02 May 2010

Confessions of a Guilty Reader


When I started writing, I was given some good advice: “Read more than you write.” This bit of wisdom could appear a little trite no kidding, I can’t write a novel every two weeks! On a deeper level, it encourages a writer to branch out to new books, new authors and develop a relationship with many kinds of text.

After reading enough poems by Richard Hugo, certain phrases or word choices will appear in my own poems. Even if I am not writing “in the style of” some of my own lines leap out at me because they could have been penned by other poets that I’ve read. It is a natural human tendency to imitate what we admire. Remember high school? Or if you were like me—remember how you rebelled by being the opposite of the popular kids in high school?

I want to address what I call the “Guilt Pile.” The guilt pile is a stack of books that is overflowing my To Be Read shelf of the bookcase. The even might be spreading into other small piles in the bedroom. The recently purchased, or sometimes distantly purchased books stare at me balefully from their cramped shelf. I always mean to read them. And I will. Eventually.

Perhaps working in a bookstore is not the best place for a bibliophile. Alcoholics should probably not be running taverns. While we’re at it, who trusts a barber who wears a toupee?

I buy more books than I should, but I read more than the average person. In 2008, the average American adult read only one book per year. One book!

Let that sink in. If you read the celebrity biography your aunt gave you for Christmas, then you have fulfilled your yearly quota for an adult American.

I read because I love to. I love encountering new stories and voices. I am in love with language and the printed page. I never regret reading an excellent book. I may sometimes avoid eye contact with my To Read pile, but I always come back to it.

What books are in your to read pile? Send me some of your titles…

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