Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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January 12, 2018

Slow: Meandering Reader Ahead

Slow Road Sign

Last week, Fae Rowen discussed her reading habits in Beware: Voracious Reading Ahead. Like her, I remember reading way more than my friends and classmates when I was young, devouring every book that came my way.

I started with the marvelous for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Nancy Drew. Then a very strange novel in 5th grade captured my young heart — A Wrinkle in Time. (Is anyone else on the edge of their seat awaiting the movie rendering of this tale?) The Chronicles of Narnia kept me in fantasy world.

High school English introduced me to classic literature. While some of my friends tossed the reading list and opted for bodice-ripper romances instead, I fell into the world of classics like Alice into the rabbit hole. Indeed, for a long time I couldn't fathom becoming a writer, because in my mind, writers were people like Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, Edgar Allen Poe, and Leo Tolstoy. What on earth did I have in common with those people?

In college, I returned some of my focus to commercial fiction — first drawn in by an odd book about a vampire. Yep, when I picked up Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice, it was the first contemporary fiction I'd read in about five years.

After that, my reading list expanded to include all kinds of books, including classics, but also mainstream fiction and genre favorites. I read Agatha Christie and re-discovered my love of mysteries — the same love Nancy Drew had fostered in me years earlier. (Thank you, Mildred Benson.)

A book club I joined in my 30s got me reading more women's fiction, and raising children got me into middle grade and young adult novels. So basically, I've meandered all over the place.


But while I feel like I still read a lot these days, I'm a slacker compared to some fellow writers!

According to the Pew Research Center, the Average Reader reads 12 books per year — one a month. Compared to that, I can strut pretty, feeling good about clearing well more than twelve a year. In fact, I land in the Voracious Reader category of 50 books a year. In 2017, I read 47 books and about half of seven more.

Chart with average, voracious, and super readers, and how many books they can expected to read in their lifetime

How many books will you read before you die?

But many writers fall into the Super Reader group, sucking down 80 books or more per year like water through a straw. Oftentimes, I find someone who reports reading 100, 150, or even 200 books a year. Good gravy, y'all! Do you sleep?

This is also why I get really and truly panicked when I read the array of writing advice that says:

  • Read a lot of the bestsellers, so you know what sells
  • Read a lot of books in the genre you write, to know what's out there
  • Read a lot of books outside the genre you write, to broaden your perspective
  • Read a lot of craft books, to hone your skills
  • Read a lot of marketing and business books, to know how to be successful

Oh dear heavens, how can I do all of those things? (And still sleep...)

Knowing I will never plow my way through 200 books in a year — though impressed by those who do — I become very selective about what I read.

First off, there are some books I have to read for my day job. So that's takes about 10% of my reading list right away. Then there are books I copy-edit, which takes another 10%. The remaining 80% gets populated with a little of all of those categories above, with the largest emphasis on the genre I'm currently writing.

While writing young adult, I tend toward books that teens are buzzing about, books on state reading lists like the Texas Library Association's Tayshays list, and books recommended by trusted friends. I also read young adult books nominated for the Romance Writers of America RITA awards.

While writing mysteries, I'm drawn to cozies with some bite. For instance, I've enjoyed Rhys Bowen's Royal Spyness series, Stephanie Bond's Body Movers series, and Charlaine Harris's Aurora Teagarden and Lily Bard Shakespeare series. Also, one of my clients writes creepy paranormal mysteries/urban fantasy I'd read even if she didn't pay me to copy-edit them — Peri Jean Mace Ghost Thrillers by Catie Rhodes.

Then I throw in a historical romance, a romantic comedy, a women's fiction book, and a classic here and there. I read a couple of craft books — usually cracking each open with the sense that I should read it but finishing because it hooks me with lessons I want to learn.

On top of that, I listen to success and marketing books, having learned that audiobooks are the best way for me to take in that information. Gaining business savvy while folding laundry or perusing grocery aisles is a good use of my multitasking skills.

Somehow or other, I end up with my 50-ish books every year. Would I like to read more? Sure. Maybe I can reach 60 this year. Maybe.

As for what genres I'll read in 2018, I'll lean toward mystery because I'm writing that now. And for the rest, I'll meander through genres picking up a novel here and there.

How many books do you try to read each year? Does what you're writing influence what you're reading?

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About Julie

Julie Glover writes cozy mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.

