Friday, February 7, 2014

The Vacation from Reading

It happened last Monday. The first sign of trouble came when I tried to read my own revised text of The Winged Horse and nearly put myself to sleep. I set it down, depressed. Was my book that bad? Were my critique partners gritting their teeth every time I sent them a chapter? What about the hapless friend on whom I had just unleashed this beast with a request for comments? Should I give up the idea that I could write a decent novel? What about the unfortunates who had already shelled out for the first two?

Well, the world is full of authors, even if I wasn’t sure I could count myself among them. So I set Winged Horse aside and picked up a novel I had started reading a while back. I won’t give the title. I enjoy the book more than not, but I had noticed some writing problems that were causing the book to drag. It dragged even more on Monday, to the point where I gave up after three pages, deciding the thing was no better than Winged Horse.

I moved on to Letters from Skye, which I read last summer and am now rereading preparatory to interviewing Jessica Brockmole, the author, in a couple of weeks. Nope. My brain refused to warm up to that, either. At this point, I began to suspect I was in one of those rare moods when I did not want to read. You see, I love Letters from Skye: tore through it in two days the first time. Ditto my next attempt: Laughter of Dead Kings, which although not the best of the Vicki Bliss mysteries is nonetheless a lot of fun. 

By then, I recognized what had happened. If Elizabeth Peters couldn’t draw me in, no one could. I gave up. Thank goodness for YouTube and social media.

It wasn’t the first time I’d taken a mini-vacation from books. Even under normal circumstances, my reading has a hierarchy based on the amount of mental energy required. If I’m really humming, I read history—even history in Russian, although that demands a day without work, since there’s no way I can spend a full day editing academic prose, then relax with a nice historical study in Russian. Doesn’t matter how good the book is, it might as well be a dose of Sominex.

More often, I read my own books, if they have reached the stage when I can approach them as e-books, or other people’s novels—new ones first, then the beloved old friends. Excluding the history books, that was the progression I followed on Monday. But I just couldn’t get my brain in gear even for the reading equivalent of comfort food: books I have read before and loved.

And that happens so rarely that it still surprises me when it does. Because I grew up as the kid who always had her nose in a book, the kid whose parents had to force her to play outdoors, the kid you had to ask twice (or six times) to do this or that, because her head was in Neverland with Peter Pan or London with the Banks children and Mary Poppins. These days, I do my chores without being prompted, but I’m still happiest when I’m immersed in stories—especially when I’m the one making them up.

Fortunately, my vacations from reading don’t last long. By Tuesday, I was again delighting in Letters from Skye and Laughter of Dead Kings. When we lost our power on Wednesday, and I could read but not work, I discovered that The Winged Horse was in not nearly as bad shape as I feared. With luck, I’ll get back to the unnamed novel in a few days; I’m sure it will move much faster when I do.

And I’ve begun plotting The Swan Princess, which is sending tendrils out into books 4 and 5. Gotta keep those creative juices flowing.

Besides, Nasan and her pals get so cranky when they have to sit on the sidelines for long....

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