Reading and Writing

The following quote popped up on my twitter feed this week:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Stephen King

I liked the quote because according to it, if I want to be a writer then I’m already half-way there! I’ve always read a lot. My mother is a librarian and so books have always featured heavily in my up-bringing, I think that for her making sure that I was a reader and that I enjoyed books was a really important part of bringing me up. Part of my bedtime ritual as a child was reading – I can remember reading in bed myself, but I’m sure that before that I was read to regularly before sleeping.

At school I enjoyed English and went on to study it at A level and for my degree at University. Years of reading literature from a curriculum meant that I didn’t always enjoy what I was reading and some authors still give me the shivers today (Jane Austen). Some things that I read at 18 were lost on me, the poems of Phillip Larkin for example meant very little to me at that stage of my life and everyone in my class thought he was just a miserable old sod. Coming back to his poems later in life I could appreciate them much more.

My reading habits are pretty uniform, I read one book at a time and from cover to cover. It’s very seldom that I don’t finish a book, even if I’m not enjoying it that much. In fact, the only book that I can name that I started and never finished was Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I like to be able to read books more than once, you get more out of a good book on the second, third or even fourth read – a different perspective, different emotional responses or nuances that you missed the first time around. Some books I will return to time and time again, like old friends. I can remember being quite shocked when I met someone that only ever read books once!

I like to think that I have very broad tastes when it comes to reading, but in fact this isn’t really true. I have very broad tastes in fiction, but for me that’s where reading stops. I‘ve tried to read biographies, autobiographies, self-help books, and even travel books, but they largely feel like a chore. For me, non-fiction is purely for reference, and I’m slightly ashamed to say that these days I am more likely to go to the internet for my information than to a book. Not that it isn’t great to know how to find information in books. One thing that my mum taught me and which has always stuck with me is that what you know doesn’t matter, it’s knowing how to find the information you want that’s important (spoken like a true librarian).

I thought that in this post I would share a few books that I love. It’s just a selection, chosen at random and not a definitive list, they’re in no particular order and don’t represent any particular type of book. I’m not going to try to review or précis them (but I will put in links to them on Amazon). Here goes:

Collected Poems – Philip Larkin The End of Mr Y – Scarlett Thomas
His Dark Materials trilogy – Philip Pullman Neuromancer – William Gibson
South American Trilogy – Louis de Bernières Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
One Day – David Nicholls Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenberger Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
Great Apes – Will Self number9dream – David Mitchell
Saturday – Ian McEwan

Unfortunately, this week my ‘post a week’ is a day overdue, so I definitely need to improve on the ‘writing a lot’ part of the quote.

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9 Responses to Reading and Writing

  1. Quail says:

    Well you did write a lot right there didn’t you? It’s a start…
    Recently a bunch of people have told me how good Jane Eyre is, so it must be good…
    Well anyway, I agre with you when it comes to non-fiction. Besides history, which fascinates me and is a lot like reading a story. Even if it isnt told that way.
    So I really didn’t have much to say there… thats it.
    Quail, the dustlet (

  2. One Day is a great book. I really liked the concept of taking one day over (I think) 25 years. And I agree with Mr King there. You need to read a lot and write a lot. That’s the only way you can get better at your craft.

    I remember studying the Metaphysical poets at A Level. Not my bag of chips at all. And I’ve tried to read the Classics like Jane Austin – but again, not for me. But fell in love with ‘Tis and I Know Why the Bird Cage Sings.

    I hate not finishing a book. I feel like I owe it to myself to finish-the book will not beat me!

    Nowadays, I’m always on the lookout for a great read. I usually have at least two books on the go as I like the variety. I’ve just finished The White Queen (Philippa Gregory) and am still reading Mother Tongue (Bill Bryson). I’ve just been told about “The Hare with Amber Eyes”. Love the title, so will hunt it down in the coming weeks.

  3. I can’t say I enjoyed One Day although the concept itself was interesting. Funnily enough, I read that King quote just a few days ago. It’s from his “On Writing” book, and the second half is proving useful to me with my own fiction! I thoroughly recommend reading it.

  4. K says:

    Great post. It’s great that you love to read–I used to have a voracious appetite for books, but the massive amount of reading required during the course of a Ph.D. has largely killed my desire to read (for fun or for work). I improved a bit last year by trying to do one of those “50 book challenge” things, but I think I only made it to about 33.

    Why didn’t you finish “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell,” by the way? I’ve generally only heard good things about that book.

  5. Ali says:

    Thanks for the comments!

    Quail – Jane Eyre’s one of those books that a lot of people say you ‘must read’. I don’t know about that, but I really enjoyed it and I suppose it’s a ‘classic’ for a reason. It’s quite an accessible classic though.

    Teacupandcake, I know exactly what you mean about a book beating you. I don’t like that either. I must look up the books you mentioned!

    lefrancophoney -hello there! One Day was given to me by my sister (I don’t often get books as gifts), I read it really quickly over Christmas and found it a lovely easy ride with a story and characters that really drew me in. But not everything’s for everyone is it? Maybe I should look up the rest of the book.

    K – thanks! I can completely understand how a PhD would kill off the reading bug – I had to have a little rest after my degree! Then I realised that I could read anything I liked and that was a great feeling. It’s got to be said that Jonathan Strange just didn’t grab me! I found it long, dull and didn’t really get the point of what it was trying to do. It really bogged me down and eventually I just didn’t have the heart to carry on!

  6. Tjones says:

    I read One Day last year and really enjoyed it and it made me want to climb Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh which we did in the spring last year. Once I get on a good book I just read it non stop until its done. Once I was told I was “addicted to reading” haha, But I am not afraid to give up on a book and move on to one more interesting. I’ve tried reading some of the “classics” lately and gave up on a few of those, I’ll come back to them in a few years and maybe get into them then. I’ve been into reading Philip K Dyck in the last while and I now I have started to read A Clockwork Orange. Hope its good!

  7. Pingback: Belated blog post! « Flow…

  8. George says:

    Lovely post. I love losing myself in a book, and only tend to buy books that I know I’ll read again. I love the look of them, the feel of them, turning the pages and seeing the progression through it. Have you got a Kindle?

  9. Ali says:

    George, I’m completely with you there! I don’t have a kindle, no. I can’t imagine that reading one in bed would be the same as a book somehow. For travelling about I have my iPhone and I’ve downloaded some books onto there. I like real book though, I like the way they feel and I like the way they look on my shelves, too.

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