Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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December 18, 2020

10 Things I Know About How You Read

Writers are funny about books. We have a love-love relationship with them from our earliest moments. 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. All I know is I just flat out love books and every writer I know does too. You might even describe us as “obsessed with the printed word.”

"Book traits" most writers share:

  • Every writer I've ever met can talk books for hours and discuss characters in grand detail.
  • We have To Be Read piles (TBR for short) that are taller than small children.
  • Our favorite authors and characters become our friends.

It takes a lot of love to go through what we must do to yank our stories from our hearts onto the page. And like I said above, most writers are funny about books, especially their own books.

Here are 10 things I know about you and your books, even if we've never met.

1. You read in bed after "lights out" when you were a child.
It might have been a flashlight, or a lantern, or (if you're young enough) the light from your phone. When your person-in-charge confiscated your first light source, 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.

2. 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. Every writer I know has revisited a favorite series (or two or three) during this pandemic.

3. I know you get uncomfortable when you are "bookless."
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. (Do you keep a Kindle available and a bag of books in your car trunk like I do?)

4. 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.

5. I am certain that if you named 10 best friends from the various periods of your life, at least half of them would be book characters or authors. We laughed and cried with those characters. Those authors reached into our hearts and showed us who we were, or at least who we wanted to become.

6. Piles of free books by your most cherished authors give you that same zing of attraction you felt the first time you saw the boy or girl you crushed on in high school. That feeling of "Ooooooooooooo, everyone go away so I can be with THIS one."

7. When you get the chance to meet your favorite author(s), your tongue gets tied in knots and the idea of speaking to them gives you an extreme physical reaction. I remember the first time I saw Nora Roberts, Dean Koontz, Janet Evanovich, and James Patterson. On those four occasions, I Could. Not. Move. I could only stare at them with absolute rapt focus while everyone else simply faded away.

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 asking me first.)

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'll buy a copy of your beloved book from the used bookstore and loan them that copy. 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.

I could easily find ten more things to share about writers and their reading habits but I want to hear from you. What are your book rituals and quirks? Do any of these habits sound familiar? Share your stories down in the comments!

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About Jenny

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By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Facebook at JennyHansenAuthor or at Writers In The Storm.

Top Image by Pexels from Pixabay

44 comments on “10 Things I Know About How You Read”

  1. If it's my copy, there will be writing in it. My writing books are underlined, and full or marginal notes relating to the WIP. I joke that there are a couple of writing books I will have to buy a new copy of when I write something else.

    If it's fiction, and I love it for a reason - such as the love story between Dorothy L. Sayers Lorrd Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane - buried in the book, the 'good parts' are well marked, so that when I'm in that mood, I don't have to read through the detecting parts.

    And yes, I dog-ear the corners. That would horrify some people, but these are my personal books, and they're meant to be used and accessible. I don't want to spend time digging when I know what I want.

    I add indices of things I want to find quickly to any space on the first pages, and make up for sparsity of entries in the index - if I've had to look for something twice or more, it get a note up front. These are all working books. They are right next to me for when I need them.

    1. I dog-ear too, but I do it from the bottom corner, rather than the top. I think it's great that you've made your book-marking techniques work for you.

      Something I left out of the post was that I had a friend who borrowed my books and then she garage-saled them. That was a no-good-terrible-awful day.

      1. That wasn't a friend!

        Someone stole two of my expensive nuclear engineering textbooks in graduate school - probably to resell them - and I lost all my notes for the courses. I am still furious, and it's 40-some years later!

        I've had to replace one book with notes because someone borrowed it and never returned it. Ditto.

        I never thought of dog-earing from the bottom. Creative. I will even sometimes write on the dog-ear what is being marked, in small neat letters.

        This is the kind of thing I NEED to be able to find:
        "Peter, you're mad. Never dare to suggest such a thing. Whatever marriage is, it isn't that."
        "Isn't what, Harriet?"
        "Letting your affection corrupt your judgment. What kind of life could we have if I knew that you have become less than yourself by marrying me?"
        Busman's Honeymoon, Chapter XVII

        It really is a good book.

      2. Ellen and Alicia - I should add it was actually THREE books...a trilogy I'd loaned her by a favorite author. I don't often pitch a hissy fit, but I threw one that day.

      3. "Something I left out of the post was that I had a friend who borrowed my books and then she garage-saled them. " And yet, you still refer to her as a friend. Amazing.

  2. Well said!! I agree with everything. I had an aunt who borrowed a couple of books I hadn’t even read yet, and never returned them.
    It was a good lesson in how I want to be viewed when I borrowed someone else’s property.

  3. I’m pretty sure my night-owl ways are the result of reading by pen flashlights that I lost from being found out and then later reading by the street light as a kid. Nice to know there are so many of us! 🙂

    1. I never thought of that, but I'll bet you're right. All that late-night reading as a child probably stimulates neural pathways, or some other awesome science-y thing.

  4. Our family's only flashlight---my undercover light---lived in my father's dressing room on top of his chest of drawers. Naturally, I became an expert at smuggling it out and back without being detected. He used to complain about how quickly the batteries ran out.

