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Reading, Writing and Arithmetic (scratch the last part)

April 29, 2015

girl daydreamingI’m not by nature a prolific reader. A prolific imaginer, yes, but reader? Hmm. I’m slow, I’m picky, and I tend to want to turn everything into my own tale.

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t preferred the sanctuary of my own private, sometimes weird library of mind-stories to the extensive and fully utilized library my husband and I share in our home.

One that includes everything from literary classics (all the usual suspects befitting a Lit major, from Herodotus to Franzen) to agonized Eastern European poets and writers that any self-respecting Slav must possess (Milosz, Kundera, Dostoevsky) to tasty genre specialists (Tom Rob Smith, Laurie R. King, Stephen King, Silva, Ludlum, Hiassen) to downright cotton candy (EL James, David Lee Roth’s rock-n-roll memoir “Crazy From the Heat” and let’s not forget “Rock Star” by Jackie Collins – a personal favorite).

I have read most of them – swear. Except for some of the less exciting business books my husband collects – “A Brief History of the Boeing Company” for instance.

plane crash

It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading – I do and very much. Rather, inventing stories as opposed to merely savoring them just offers me a more three dimensional experience – sort of like working a crossword puzzle. eating strawberry shortcake and listening to Dusty Springfield all at the same time. Heaven.

And once I had kids and my time became more precious, I had to pick a team. So, I chose to spend most of my time writing.

But in the last couple of years that’s changed a little bit.

Since joining an online community of writers – a group of sad, if lovely individuals, who don’t usually leave their homes except to tend to basic needs, and may not even get up from their computers unless they absolutely have to go to the bathroom or something – I’ve been forced, as both a professional courtesy and to avoid seeming like an idiot, to amp up my reading time.

As a result, I’ve strayed way far out of my usual interests, diving head-on into paranormal erotica, gushy romance, hippie-lit and contemporary drama. All of which I would have passed by in the book store in favor of a great thriller or engrossing historical novel.

girl reading on toilet

And besides giving me the pleasure of immersing myself into someones else’s story for a change and getting to relax and put my feet up, it’s also taught me a great deal about reading itself and has made me more aware of my own mind. Actually finishing books that aren’t my cup of tea – that I would have surely put down were it not for the fact that I had promised the author I would read his work – has expanded my universe of interests. There’s something about having to reach a story’s conclusion – like it or not – that opens your heart to the author’s intentions. It’s like making yourself listen – really listen – to the other side of a political debate.

So, yes, it has made me a better reader and writer, but I’m not going to bore you too much with that cliche, because in all honesty, it hasn’t changed my approach to writing all that much. At least not in the way teachers and writers will contend, insisting that you simply can’t be a real writer without being an avid, even obsessive reader. I’ve never quite bought into that particular myth.

What reading more has done for me – a most unexpected and glorious blessing – is actually far more personal than professional. It has helped me maintain a strong bond with my children as they’ve begun the move from childhood to full-on teen-dom.

Now that my older kids are readers, I can share more with them than merely the content of their days. I can learn what inspires them, the kind of love they want to find, the friend they want to be, the daydreams they have about if their wildest dreams came true.

head banger

Reading what’s on their Kindles has been a window into their worlds – one made of stained glass. I get to share with them books we end up loving together – The Book Thief, The Apothecary, The Hunger Games, How We Fall, and ones where, perhaps, we appreciated where the author was heading, what she wanted to accomplish with her story, but it wasn’t quite the journey we wanted to be on. Twilight comes to mind (no throwing rotten tomatoes please – we’re not haters here). And then there are the novels I tried to get them into but failed completely – like Harry Potter (“Sorry mom, wizards freak me out”) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (“Just don’t groove on vampires, you know?”).

As a mother, reading has helped me understand my children’s thought processes, allowing me those rare glimpses behind the mask of shrugs and dismissive fines and I don’t knows that follow any question about how they’re feeling. I’ve noticed, for instance, that I haven’t heard the words “You just don’t understand!” in a pretty long time.

