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Read, Read, & Read Some More!

So many books, So little time... Em T. Wytte

Gotta read ’em all!

Some days, all I want to do is read. I don’t only read, obviously, or I’d never get anything done. But reading some is good. I’d even go so far as to call it necessary.

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Free Un-copyrighted Reading on Project Gutenberg

If you want access to stuff you can’t find in print, you need un-copyrighted works to use in print, or you just like to read, check out Project Gutenberg. It’s an online library of books, magazines, poems, articles, etc. that are no longer copyrighted. That includes most of the classics as well as works where the copyright wasn’t renewed (for example, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost). It even has audio copies of many of them.

While easy access to the classics is nice, some of the other old books can be really interesting for research. There are herbals with recipes for medicines and teas. There are books with folk songs and sayings for different regions, others on superstitions, and more. If you have some free time, look through, and you might get some good ideas or useful details for your stories.

It’s also a great resource for genres and styles. Reading the early works in a specific genre really emphasizes how the genre has evolved. Short stories have changed dramatically, and it’s really obvious when you read any of the magazines of short stories (like Astounding Stories of Super-Science). It’s a good way to see what holds up 50 or more years later and what doesn’t.

Or I guess you could read for fun. You know… whatever works.

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Why Critique Why People Read? What’s Wrong with Escapism?

Why we read is a big part of determining what we read. If you read to escape your everyday life, then you probably don’t want to read something that reminds you of that life. You want to read something different. If your life is dull, you want excitement. If it’s frightening and stressful, you want fun and light-hearted. You want to imagine having what you don’t have and being what you’re not.

Like magic.

Since “fantasy” means 1. a fanciful mental image that someone thinks of repeatedly or 2. an idea with no basis in reality, it makes sense that the fantasy genre and escapism often go hand in hand.

I can’t think of a person I know who likes the Harry Potter series who wouldn’t love to get a letter from Hogwarts, pick out a wand, and fly on a broom. Even after the series got darker, the appeal of having that power was still strong. Having magic, showing courage, finding riches, being the “chosen one” who can save the world: these are fantasies that we get to enjoy as we read.

Yet people disdain escapism. For years, authors have faced literary critics who nitpick at the escapist nature of the books – with famous results.

“I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used… Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”
— J.R.R. Tolkien

That seems pretty hard to argue with, yet literary critics continue to try. This baffles me since most popular fiction tends to be escapist – it’s read for pleasure, not to experience some high literary standard.

Maybe, that’s the real issue, and this attitude is mere literary pretension hiding behind higher ideals. It makes me wonder what critics read… and why.

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Find Time To Read

ReadWhether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or any other writing project, you’re probably doing your best to write every day. Maybe, you’re aiming for 1,000 words a day. Maybe, you’re working on several different projects. Or maybe, you spend most of your day writing. All of those options are great. If you’re doing any of them, congratulations!

Just don’t forget to take some time to read. It’s easy to forget when you’re caught up with writing, but it’s important. Find the time. Make it. Whatever you have to do.

Besides needing to unwind and relax (and, really, what’s a better way to relax than reading for a bit?), reading is also one of the best ways to learn about writing. Reading will teach you good plots from bad, how to build a character, worldbuilding, and more. As much as I loved many of my teachers and classes, I’ve learned more from reading than from anything but writing itself.

And if you think about it, it’s a pretty good deal – you can learn about writing simply by relaxing for a while with a good book. Something you’d read for fun anyway.

Why wouldn’t you make the time?