    Living at a northern latitude (Alaska), I could read at the window well past my bedtime during the summer. When my mother called up to ask me if I was in bed, I scampered soundlessly across the floor, hopped into bed, and called down "Yes" before returning to the window light.

  5. I hide within the pages of my favorite books when I'm sad, when I need a vacation, and just because. I've been known to binge read long series.

    I believe in book therapy!

    I rarely loan out books, preferring to give them instead. My oldest daughter borrowed a few and still has them, but I know where she lives. LOL

    We knew we'd done a good job with our kids when they could have been up on Saturday mornings watching TV, but were in bed reading instead.

    1. I am a huge believer in book therapy. During this pandemic when I've been working 14-18 hour days, my reading time is absolutely necessary to keep me sane. (And great job making readers, Ellen!)

  6. Must be paper. Must smell the paper. Must run my right thumb over the edges of the paper as I fan the pages.

    An over-abundance of books does not constitute clutter. If you love your stuff, it's never hoarding.

    1. LOL. I can read in any medium. I like paper, but I adore my Kindle Paperwhite that lets me read in bed without disturbing my husband. Plus, I can mark up pages with notes and not feel like I'm committing book blasphemy. And no one sees what I'm reading, which I really like for some reason.

  7. Love this post. As a kid I volunteered to take the smallest bedroom that had no view only because it was out of the way and the light under my door would be less visible to my parents.

  8. Well...I'm not sure how much this nails it for me, but I do believe in book therapy. A couple of years ago, there was a horrendous family fall-out, and I felt like I got dragged over hot coals. I don't remember what book I picked up, but if I hadn't had it that day to escape, my poor husband wouldn't have know what to do with me!

    1. Book therapy is absolutely real, Karen! There's just nothing like a book to smooth a mood that has reached the breaking point. (But I'm so sorry you had a family fallout like that.)

  9. I love this post and everyone's responses. There have been so many books that have touched my heart over the years, but just the fact of holding a book, smelling the pages, being able to highlight and sticky-note the pages is heaven for me. If there's an e-book I read that I love, I order the print version so I can experience it as a solid object, almost living and breathing.

    1. I did that with WILD, Barb. I originally checked it out of the library on my Kindle and I HAD to have the paper version afterward. In fact, the moment I read WILD, I realized that it formed a structure for my own memoir. Mine is about a heartbreaking journey through high-risk pregnancy, but it is WILD underneath. You should see all the sticky notes I have lining that poor paperback. 🙂

        1. Totally, Barb! It was a great moment for me when I finally read WILD. I was having a terrible time figuring out the structure for the memoir, and something just opened in me while I read it. Early loss of mother...check. Daunting physical journey...check. Grief...check. I felt that way the entire book and I had Margie Lawson's voice in the back of my head saying, you should use that.

    1. Oh man, Nicole! That is one strict mama. If you are like me, there is a certain amount of anxiety inherent in being bookless. I hope she gave them back during the day when you had sanctioned reading time.

  10. Omigosh, how did you know? LOL

    I was "afraid of the dark" so I had to have the light on in my bedroom closet with the door cracked. Heh heh. It was easy to sneak the crack just a little wider so there was enough light to read by...

    And yes, when bookless, I resort to reading anything at hand. As a child, I read the backs of cereal boxes over and over so many times that I could eventually recite them from memory. Because, you know, there was nothing else to read at the breakfast table. My parents were hogging the newspaper.

    Did you ever read while walking home from school, using your peripheral vision to keep from falling off the curb or wandering into traffic? Guilty.

    1. I have absolutely read while walking - sometimes while I was growing up and even more often while in college. It's a fine art to learn how to do that, and many times I bonked my head on the metal anchor lines to the power poles. But I still enjoyed many a book that way.

  11. Ha ha. This is great, Jenny! I can see that you're psychic when it comes to how writers view their books! :O)

    1. LOL...psychic. I've got nothing there. But I do talk with lots and lots of writers and we all have similar themes, quirks and habits around our books. (aka We're obsessive about them!)

  12. I think the books I own have been paired down to a few hardback series due to moving and my family asking me "why are we moving books in boxes"? I said good-bye to almost all my paperback and said hello to KINDLE (almost the greatest invention ever if not for microwave and my reusable Starbucks cup). So i no longer dog ear the pages since its all digital or audible. I do however make sure my earbuds and kindle are charged up on a daily. I will drive with my kindle plugged in and reading to me. I am embarrassed by the amount of digital books I bought all over again and now duplicated on audible, but a favorite is a favorite. And I know I wear glasses due to my childhood reading habits. I sort of feel offended if the book looks new. I expect it to be read hard like riding a bull when someone really enjoys it and rests it on thier chest and spits cold coffee (aka any drink) that they let get cold because its so good and they cant take the time. I think flecks of ritz crackers are allowed in the pages too but thats a preference. I dont hide my money in the pages (as some suggest) cause....the green stuff just falls out when i pick up the books.

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