Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Rereading for the wrong reasons? Lari Don

One of the most wonderful but most troubling things about being a writer is that books become work.

Not just writing books, but reading them too.

This can be wonderful, when I tell myself that wasting (spending, investing) a whole day reading a novel that I’m desperate to finish, is in fact legitimate work. But it can also be troubling, when I realise that something I used to love is now something I HAVE TO DO.

This changes my relationship with books. Having to read books, having to think about and talk about books, not because I want to, not because that’s the book I want to spend time with, but because I’ve committed myself to an event or an article or a blog post which makes reading that particular book right now a necessity.

I live in Edinburgh, and I’m doing various events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival next month, mostly in the children’s and schools programme. But I’m also leading a reading workshop on Diana Wynne Jones, a writer whose books inspired me as a child, whose books still inspire me now, whose books I love to read.

But this summer, I have HAD to read them. I have had to reread the ones I am committed to discussing. (Books that, to be fair, I suggested and wanted to discuss, but even so…)

And suddenly I found myself resisting rereading them. I love rereading my favourite books. Mostly because I enjoy them, and am happy to reenter their worlds. And partly because, especially with books by Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaiman and others who are inspired by tales of old magic, I recognise more references every time I read them. But that’s when I choose to reread. When a book calls to me and says, come on over here and visit me again…

This summer, there’s been a pile of DWJ books on my study floor, which I knew I had to reread, but which I kept stepping round. Even though The Power of Three is my favourite ever children’s book, and Howl’s Moving Castle is in the top five, and Fire And Hemlock radically changed my relationship with my favourite Scottish fairy tale, and Chrestmanci is the most perfect wizardly wizard ever created… I’ve been resisting. Because I felt that I had to read them, that it was my job, that it was homework.

a small fraction of the DWJ pile!
And this has made me consider how, to some extent, every book I read is work. That everything I read leaves something behind, like a wave on a beach, which changes and inspires and shapes everything I will subsequently write. That I learn from every book, whether I love it or not. That the reader I am creates the writer I am.

But I also know that if I am conscious of what I’m learning from a book, then I haven’t truly lost myself in it. And the books that I just thoroughly enjoy, that I don’t read as a writer, that I just read as a wide-eyed reader, desperate to find out what happens next (and not noticing how the writer is making me care) those are the books I love the most. Probably those are the books that influence me most. And certainly those are the books I happily and enthusiastically reread.

And so. I took a deep breath. I started with Dogsbody, and The Ogre Downstairs, and Howl and those castles. And I have had the most glorious weekend rereading Diana Wynne Jones. To be honest, most of the time, I forgot why I was rereading them (workshop, what workshop?) and just lost myself in the wonderful magical world of her imagination.

Lari Don is the award-winning author of 21 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers. Lari’s website 
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Emma Barnes said...

I love Diana Wynne Jones - and I'm actually jealous to see that your copy of Charmed Life has the same cover as my original copy, which then got lost. I think Power of Three is a great book, too. What date is your workshop, Lari?

But I agree, you want to be able to choose the right book for the right moment, not because it's suddenly "homework".

Lari Don said...

That Charmed Life is very near the end of its own life, though, Emma - most of the pages are falling out, and I've had to buy a new copy in order to be able to read it safely! Luckily, the story inside the shiny new book is still just as good...

Richard said...

What we know informs how we relate to things. It is said that once you learn to weld, you never think of metal in the same way again; instead of being fixed and immutable, you know it can be formed any way you want. In one of Douglas Adams's Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books, Arthur Dent learns to speak to birds, and then finds that instead of being full of beautiful song, the trees are full of inane gossip. Hopefully being a writer is more the former than the latter.

Penny Dolan said...

Interesting point - but I think good writing can still lure you into reading like a reader, with the writer mind running alongside.

Becca McCallum said...

I have that copy of Charmed Life too! I did have a lovely copy of Witch Week (purple double cover with peep-hole) but it got lost somewhere between moves.

Lari Don said...

I love that so many of us seem to have strong memories of the physical books and covers we have loved (and lost...) I wonder if anyone can feel as strongly about an ebook? And Richard - I agree that as we know and experience more, we do see and do things differently. And I've always been surprised in folktales that birds seem to spend their time discussing sectets useful to humans, rather than where to find the best seeds. And Penny - I am now hoping to train my writer mind to run alongside my reading mind - that's a great way to look at it!

Lily said...

I have the same edition of Power of Three too. I read it with a different cover later and it wasn't quite the same... Love this book. But where is Cart and Cwidder?