For reasons unknown (perhaps it was the copious amounts of cold medicine I consumed), I was struck suddenly yesterday by the many different ways in which I read. Let me explain: I tend to read things differently depending upon the function I am serving at the time. For instance, as an ‘editor’ I read things critically, with a jeweler’s eye, looking for ways in which the story can be improved, the characters can be enlivened, the dialogue can be punched up. Each story is a puzzle, a rubic’s cube. In what way can the story elements be twisted and angled so that it is better than before?
But if I plan to review the book I am reading, my brain clicks, unsurprisingly, into ‘reviewer’ gear. I’m no longer concerned with improving the story (too late, the sucker is already in my hands!). Now I want to know why the story works (or doesn’t). I want to understand how the writer breathed life into the characters and made them three-dimensional people that I care about. I pay attention to how the varying plot elements fall into place, and how the author toys with suspense, action and narrative.
Other times, I read books as a ‘writer.’ This is when I am ready to be schooled. To be mentored by writers far more talented than I. There are many writers (several of them currently writing stories for Kaleidoscope) whose writing astounds me to such a degree that it can take me 10 minutes to read a single page as I re-read sentences, paragraphs, entire sections over and over again, hoping some of their genius will later seep into my own writing, even if on some cosmic, subconscious level.
And, lastly, when the need to shut off all deep critical thinking wins out and I want to be taken away by a book or story, I read simply as a, ya know, ‘reader.’ I want to be entertained. To be enlightened. To be caught up in the story to such a degree that the minutes and hours slide away as I am engulfed in the world the writer has created.
Truth be told, I don’t enjoy one role — or method — of reading more than the other. They all serve their purpose and they all reward me in different ways.
As an editor, I love putting the story under the microscope and finding its imperfections and the ways to make the story better. Of polishing it until it gleams. Maybe it needs a different ending. A new setting. Maybe the main character shouldn’t be hit by a bus in the first chapter.
As a reviewer, I like the analytical position I’m forced into, thinking past questions like does this story work to why does it work?
As a writer, it is wonderful and strangely satisfying to be humbled at the feet of the masters. To be a student of the art form. To learn from writers whose talents vastly outstrip your own.
And, of course, as a reader, nothing matches the joy of being taken away completely by a great tale, to become utterly lost in the pages. To succumbing fully to the power of great writing.