where the writers are
Reading For Fun
A novel of Seattle in the 1920s

One of the best compliments I've ever received from a reader was from someone who said, "I couldn't wait to go to bed so I could get back to your book.  You know how that is?"  I do, I do! One of my greatest pleasures, since I was a very young girl, has always been a book I look forward to reading, a book I hate to put down, a book that's so much fun I go soak in a bathtub so I can read without being bothered. 

When I started publishing (in 1995, in case you care to keep track) I thought I should read certain books.  I had a list of bestselling novels in my genre, for example, and a list of award-winning novels.  It seemed important to me then to be fully aware of what was being published and what was successful.  This turned out not to be a great idea.  There were a number of such books I didn't enjoy at all, for a variety of reasons.  I found them boring, or impenetrable, or sophomoric, or--more commonly--just not the sort of thing that I find interesting.  I was reading--or trying to--but I wasn't having fun. 

I want to read for pleasure, and I want to write books that people read for pleasure.  These two principles, I've learned, are symbiotic.  I'm convinced, after my experiment, that if I don't read for fun, I won't write for fun.

In my first career as a classical concert and opera singer, I learned a painful lesson.  I've always summed it up as "Sing with your own voice."  (It's the fourth lesson in my essay "Five Music Lessons for Writers."  In short, I discovered (the hard way, trial and error) that success is not achieved by imitating other successes, but by developing your own gifts, understanding what they are, taking them as far as you can, but being true to your own artistic convictions.  This has applied to my literary life just as it did to my musical life.

I gave up trying to read the latest Man Booker Prize novel, or another of its ilk, in favor of reading writers who make me have fun.  Some of them are literary--I love Elizabeth Strout, for example--and some are not.  I devour Sue Grafton mysteries.  I'll read anything Connie Willis writes.  I have laid down books from the bestseller list, and found a lot more pleasure in something obscure, but that speaks to me.  I'm not going to read Fifty Shades of Grey--not my sort of thing--but I'm convinced that despite the awful reviews, the author of those books did her job--she wrote a story people had fun with, and which made them keep turning pages.

The challenge is, of course, finding those books that give you pleasure.  There are more to choose from now than at any time ever!  But that seems to me to be a good reason not to read boring books.