will explain life and the universe as we know it—then you’re going to miss the point. You’re going to miss loving that book because you’re not going to give it the chance it deserves.

There is something about browsing through a store, picking up a book you know absolutely nothing about, and being transported to a place you never imagined. In that moment you authors take control of our minds and thoughts with your words and make us realize that there is something beyond.

And for that I thank you.

Because not having being able to experience that feeling, being devoid of the escape?

It was horrifying.

So once again, let’s put this in perspective. Your book may only sell 10,000 in a 100,000 print run. Maybe because of timing, or a bad cover, or no publicity. It may be deemed a failure.

But if that book gave just one reader a chance to escape life and instead live through your characters and words then not only have you done your job, but you’ve accomplished a hell of a lot more than some people in this world.

That may not carry over well into a paycheck, but it means a whole bunch to me and any other reader out there that used you to break their dry spell.

It’s a lonely place to be when you don’t have your words (or someone else’s) to describe it.


Bernita said...

Mercantile trumping emotion...
Interesting post.
Have seen writers complain about this from a slightly different angle.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful sentiment, BSC. Thank you. You give us hope. There IS something beyond.

Anonymous said...

I've gone through those dry periods, too, when no book could hold my attention. It's made all the worse by the fact that I have such a huge To Be Read pile stacked on the shelf right above my computer, where I can't miss seeing it all day long.

But just like you said, a book comes along and breaks through, and you remember how lovely it is to not want to do anything but sit there and read to the end. And there's no telling which book will do that. You just have to keep trying.

I'm curious: which book restored your love of reading this time?

Janni said...

Good things to be reminded of. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I remember when you first posted about the inability to read. At that time I could somewhat relate but since then, I find myself more often than not in the same place, not happy with any book to the degree I remember being happy.

But you are so right. It only takes one book. And that is the best reason to keep on writing.

Thank you.

Susan Adrian said...

Oh, thanks, BSC. Excellent post, and it does inspire me to keep plugging at this crazy business--in the hope of touching that one person. {s}

lady t said...

I've known the pains of a reading slump myself and when you finally find the right book to get you out of that pit,it makes you want to shout"hooray!".

I'm curious,too-what book saved you from the doldrums?

Little Willow said...

Well-said, well-put.

What did you read that pulled you out from the funk? Something old, something new?