Julie is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. You can visit her website here and also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

31 comments on “Slow: Meandering Reader Ahead”

  1. Ugh, Julie, you've hit a button with me. I feel SO guilty that I don't read more. After all, I agree when Stephen King says, 'If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.'

    But I write! I spend anywhere from 8-12 hours a day writing or marketing (okay, I play a little bit of Farm Heroes, too). I know I have it easier than those who are still working - for years I got up two hours early to write before getting ready to leave the house. And Kids? Oy, how do they get anything done?

    Writers are readers first. I miss reading with a constant ache in my solar plexus. It's not that I don't read at all - but I only get in about 15 books a year.

    Don't get me wrong, I BUY books. Hundreds of them. But they pile up on my Kindle like newspaper in a hoarder's house.

    When I'm done writing/marketing/etc. for the day, I actually feel GUILTY about taking time and pleasure to read...there's meals, and cleaning and a husband who wants to remember what I look like, and . . . oh yeah, sleep.

    Okay, there's my confession. The first, but probably not the last of the day.

    1. I feel that guilt too! Especially when the books on my Nook are friends' novels that I really want to read, but alas, time will not permit me to get to all of them. But you're still helping those authors, and someday you'll get to them. Someday...

    2. Laura, I'll bet your 15 books a year don't include the vast amount of pages you read through contests and critiquing. You read a lot more than you think you do...you just do it for others. 🙂

  2. I like to read slowly, and then ponder passages that catch my attention with their rhythm, or the way the word selection creates images in my head. Which means I can't compete with speed readers. But audio books! That's how I keep up with trendy books.

  3. Great post, Julie! I probably read 2 books a week, since I usually have one going by my bedside, a paperback or hardcover, and another on my Kindle, which travels everywhere in my purse. I'm generally reading fiction, but I'm trying to branch out and read more nonfiction, and I've found that I especially enjoy travel memoirs and biographies, particularly those set in the 19th century. I find that reading really inspires my writing, sometimes in surprising ways. Still, I, too, am guilty of having a nightstand buried under books,because I can't keep up with the books I WANT to read.

    1. I think that's part of my problem: I really can't read two books at once. My mind gets all discombobulated. But it's great that you can!

      I agree that reading inspires writing! Thanks, Holly.

    2. Oh, I love having a bedtime book and a daytime book! I read on my Kindle mostly (because it lets me read in bed at night without the light on) and I find myself flipping through books sometimes to see which one matches my mood. There are a lot of books I start and don't finish because they don't grab me - I still buy to support my friends, but I don't always finish what I buy.

  4. I love all your comments. I don't read that many novels each year. Gasp! I don't feel guilty, though I do feel a little disappointed that I miss a lot. Like Laura I write full time, and between writing, doing research for both my women's fiction and historical mystery series, and dealing with all the other writing related necessities, the last thing I want to do at the end of the day is look at a page. I'm also asked to blurb several novels a year. Sometimes my head gets just too filled with words, like a loud restaurant, So when I read for pleasure I tend toward biographies and general nonfiction. I want to savor and imagine, I rarely feel the need to whip through a novel at a break neck pace.

    1. This may be why I watch TV series instead sometimes, because I'm still consuming stories but not looking at more words, words, words, like I've done all day. So I get it. Thanks, Shelley!

  5. As usual, I'm the odd man out. Not just because I'm a dude who writes love stories instead of crime novels. But because I never was a reader with an unquenchable thirst for words.

    I'm a visual and experience-it-first-hand kind of person. English was my worst subject in school. So, what does this lunk-head do? He gets a degree in Journalism and becomes gets into the magazine-publishing world and then transitions to corporate marketing for what seemed like a lifetime.

    Now, I'm a full-time writer...on my own terms. I do read more. To learn. To be in awe of the talents of other storytellers. And to be entertained...swept away to vicariously experience amazing and horrifying life-journeys. The often-times frustration that comes with writing and editing is finding ways to stop editing when reading for pleasure. (Don't you hate it when a patch of weak writing--or bad rule-breaking--pulls you out of a story and makes you put your editor's hat on?)

    I joined a book club that exposes me to all kinds of writing on a monthly basis. This month we're reading Dan Brown's new book. I've always though he's an outstanding storyteller, but not the best writer. The same is true with his writing in ORIGIN.

    But, I'm never going to improve at this thing called being "an author" without first being a thing called "a reader."

