Should writers read?

Sunday’s Guardian UK article quotes Umberto Eco saying “I don’t read, I write.” This is not an unfamiliar phrase to me. Many years back, I heard my countryman, V.S. Naipaul say the same thing. But if we’re all writing and nobody is reading, what’s the point of writing in the first place? Don’t writers have a duty, if even by way of keeping themselves in business, to read books?

Maybe Eco and Naipaul don’t have to read. They have long paid their dues in the publishing world, and they know that their prose will be read by their well-established fan base. So maybe it’s OK if they only know books “socially,” hearing enough about them in conversation, or maybe flipping through the pages, to feel like they’ve gotten the gist. But you and I are not Umberto Eco and V.S. Naipaul. We have to read books. We haven’t paid our dues. We don’t have throngs of fans, or the deep respect of a literary community. And there’s also the fact that we just love to read books. We love the experience of living within the pages. And as writers, the added experience of reading something that we wished we’d written, or that we know we couldn’t measure up to, or that we’re sure is trash compared to our own work.

There is so much experience to be had within two covers that it’s almost irresponsible to suggest that it’s OK for a writer not to read. Although I must admit that I was greatly gratified on hearing that Eco hadn’t actually read THE GREAT GATSBY. Because I haven’t either. At least, not yet.

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7 thoughts on “Should writers read?

  1. Tonya says:

    This is great! I will share this with my husband… he always makes a point about the fact that I seem to have somebody else’s book in my hand when I should be writing my own! I try to explain, but… arrgh! 🙂 I’ve been planning to post something along those lines on my blog one day, too!

  2. Tonya says:

    I am writing my own (I realize I didn’t mention that above), but he means that valuable time reading “someone else’s book” as he calls it, should just be used to write.

  3. Tracey says:

    Tell your husband that when you’re reading, you’re doing research for your craft. Because it’s only in reading that we learn all the good things we should be doing in our own writing, and all the crap we need to avoid.

  4. Mutterschwester says:

    I think that everyone should read – including writers! And for writers, I think that reading is incredibly valuable. No matter how lauded or published or honored or made-into-films you are, you can always learn and experience new things and open your eyes to new interpretations. Always. In fact, I’d say that writers should spend more time reading books out of their age group and genre – children’s books are incredible sources of inspiration!

  5. Karen says:

    What blows me away about this is…don’t they WANT to read? I mean, there are so many amazing books out there! And it doesn’t have to be The Great Gatsby, it can be Lips Touch or The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore or Anne of Green Gables or Bodice Ripper #8567. Aren’t writers, at their very hearts, readers? I can’t imagine my life without books. There is one sitting next to me right now, calling my name, tugging me away from my job. Must…resist…

  6. Tracey says:

    It shocks us because we love to read so much. It seems baffling. I’d like to talk about this more, but I’m just now at the part in Bodice Ripper #8567 when the bodice hits the floor… you understand.

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