I should have given this piece the title “What This Writer Reads,” because I can’t speak for anyone else, of course, and if there is one thing I have learned in the years since I have been a published writer, it is that all writers are different in almost every imaginable way. But I do believe that all of us must surely have discovered that after writing a number of books, we come to our reading from a different place. Something has been changed. In a sense, something has been spoiled. And I think the reason for this is that we learn to look at our own writing with a constantly critical sense and find it difficult to turn that off when reading other people’s books. I do read more critically than I used to, not because I think myself superior to other writers, but because while I read I sometimes forget I am not them, and I want to change things in their writing that I would change if it were my own!
I read constantly and voraciously as a child and as a teenager. I still do, in fact. Then I read everything I could get my hands on–Enid Blyton, books and about schoolgirls, and–in my teens–almost all the classics, whether British, American, Russian, or French. It was a great time in my life to read them, when my brain was like a sponge and retained what it absorbed. I can remember most of them in great detail. I loved many of them, disliked a few but felt the fault must be in me, not in the book. I needed to be much older to make the decision (after slogging my way through Moby Dick) that some books, even classics, are not well written and need not be read to the bitter end. I read Graham Greene and Victoria Holt and Jack Kerouac and Ernest Hemingway and P. G Wodehouse and numerous other marvellous contemporary writers. Thank heaven for libraries–and I say that with all reverence!
I discovered Romance as a genre relatively late in life, though the great love stories of literature (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, etc.) had always been my favorites, especailly if they had happy endings. First it was Georgette Heyer (I can’t understand how she escaped me until I was in my 30s), then Harlequins, and then the little Signet Regency romances and the same sort of Regencies from other publishers. Then I started writing my own romances and almost immediately stopped reading them! Why, you may ask? There were a few reasons.
First, reading romance is too like what I do for hours a day as my job. If you earn your living by doing something, it is a job even if you enjoy it immensely. When I finish writing romance for the day, I want to spend my leisure time at something different. Another reason is that I did not want to unconsciously plagiarize–and it is so easy to do. You read a book and forget it and then, later, use an incident from it in your own book, thinking the idea is yours. The best thing to do is not to read the kind of both with which this may happen. And a third, and perhaps the main reason is that I find myself most critical as a reader when I read romances, especially historicals like my own. I read them with a mental red pen. It is annoying but unavoidable–most of the time. There are exceptions. I read Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm a short while ago, for example, and was completely swept away by it. And there are others. I can read most contemporaries, like those of Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Pamela Morsi with great enjoyment. But on the whole I read very little romance–which can be a disadvantage when I am asked in interviews, as I often am, which other romance authors I can recommend!
What do I read now, then? I read a great deal of mystery, both the cozy variety of writers like Patricia Wentworth and Agatha Christie and M. C. Beaton, and the more gritty ones of writers like Michael Connelly and Lee Childe. And I love the more literary ones, like those of Ruth Rendell and Louise Penny and Donna Leon. I love funny ones, like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. And I read anything and everything else that takes my fancy and can hold my attention through the first fifty pages or so. I am a rereader. I have just gradually read my way through all the Georgetter Heyer books again, and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca is on my Kindle to be read again soon. With most of these books I can relax be simply a voracious reader again–and there is no better thing to be!
To one person who leaves a comment before the end of next Tuesday, September 3, I will again send signed copies of both THE PROPOSAL and THE ARRANGEMENT. The covers shown above, which I love, are from the British editions. Last week’s winner was Aislinn Kearns from Australia. Thank you for all your comments. Keep them coming. I love reading them.