I love to read, but I just don’t have time. My frazzled friends and I myself repeat this chorus. For me, reading is a guilty pleasure, something I try to sneak in when I’m not doing all the “musts.” But for writers, reading is a must. Just as athletes get better by playing with or against someone better than they are, so, too, do writers get better when they read the works of people who make you feel you are walking on roads as familiar as the one in front of your house alongside characters that you have known all your life – or wish that you have.
Vacations are my reading times. I catch up on classics, read page-turners for the fun of it and generally immerse myself in worlds far different than my own. Whether contemporary page-turners or revered classics, every book I read – or at least finish – has one thing in common. They are well-written.
I usually don’t read fantasy, but Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children received such rave reviews, that I checked it out. I am not disappointed. A fireplace “throttled with vines” and a kitchen “that was a science experiment gone terribly wrong” not only create vivid images, but set the tone. Careless in Red by Elizabeth George, who never disappoints, describes a relationship by how the characters are positioned on opposite sides of a kitchen, “less than ten feet, but…a chasm that grew wider every year. Her characters define themselves and their relationships by what is unsaid.
As I read these two books, I find myself making mental notes of how relationships are established, segues between scenes, powerful verbs and the unhurried way both authors pull the reader into the settings. I can research and plan, create my characters, settings and plot, but the craft is in the execution. If I hope to be better than a good writer, I need to read and learn from the best.