Reading YA, especially, has brought me back to my own youth and reminded me of how raw, confusing, dramatic, hopeful and harrowing growing up can be.

And how magical if it’s done right – wandering the woods, jumping on trampolines, just dying to meet Taylor Swift, playing doctor.

That has been a splendid realization, and one that reminds me that no emotion is trite when you’re feeling it for the first time.

So, there you have it.

Reading more has not necessarily made me a better writer. And I’d still rather write my own story than enter someone else’s. But what reading more has done for me – with an emphasis on reading fiction – is what it has been doing for human beings since the dawn of the written word. It has helped me connect with others – particularly those most dear to me. It has reawakened parts of me that I’d long since forgotten about, put aside in my busy life. And it has helped me understand the plight of my fellow man better than a thousand diversity seminars.

see the light

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From → family, thrillers

31 Comments
  1. “Working a crossword puzzle. eating strawberry shortcake and listening to Dusty Springfield all at the same time. Heaven.”

    Damn. One of my favorite pastimes (crosswords) and an awful addiction of mine (strawberry shortcake). Dusty? I was SO in love with her. Son of a Preacher Man

  2. Excellent post. Reading has shaped me in many (often unexpected) ways and while it separates us from our immediate environment it does connect us with the rest of the world. 🙂

  3. I was for many years an avid reader of fiction. Today I read far less probably because I am writing. I find that non fiction as it became an important part of my research also became a preference. As usual a fantastic post and as a mother, I do love amazing conversations about books and storylines with my son, a great bond parents can use.

  4. Yes – well said, both of you. And I, too, ended up reading a lot of non fiction for a while. Part of it was for work and research, but it was also such a nice change.

  5. Wow overwhelmed with information, a lot and more to learn. Thanks

  6. So much to learn! Thank you for sharing.

  7. Totally with you, Victoria! I love reading, I really do. But I don’t buy into that “authors must read at every waking moment” rule. I need to write too. So, I don’t let the obsessive reading rule stress me out.

    I’d rather experience real life from time to time. I don’t want to miss it, ya know?

  8. Absolutely, Britt!

  9. boruchmarcom770 permalink

    I absolutely love reading, if the book is worth reading but since a young age I have always been more interested more in getting my thoughts down on a piece of paper.

  10. Stephanie permalink

    Beautifully written! 🙂

  11. Excellent piece.. I put into place a new ritual about 6 months ago that I had to go outside into the garden and read every afternoon.. which I do most days and I find that like you I am reading books that I would not normally picked.. an enjoyed them.

  12. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Victoria Dougherty on new found pleasures in reading and writing..

  13. I couldn’t get into Harry Potter, either. My sister and daughter wanted to see the movies, so I went with them to 2. It’s just not my genre, but I’m happy for J.K.R.’s success. I read long papers and blogs (like this post) using a text reader. I read a book now and then using a digital recorder. And I write.

    Never will I be a Hemingway, but I do write every day for no other reason than I can’t NOT write. And that, I believe, is what (at the end of this story) makes a writer. 🙂

  14. Oh Victoria, how wonderful that reading has engendered such a connection with your teens! Some people would kill for that. Write a how to book on that!

  15. Love this post and the insights into how and what to get your children to read while also hoping they will find their own literary preference at the moment I am having those conversations with my grandson( who lives with me) and it seems to be Horrid Henry and books on magic and experiments and the ilk but at least he is reading andthat I think is the main thing. But he is only 10 so plenty of time. 🙂

    • It’s a lot of trial and error. I have a friend whose daughter is gifted – I mean wicked smart – but the girl has the worst taste in books 🙂 Thanks for reading.

  16. I do love to dig around in other people’s minds. There is no better way than to explore their library.

  17. Love this post. And who needs Arithmetic anyway?

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