December 21st, 2012

10 Things I Know About How Writers Read

Writing on PaperBy Jenny Hansen

From our earliest moments, most writers are avid readers. We devour books – for story, for Craft, for new worlds and new ideas.

We have To Be Read piles (TBR for short) that are taller than small children. Our favorite authors and characters become our friends.

I don’t know if we become students of the written word because we love to read or if we read because we were born to love the written word. All that chicken and egg Zen is well beyond me.

I just flat out love books and every writer I know does too. You might even describe us as “obsessed with the printed word.” It takes a lot of love to go through what we must do to yank our stories from our hearts onto the page.

If you are a writer, there are things that I know about you that I don’t know about the other readers I meet:

1. I know you read odd things in odd places.
If you are stuck somewhere without a book, you will begin reading any words available – shampoo bottles, food labels, billboard signs. Whatever. Books and magazines are preferred, but in a pinch, any words will smooth your soul.

2. You read by flashlight in bed at night when you were a child.
When your person-in-charge confiscated it, you waited 5 minutes before pulling the back-up light from its crafty hidey-hole. If they were on to you and confiscated the back-up, you tilted the pages to try to read by the light from the hall.

3. When a book touches you, it is a safe bet that you will not only remember the details of that story, characters, etc…you will also remember where you were the first time you read it and what you were doing that day.

4. I am certain that if you named 10 best friends from the various periods of your life (and were being honest), at least half of them would be book characters, authors or titles.

5. You have different books for different moods. These are your go-to books when you’re in the grip of overwhelming emotion. You keep reading through that stash of books until the feeling gets a little more manageable.

6. Piles of free books by your most cherished authors gives you that same zing of attraction that you felt the first time you saw your true love.

7. When you go to a writing conference or a book event attended by your favorite author(s), your tongue gets tied in knots and the idea of speaking to them gives you an extreme physical reaction. (I blush, nearly every time.)

8. You have rituals associated with your books.
Whether it’s the way you clean them, sort them, store them or lend them, there is something particular you do with your books. And it makes you feel happy and peaceful when you look at your books after you’ve done it.

(For me, it’s the way I order them and which shelf or room they’re in. My husband knows: don’t be moving my books without telling me. It morphs me into the Devil Wife.)

9. On the touchy subject of lending…writers are quite particular about loaning their books.

I know that when someone borrows a treasured book from you and doesn’t return it – or worse, passes it on to someone else without asking you first – your friendship with them changes. You’re probably  still their friend, but you’ll either “forget” to loan them books in the future or you buy a copy from the used bookstore as a back-up and loan them that.

There is an A-List of book-borrowers in your life and you love to have coffee with these people.

10. When a book touches your spirit and transports you to a place you’ve never been, it’s not uncommon for you to read the last page, turn the book over and start at Page 1 to figure out how the author did that.

There are more things that I know about writers and their reading habits but I want to hear from all of you. What are your book rituals? Do you non-writers have book rituals too?? Which of the ten “habits” made you laugh?

Jenny

About Jenny Hansen

Jenny fills her nights with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, short stories (and chasing after her toddler Baby Girl). By day, she provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s digging this sit down and write thing.

When she’s not at her blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA and here at Writers In The Storm. Jenny also writes the Risky Baby Business posts at More Cowbell, a series that focuses on babies, new parents and high-risk pregnancy.

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  • Jenny, you devil. The whole list made me laugh. I mean who among us has not done all and more. The not moving the books reminds me of a classic moment in the movie Diner when the husband goes nuts because his poor clueless wife mis-filed his record albums. Ah, the total craziness of it all. And yes, to this day I remember a book I foolishy loaned to a friend that she did not return.

    Thanks for poking a bit of fun at our expense. Aren’t we the strangest gathering of chestnuts in the Christmas basket? Have a great Holiday 🙂

    • We are the saucy chestnuts, Florence. 🙂

      Yep, I was talking to a friend about books when I realized that people who aren’t writers DON’T remember where they were and what they were doing when they read an important book. Personally, I think *those* people are missing out on some joy. LOL…

  • Super post, Jenny, and you caught some I wouldn’t have thought of, but are true, nonetheless.
    Books got me through my childhood – the worlds I escaped to. A book literally saved my life; convinced me to leave an abusive relationship.

