Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Importance of Reading

I have always been naturally drawn towards reading as a pastime. The earliest books I can remember reading were Dr. Seuss stories. His creative rhymes and fantastical art grabbed my attention and stimulated my imagination like no other stories did. When I graduated from kids' short stories to actual novels around the age of eleven or twelve, I was reading a mix of horror and science-fiction, such as The Shining, Alien (based on the movie), the Star Wars novel written by George Lucas, and some Asimov and Heinlein short story collections. While I eventually lost interest in horror stories, sci-fi, and later fantasy, grabbed and stuck.

I still read for relaxation and entertainment, thought not nearly as much or as often as when I was younger. I've also become more picky about who and what I will read. Unfortunately, that makes it difficult to find new things to read. I can spend literally hours in a bookstore and walk out empty-handed, having sampled twenty novels on the shelf and not found a single one worth taking home. If an author's style isn't to my taste, I know it fairly quickly. Sometimes it's just a matter of style and I really can't fault the author; other times, I truly wonder how such dreck ever got published. Thankfully, that doesn't happen very often. But in either case, it goes back on the shelf.

Still, reading is important to me, not just for entertainment, but to keep my inspiration and imagination working. I get ideas from other authors, and other stories. Yes, I've even borrowed a sub-plot or theme or other small idea from other stories, and added it to my own. There's not a writer in existence who hasn't; anyone to claims otherwise is lying. But the point is, reading helps me to write better. It's not just about getting ideas to borrow, it's at a much lower level. When I read or hear a poetic or beautiful turn of phrase, it stays in my mind, and inspires me. "This Mortal Coil" has always stuck with me, and I recall that the first time I heard the phrase wasn't in a Shakespeare play, but rather as the name of a late '80's industrial band. JRR Tolkien's writing is full of them, and I'm well-read enough to know that he borrowed ideas liberally from Norse and other myths, as I've run into "his" ideas and themes many times over in older literature.

Where am I going with this? Well, I started reading The Fountainhead this morning. Not my typical genre entertainment, I will admit. But I did read Atlas Shrugged a few years ago, and a former colleague once told me that he actually like The Fountainhead better, so I thought I would give it a try. I wouldn't say that Ayn Rand's writing is particularly beautiful or inspiring, however some of the themes she used in Atlas Shrugged have influenced me. And occasionally I have found value in reading stories outside of my chosen genre, as they can present me with new ideas and themes that may not be found in fantasy, at least not in the fantasy stories I've read. But still, I generally read for entertainment and relaxation first. If I happen to glean some good ideas from a story, that's just an extra benefit.