Last week I blogged about not being able to read like a reader anymore, and I’ve found that while tackling the new books I’ve started since last week, this problem is definitely still plaguing me. I am constantly stopping to write down little phrases or elements of the craft that catch my eye and could be of use in my own writing. It’s hard for me to even get through a single page without losing my place on the page in order to think about how clever it was that the author established character development in such a way, or showed the passage of time so adeptly, or some such thing.
And among my writer friends, this seems to be a pretty consistent complaint—that we can never turn the writer button off while reading someone else’s work, and that at times this can be pretty annoying. So what do we do when we really want to escape and just read something for the pure enjoyment of reading and nothing beyond? While I don’t know what other writers do in these scenarios, I read books that would embarrass the hell out of me if anyone saw me reading them in public. I confess: during my recent desire to read something fun while writing my memoir, I totally read the entire Twilight series.
Before my literary cohorts turn their faces away in disgust and shun me from all workshop groups and writerly discussions, let me explain! While I was drudging my way through the before-mentioned piles of grief books while doing research for my memoir, I was in desperate need for some carefree reading. One night when I had the house to myself, I rented the first Twilight movie on Pay-per-view and, only moderately intrigued, decided to read the first book to see what all the fuss over the books had been about. I don’t often read Young Adult books, and found the writing to be somewhat tedious to get through, but I was hooked. I devoured the first book in a day, and promptly did the same with the rest of them. It felt so good to just get lost in all that teen angst and sexual tension, never once stopping to think about how I might use some of Stephanie Meyer’s techniques, because what she does is so different from what I do. While the dialogue and character development wasn’t always well-crafted, the story itself was compelling and addicitive to follow.
I was careful to read these books only in the privacy of my own home, never even taking them with me to the gym, lest anyone see, know me to be a literary writer, and judge. When any of my writer friends joked about the Twilight books I’d join in, pretending that I’d never read them and would never lower myself to such commercial fiction trends. I’d read the entire Harry Potter series with similar fervor, but that was different, right? That was just research for my future children’s book, or so I let myself believe. I even hid the Twilight books in my house just in case anyone might see them and think less of me as a writer. So when a writer friend, who shall remain nameless, asked to borrow them, I had to search long and hard to find each book in the strange places I had hidden them months before.
But now I find that I’m in a much more secure place about my identity as a writer, and I realize that I don’t care so much anymore about the unlikely sources from where I get my literary kicks and inspiration. It is what it is, and I am who I am. Every now and then even the most serious writers need to take a break, right? I like to think that Cormac McCarthy might enjoy reading something like Harry Potter, and purposely doesn’t like to talk about writing because he needs to hide this fact. Surely Salman Rushdie has some commercial fiction hidden behind his library walls.
Two nights ago I went with my dear friend, Cindy, (who is one of the most intelligent and well-read people I know, and who still reads books like Twilight without compromising her intellectual integrity) to see the newest Twilight movie, New Moon. Leaving the theater, we were both a bit disappointed and found ourselves dissecting the film-makers choices in truncating the best plot points from the book. It seems that even with commercial fiction trends, we still found a way to say, “The book was so much better than the movie.”