Travelling hopefully: the pleasure of reading
The other day I was reading The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie, and after I put it down (to get off the bus and walk home!) I reflected on why I was enjoying it so much. Part of it, of course, was the wonderful writing and great characters, but then I realised that a significant part was simply the pleasure of not knowing what happens next.
As an author under contract, I spend a lot of time revising my work, re-reading it, editing it some more, checking other people’s copyedits and proofing…in short, I soon know my book inside out, and though I still love it, it is no longer capable of surprising me. And sometimes I want surprises.
On the one hand, recent research suggests that knowing the ending doesn’t spoil enjoyment of a story. And yes, I’ll happily re-read a favourite book (e.g. Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett), even though I know the story practically by heart. There’s a lot of pleasure to be had in revisiting old friends, of picking up nuances that you missed on first reading in the rush to find out What Happens Next.
And yet, and yet…There’s a special thrill to discovery, of watching the story unfold. Will it all work out in the end, or collapse into tragedy? Will it enthrall, or puzzle, or (hopefully not!) merely bore? Reading a new book, I can understand the thrill experienced by agents and editors – will this be the Next Big Thing that I fall in love with? Or just another also-ran?
I went through a stage of not reading much fiction because I was too focused on my own work, but since starting a regular blog at the beginning of this year – and needing material to populate it! – I’ve begun reading a lot more. And boy am I glad. What started out as a purely practical endeavour, i.e. to catch up with the best of my genre, has become a true pleasure. It reminds me that I became a writer because I love reading, and I love reading because I love the stories (other) people tell.
Just don’t spoil it for me, OK? I want to enjoy the journey, just this once…