    Yeah, books are THAT important.
    thanks for this.

  • I read while I’m fixing my meal, even though I know I’m going to read while I’m eating. When my Kindle was down, I learned extra fast how to read with my phone. And even though I have the Kindle pack books, “just in case” something happens with the Kindle and the phone
    Stacks of books in each bathroom, by the bed, near the chairs.
    Obsessed? Moi???

  • This whole list is true! With #9, the select list of book borrowers is also decided by who treats my books well. I hate lending out a book that you can hardly tell I’ve read and then getting it back with a cracked spin, bent corners, and serious wear. It feels disrespectful to me (which I know is super strange).

    • Do you know that if I “crap up” a book (that’s what I call that disgraceful condition), I buy the person a whole new book? Geesh. They really gave it back to you like that?? Rude readers!

  • Carol Opalinski

    I love it! I absolutely agree with the book lending. I have a handful of cherished oldies that I will not lend under any circumstances. I have lent books to someone I thought I could trust and never got them back. I had to score secondhand shops until I could find replacements. And I have some “go to” books to read when I’m feeling stressed.

    I have a book on my Kindle that I went out and bought a paper copy of — in case of emergency. My family is baffled at even the thought of a “book emergency”. They don’t think such a thing actually exists.

    • Book emergencies absolutely DO exist! I hate it when I have nothing to read. It makes me nervous and stressed out. When I need to calm down, I read for 5-15 minutes. If they were to put sensors on me, they’d totally see all the respirations drop. 🙂

  • Number 1 made me laugh because I’m ALWAYS reading text…here, there, and everywhere.

    The other thing I wonder is whether all, or most, writers think in words. My husband tends to think in pictures, which I can’t relate to at all. I often “see” words in my brain as I think or speak. Is that weird? Or is it writerly?

  • I’ve laughed at my husband because he talks to himself, but I talk to imaginary characters in my head all the time. My dialogue is usually created when when I’m washing dishes or folding laundry or walking the dog. If I start doing it out loud he’ll (my husband) never let me live it down.

  • #1 made me laugh. All the others (except #7) brought tears to my eyes, because I’d forgotten that these things are part of who I am, and that, except y’all, other folks, even my wife, can’t fully get it.

    #7 is an experience I’ve never had. Though I’m very much looking forward to the first time it happens in reverse: meeting someone who’s heard of me, and seeing their reaction.

    I believe I’ll share this with Best Beloved, so she can smile about how all this stuff makes her love me.

    • Thanks, Joel! I hope Best Beloved digs the post. And I’m delighted to have made you laugh and cry. Everyone should do that daily, especially during the holiday season. 🙂

  • I’m scrambling for a fig leaf to cover myself. You “know” me far too well. Thanks for the ten chuckles.

  • Tanya Cienfuegos

    3, 5 and 7 are definitely true about me. I’m also incredibly disorganized about my books.
    I have this habit of reading in bed but I don’t have a nightstand so I just put books in a stack by the bed and they eventually migrate under the bed. The only books in my bookcases are the ones that don’t get read.

    • See, I get antsy when I can’t find a book I want. It seriously stresses me out. So most everything in my life is disorganized, but my computer files and books are usually pretty pristine.

  • […] By Jenny Hansen From our earliest moments, most writers are avid readers. We devour books – for story, for Craft, for new worlds and new ideas. We have To Be Read piles (TBR for short) that are tal…  […]

  • Such a touching post, Jenny, and insightful! 😉 I do most of my reading at the gym, which is a primary reason I love working out.

    • I always loved to read at the gym too. Since Hubby and I have been doing Crossfit though, the hands and the feet are always busy together. No more gym reading…but my abs are improving. 🙂

  • Fabulous post, Jenny! I was nodding on most, especially the lending one. I HATE lending my books and conveniently forget for those friends who have proven themselves untrustworthy with such precious belongings.

    • LOL…conveniently forget. I understand that perfectly. I once lent one of my girlfriends like 6-10 books so she could check out some new authors and she sold them in a GARAGE SALE. That one took me a while to get over…

  • I loved this post. I kept thinking, you too, so much fun. I have books everywhere in my home and every pile makes perfect sense to me and probably anyone else, if you gave me a day to explain it all, lol. Nope, we are not alone. 😀

  • Have to have a book with me when I run errands. After all, what if I have car trouble and have to wait for help? (Even though I have a very reliable car.) And a long wait in a doctor’s office means I get more read. But I still can’t catch up with my book sale acquisitions.