    1. I really like the idea of book clubs, because they get you reading -- and discussing -- novels you might not otherwise read. I still have favorites from my decade in a book club, like The Time Traveler's Wife and Bel Canto. Hope you enjoy your experience there, Christopher!

  6. After spending almost all of 2017 reading crates of books for a contest, I'm looking forward to being able to pick and choose what I read this year. I'll probably slow down now that there's no "You have to finish these books" looming in front of me.

    1. Ah yes, I didn't count the total pages of stories I read through judging contests. That can certainly take up a chunk of your reading list as well! Glad you can slow down a little and pick some faves for yourself. Enjoy!

  7. I've been more a meandering reader myself, owing greatly to a 24/7 job that demands 60-80 hours per week. When I finally got the bug to start writing (for myself) again, time got even tighter. On the other hand, my wife probably blows away even the most voracious readers in your table. She typically reads seven to nine books per week, mostly literary work she's found recommended. That'd put her at over 400 books per year, and I'll vouch for her. At night, I turn over and she keeps reading with a book light until two or three in the morning. On the plus side, she's my book procurer, looking out for books and authors I'd be most interested in reading. And she's my editor, since she has extensive knowledge on grammar, punctuation, and official styles.

    1. That's an amazing number of books your wife reads—more than one a day! And it's nice that she enjoys being your editor. That's a great resource to have! Meanwhile, you're obviously staying busy and meandering when you can. Thanks, Jerry!

  8. For me, the numbers are irrelevant. I'd rather focus on actual time spent reading. Some books I read are in another language—slower going. Some are fat—more than five hundred pages. Many are nonfiction—research for my fiction.

    Numbers lead to making comparisons which always leads to disappointment.

  9. You know me, I read my ass off. BUT...I don't watch TV and I read during other activities. Example: I read over teeth brushing and breakfast and lunch (during the week when I'm alone). I read while I knit. And I get to read Harry Potter to my girlie every night. So, there is a lot of "together with other things" that lets me get in more reading time.

    1. Oh, I loved reading novels to my kids! That's well worth every parent doing for their child. And it was doubly fun to me to experience the story myself and witness my son experience it as well.

  10. I don't keep track of how many books I read because I read in spurts—3 books over a week-end, then nothing for a couple of weeks. I tend to read longer books since I like lots of twists and sub-plots. I've been thinking about audio books lately, for "fill in" reading. Would I ever love two extra hours in the day just for reading!

    1. The holidays were lovely, in that I swam in reading. It had been a long time since I'd sat on the couch and just read a book for an hour or more, but those spurt times can be really nice. And a tip on the audio book—the narrator matters, so listen to the sample.

    1. You are a not alone, Debbie! A lot of us feel the disappointment of not having more time to read. But we get to what we can. Hope you're enjoying the mystery/suspense—both reading and writing it!

  11. Julie: I too am a "slow reader." My fifth grade teacher told my parents the reason I read at a turtle's pace is because I was "a perfectionist." I need to see each word and let it linger in my cerebral cortex to fully enjoy its flavor. So no skimming for me - that only leads to guilt. Can't change my need to be perfect but, as I see it, the world could use a few more perfectionists.

    1. I have also been called a perfectionist. Usually those who say it mean it as an insult, but we perfectionists take it as a compliment. Lol. I love the idea of letting your cerebral cortex "fully enjoy its flavor"! What a great way to think about it.

  12. The past several years, I've been reading between 75-100, but this year I decided to cut back a lot--25. Many of those were ARCS. A writer friend pointed out that I'm spending too much time doing for others and not enough doing for me--which is true.


  13. I usually have three or four books going at a time, plus an audio book for driving, cooking, teeth-brushing, basically any time I can't hold a book (or reader) in my hands. Since I began writing mysteries, non-fiction history is my go-to for relaxation. Reading in my genre seems like work at this point.

    I would love to see someone reading and knitting at the same time. Jenny? A picture, please?

  14. Like Fae, I read in bursts. When I discover a new writer or a series, I consume all their books or the whole series in a row. Then I have a break before the next book(s). My catnip is urban fantasy, fantasy, romance and historical fiction. Non-fiction is perfect when you want less feels and more thinking and reflection. Self-help is my guilty pleasure.

    Last year I read 85 books if you count the re-reads. Almost 30 of them were Nalini Singh's (damn she's productive and awesome). I needed the escape as divorce kicked my ass. 2017 was a fine year for reading but not so much for actually writing. 2018 will be good for both.

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