I have read 21 books this year, and I am no longer the same person.
Or, rather, I feel like a better, more creative version of the same person.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write,” Stephen King declares in On Writing. I’m not sure I would have fully understood that statement before this year. Sure, I’ve always read, but there are times in my life when I’ve read voraciously, actively. There are times when I’ve read a lot out of obligation, when I was in school for instance. And then, sadly, there are those more recent years of passive, non-committed reading. The picking up of the book I should be reading, the half-hearted trudge through a few pages, the putting it down for weeks, the guilt that stirred me to pick it up again, and so on, and so on.
This year, motivated by my shame as a bad English major, I resolved to read more. 40 books was my lofty goal. I read 6 books in January, including Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty, Jeannette Walls The Glass Castle, and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing. I was blown away. For the first time in a long time, I spent one Sunday holed up on the couch, reading a book from cover to cover. I had rediscovered a childish delight in the characters and worlds that came alive in my head through words on the page.
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and The Four Tendencies, poses the question to readers looking to boost their happiness: “what did you do for fun when you were 10 years old?” Well? It’s a great question. At age 10, I loved to do arts and crafts–coloring, making collages, pressed flowers, baking soda volcanoes, and papier-mâché masks. I also loved reading. The first thing I would do on a weekend morning would be to grab the book on my bedside table, and read for hours, reluctantly putting the book down when my mom came upstairs to tell me I had better eat something for breakfast.
Not coincidentally, the times of voracious reading in my life have also coincided with periods of creativity, experimentation, delight.
Reading continuously this year, has re-awakened my creativity. A month into my reading project, I felt the need to write. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to write about. I had just finished Sherman Alexie’s You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, and I thought maybe I should explore my childhood, my relationship with emotionally abusive ex-stepmother.
I started writing. I kept reading. The reading flowed, but the writing still felt stilted, wobbly. I gently tiptoed into the darker themes of my childhood, I cried, and felt emotions dislodge like coughing up the remnants of a cold.
And then something surprised me. The writing became lighter. I read Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings, sticky-noting nearly every other passage in the worn-out copy from the library. The beauty with which she wrote about ordinary things, events, people, made me examine the more usual, but perhaps interesting aspects of my own life. I wrote a funny piece about the heart-rending experience of getting my dog neutered. Writing was bringing my life into a new dimension.
I credit my renewed creativity to the transformative power of reading books. Not a book, but books. To finish one book and start on another is to keep the imagination engaged. To keep the imagination engaged, is to awaken the writer within.
So do you want to write? Start reading.