Thinking about the benefits of reading groups for writers

The most confusing and repeated piece of advice that I was given during the years when I sat on the other side of the desk in Creative Writing classes, was to read, lots.  Not knowing how to fit more books into my days, I decided that my tutors must mean I should be more selective, so I cut back on the thrillers and romances, and looked out for novels that had literary reputations.

3D Artworks by Julian Beever

3D Artworks by Julian Beever

It was an interesting and eclectic period in my reading history.  I didn’t mind whether a book was a classic or modern; so long as someone had considered it worth mentioning, I’d give it a try. Once I’d entered the first page of a novel I forgot all about my writing tutors.  Well, isn’t that how it should be with a good book?

Of course it is, and that’s fine.  But as I closed the covers on one book I was already checking the shelves for my next read.  What I hadn’t understood then was that having read for pleasure, I needed to take time to think about what I’d read, and how it worked…or what didn’t work, and why.

Some writers seem to pick that up early.  I didn’t get it until I became a mature student, studying Literature and Creative Writing.  Since then, my horizons have broadened with every read, whether that’s with a fresh text or one of those that I first read when in that voracious period.

I’m often asked if that doesn’t spoil the fun of reading.

3D Artworks by Julian Beever

3D Artworks by Julian Beever

Actually, it opens up a text.  Yes, I can often see the workings, but I like that, because it offers another dimension of story to enjoy.  I like the process so much that I teach it, and the thing I’ve discovered is that this approach is as rewarding for readers as it is for writers. We get into some fascinating discussions about how writing works.

And most importantly, we share ideas on what a story was about.  Think you know something inside out?  Give it to a group of readers and then get into a discussion and see what is revealed, I’m continually finding that the exchanging of ideas opens up unexpected worlds beneath the surface of the words.

Thinking about how readers read has to be a useful thing for any writer, surely?

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4 thoughts on “Thinking about the benefits of reading groups for writers

  1. Cath at a single stroke you have “doubled” the height of the pile of books by my bed. How I read them is important, I now have to read them at least twice – once to find out what happens and a second time to find out how the author has done it. Of course the “third” reading comes when you discuss it with others ……
    By the way I love illusions – the ones on your post illustrate beautifully the hidden dimensions to many good reads.
    Thanks Cath.

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  2. Thank you, Mike.
    I should now issue a warning about a likely side-effect to this process: I find that once I’ve discovered a piece of writing with layers I admire, I’m unable to pass my copy on. Consequently, I’ve even more shelves heaped up with books I plan on re-reading one day than I have shelves of books waiting to be read for the first time, or even lists of books I’m looking out for!

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  3. Really interesting, I think this is why Jamaica Kincaid’s the autobiography of my mother was my favourite book I read last year and why the people I recommended it to didn’t like it.

    It’s not a “like” book, it’s an incredible book that uses a prose style that is like rhythm, that carries you into the story, rather than feeling like you are separate from the story, how did she do that, create that effect and be so engaging and tell a story. The story shocks, it is a novel, but I wanted to talk about it, which is why I write on my blog, because I couldn’t have the conversation I wanted with my reading friends, though to her credit, one of them when she stopped reading read my post and said she understood why I thought it was as amazing as it was.

    At least I don’t have the problem of keeping things, I’m the opposite, they must be read and passed on, I don’t accumulate, I move on and keep learning, rarely looking back, because now I have the blog to keep the memories of reading.

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  4. The Jamaica Kincaid sounds like my kind of thing, I’ll have to add it to my ‘look out for’ list.

    Don’t you find that a few months after you’ve passed on a fascinating book you need to consult it? I’m forever chasing down copies of books I’ve thought it safe to pass along – also, when out browsing I’ve seen copies of books I thought I’d passed along and ended up with doubles, and even triples…those I do pass on.

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