There are a few inescapable requirements for life. You have to eat. You have to drink. You have to breathe. You have to read.
Just as the body needs food, water and oxygen to sustain the basic biological functions of life, the mind needs words, images and ideas to keep itself humming in a productive, coherent manner. This is especially true for people who want to write.
Time is precious. We constantly make choices about what’s valuable to us in the way we spend our time. I often find myself caught between two conflicting but complimentary urges: the urge to spend my time reading and the urge to spend my time writing. I can’t spend equal time with both and so, in general, I find myself doing one at the exclusion of the other.
Stephen King offers a lot of really generous, useful advice to writers in his book On Writing. This, in particular, has stayed with me: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
He’s right, of course. The art of writing is primarily an act of digestion. We have to eat to live. We have to read to write.
Looking back, I am astonished to find I only read 7 books in 2013. I read a lot of other stuff, too. Lots of articles, blog posts and miscellaneous stuff. That other stuff matters, but the truth is books are the best diet. You can’t write books, if you don’t read books.
I know this is true. I write well when I read well. And so, in place of a new year’s resolution, which I abhor, I am undertaking a project. I am going to read 20 books in 2014. I am also going to write as much as I can. I’m going to stop thinking about the two activities as competing joys. They are two sides of the same act. The eating and the energy. The inhale and the exhale. The words you receive and the words you share.
Here’s what I read in 2013:
Robert’s bookshelf: read
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