  • marsharwest

    Great post, Jenny. It’s a wonder we didn’t tip the world on it’s axis as we all nodded, recognizing our own behaviors. Interestingly, I didn’t realize I read everywhere until I “read” it here. Standing in the line at Wallgreens for my dogs meds this evening, I was even reading the Spanish words!
    The other point was about lending books. I don’t do that often, but loaned a CP a wonderful romantic suspense that had the most amzaing descriptions of the setting–a bitterly cold winter. She misplaced it. It was an author I’d never read before, and I have the worst head for names and titles. I still have pictures in my head of the winter scenes.
    And the words in the head? My goodness.Sure glad we’re not all nuts. Or maybe only a little. 🙂

    • Marsha, unless I’m eating with someone else, I can’t eat without reading. I used to read the cereal boxes as a kid, making a game out of seeing if I could catch every word on the box.

      Writers, weird? Nope.

  • OMG! How did you know????

  • My best ideas come in the shower or in the car! About reading under the covers with a flashlight as a child…now my 11 year old does that. *sigh* I just let him.

  • Ideas in the shower, yes. Also I remember exactly where I was when I read the most influential books. Typically I’m in bed, in the early hours of the morning, excitedly turning pages for six hours. My husband knows when I get like that not to bother me — not that he typically can; he’s too busy sleeping. 😛

  • And here I just thought all those things were my weird little personality quirks!

    I can recall lending ONE book from my ‘keeper’ shelf in the last 30 years, since I was in elementary school and started collecting my favorites. I lent a new release from a favorite author to my then-best friend. Despite my hounding her for it, two years later she still hadn’t returned it! A few years after that, she left her husband and I helped her pack her belongings. There was MY book on HER shelf! When I flipped it open, my little address label to remind a borrower where to return it had been covered by her large label, reminding borrowers that the book belonged to HER!

    That experience reinforced my determination not to lend books I wanted to keep…

    Great post!
    Kenra

  • Jenny, LOL! You are the first person ever, ever, ever to understand #10! I feel so much better, so KNOWN. Very refreshing holiday feeling.

  • Oh, you know me too well! I was so glad when smart phones made it unnecessary to carry hardbound books around (I still keep a paperback in my purse just in case both the phone and the NOOK fail). I’m so glad someone understands about my best friends being books or at least in books. My “normal” people friends often find that kind of insulting, for some reason, although my favorite book friends include some very fine folks indeed. And the thing about lending, well, I started having to buy books for a friend because it was the only way I could keep her in my life. She gives books away after reading them, even if they belong to someone else. As for the words in one’s head, I’ve always considered that a method of improving dialog,

  • I agree with the whole thing. I often read cereal boxes when sitting at the table as a kid. For me it started with the comic strip in the Sunday paper and gradually all week I’d read them. Once I started school I never looked back on not reading there was nothing I loved more than reading. I was above grade level by junior high.

  • Debbie Haynes Morella

    LOL You nailed it! I used to prop my book up behind the faucet while doing dishes and my mom would sit there watching me and laugh, “Ya know, if you’d just do the dishes you would have been done by now and you could be in the living room reading.” Wash a dish…dry my hands…turn the page… Thank you for reminding me of that – I can still hear her voice. 🙂

  • heehee, I have been known to read shampoo bottles & cereal boxes in my time. Guilty as charged! Before Kindle came into my life, I always had a paperback in my purse to read while standing in line at the bank or post office. CAN NOT BE WITHOUT MENTAL STIMULATION. MUST READ. lolz!!! 🙂

  • The list certainly resonated! I think I also read in my sleep 😉 Great post.

  • lovely post. I enjoyed reading. I’m in love with books. I touch and even smell every new and old book whenever I see them first. and one thing I want to add is that whenever we, writers, are at the bookstores we want to die there.

  • How true. Tweeted and reblogged.

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  • I like this post I often find myself thinking about a book when I have to leave it wondering what the characters are doing and how it go from where I left it. I find some romance books make me cry since my husband died I couldn’t figure out what about the HEA was so sad it is me it makes me sad for what I miss. 🙂 But still I read on.