Monday, January 11, 2010

Stringer on Learning To Read Like a Child

Helen Stringer, author of Spellbinder, offers up her New Year's resolution over at
So, here we are again. That time of year when we're supposed to make resolutions for the coming twelve-months. Newspapers and magazine shows love it -- it gives them an excuse to run stories on weight-loss programs and basket-weaving classes, the kind of stuff that doesn't require ...well, anything in the way of actual reporting. I've always sort of wondered who these people are, the ones who make solemn promises about the year to come, but now I have joined their ranks. Not to lose weight, or improve myself in some unattainable way, but recapture something that I lost somewhere along the road from then to now.

It's easy to forget, in the rush to absorb information by any means necessary, that first absorbing, all-encompassing obsession that books once were and the sheer delight in discovering something new.
Read the whole thing. Stringer goes on to recount the childhood joy of sprinting into a bookstore and scampering through the stacks, on the lookout for narrative treasure hidden between flimsy paperback covers. And, goodness, how I remember those days. I would walk into Joseph Beth Booksellers, a cavernous, two-level store loaded with more books than my single-digit-old mind could comprehend, and lose myself for hours looking for the perfect title to take home. That isn't how I read now. Instead of delightful exploration, I procure titles online or through inter-library loan or surgical strikes on the local Barnes & Noble. And a dearth of free time (or perhaps, in my case, self discipline) has reduced my reading to, in Stringer's words, "a few snatched minutes at bedtime or a guilty pleasure on a beach in summer." The joy is still there, but it's a matchflame rather than a bonfire.

How to remedy this? I'm not sure. But learning to read like a child again seems a worthy goal to set while this year is still young.

(Picture: CC 2008 by


pattinase (abbott) said...

I have been thinking about the same thing a lot lately. How to sink wholeheartedly into a book and place it above all else. I think we were all better readers when we did this.

Davin Malasarn said...

Great post. It took me awhile, but I do think I've gotten back to this place with many authors. It is on an author-by-author case, though. I think the best writers can still pull me in to the point where craft is invisible again.

When I started writing, my goal was to be able to read and enjoy my own stories. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to do that, but I hope so.

Loren Eaton said...


I'm not entirely sure how one recovers that joy, particularly with all the responsibilities of adulthood pressing in. I know I sure miss it.

Loren Eaton said...


Thanks! You know, it's always been individual authors who bring that joy for me, too. When it comes now, it tends to be blunted by evaluation, but I still love how William Gibson turns a phrase or Ray Bradbury writes a short story that's both elegaic and sentimental.

My own stuff either prompts unrealistic pride or despair, delusions of granduer or a desire to sell all my earthly possessions and move to the North Pole. Usually the later.

Scattercat said...

I've gotten pickier about who does this for me, but I still find myself reading till the wee hours if I have a good book (and then lamenting NOT having it for the boring day at work the following morning.) Getting by on two hours of sleep can be done, so long as one doesn't make a habit of it. It's a price I'm quite happy to pay, and have been ever since elementary school. I also routinely carry a book with me at all times and will whip it out if I have to spend more than thirty seconds with nothing else to do. Waiting for food in restaurants, at line in stores, for the car's oil to be changed... an average day is filled with five, ten, twenty-minute gaps in which one must find some way to amuse oneself while nothing else is going on. If I find myself with a book lasting me longer than a week, then it's a sign that I don't actually like that book very much.

I dunno. Maybe I'm just naturally immature. :-D

Loren Eaton said...


I've gotten pickier, too, and that was part of the reason for The Middle Shelf. I wanted to whittle down to the authors I truly love. But sometimes those even feel tone deaf to me. Then again, it has been a challenging six months.

I really like your idea of carrying a book around. Too often I find myself listening to disposable music on the radio or surfing silly Web sites. Ten minutes of reading while waiting on hold strikes me as a much better use of time.

Scattercat said...

One downside of carrying a book everywhere is that the most convenient method involves a fanny-pack. I have never cared a whit about appearances, but I have gathered over the years that this is not a common fashion accessory.

Loren Eaton said...

I think my wife's head would do a Linda Blair if she caught me wearing a fanny pack. (She's far more fashion conscious than myself.) I knew I had to wait in a store yesterday -- perfect reading opportunity -- so I tucked my hardcover under my arm to carry it inside. A little awkward, but reading requires sacrifices, eh?

B. Nagel said...

I carry a messenger bag back and forth to work. And yes, my father does call it a purse. But it affords convenient storage for books (school/work-related or no), pens, key and sundries without the inconvenience and stigma of a backpack. It's also a bit more fashion forward than a fannypack.

In regards to the actual post, the author has to meet me halfway. I am willing to accept the book as a true story and dive in if the author will present it as a story worth diving in to.

I'd also recommend audiobooks for those in-between-moments, but those aren't quite as easy to put away. You end up sitting in your car for several extra minutes or with your earbuds plugged in while you work at your desk.

Loren Eaton said...


You, sir, are prescient. Did you know that?

Scattercat said...

Eh, I like a bag I can't forget because it's literally attached to me. I'd have locked myself out of more buildings and spent probably literal years smacking my forehead and running back inside (and also been cited for driving without a license) if I hadn't had my waistpack.

Plus, it's just the right size for a paperback, barring Tad Williams-esque thousand-page monstrosities. FWIW, I also often carry a messenger bag, too, but that's for RPG books and spiral notebooks.

Loren Eaton said...


That's why I carry those big golf umbrellas whenever it's raining outside. If I discover I'm suddenly unencumbered that means I must've left it somewhere.