If there is one thing that has always been important to me, it’s reading. When I did it for escape, it saved me from the reality that was trying to shape me into something other than I longed to be. Books show us that there isn’t just a whole other world out there; there are endless other worlds out there! Reading can give sweet escape to the overwhelmed, a fresh perspective to an old and tired viewpoint, and a whole new start to what may have otherwise been a dead end life. I should know; it did all those things for me.
Reading can be a great way to get to know someone better quickly. When I meet an avid reader, we always have something to talk about. Even if we haven’t read anything in common, which is really quite rare, we both understand that books are special things. The less we have in common, the better the chances that we’ll both walk away with one or two more books on our ‘to read’ list than there were before.
It’s funny, what I would have previously thought of as a totally anti-social activity has brought me closer to more people than anything else. Back in the day, it was that first conversation where books came up. You find out what someone likes to read, and what they thought of some of the books that you have read, and a bridge takes shape between you. That bridge was built by collective effort: first the author wrote it, then you each read it, and then you talked about it. Hours of ‘getting to know each other’ can be covered in a few minutes that way, and you can go from wondering why this person is talking to you to asking your new friend for their phone number before you know it.
Now, it’s even better. Many of the social events that I plan or attend are all about getting my books into the right hands, and gathering my own blessed readers about myself. Sometimes I talk to folks about other books, but often we’re talking about mine. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to connect with someone over something I wrote, or have a reader contact me to say ‘thanks for writing’. That’s way more intimate than bonding over someone else’s book, and it reminds us that an author’s readers can be some of our most meaningful friends and family.
I would probably be a blubbering mess if I met Richard Bach, I’m such a huge fan. But I’m still a member of his intellectual family, and it doesn’t even matter if we meet. There are very few people that have had the kind of impact on me first-hand that he did from a distance, and all it took was him writing and me reading. I don’t have to shake my favorite authors’ hands to feel close to them; my favorite authors speak in a stark and honest way that makes me feel like I’m a part of their lives just by buying and reading their books.
Besides, being a big fan of great philosophy and literature means that shaking those hands would be a macabre endeavor in most cases. I felt the need to write about zombies, and if you have read the books then you know why; but I have no desire to meet any dead people in real life.
That’s just gross.
Readers are delightfully very much alive, and finding ways to reach out to them is the responsibility of any author that knows that your books are your babies. We do ourselves, our books and our readers a favor when we make any effort to bring us all together; and it’s only through such efforts that we find our intellectual family, and let them know that we know that they are a blessing indeed. We authors need to read other books, between writing our own, and let folks know what we think of them by leaving reviews and/or blogging about them. It brings us right back to the connection we were talking about in the beginning.
You might not have read any of my books, but maybe you have read something by Christina McMullen. When you find out that I’m a raving fan who can’t read her books fast enough, you might get that much more interested in my books. If you have read all my books, and are looking for something great to read while I get the next one locked and loaded, that works too. I’ll strongly recommend that you head on over to Christina McMullen’s author page or the ‘big A’ and buy something that she has written. Her books are like mine, in at least one way: I can recommend them all with total confidence.
Writing is only a competition with ourselves, if we are doing it right. The most prolific author cannot hope to keep up with the avid reader, and we’re fools if we think that only our own books are brilliant. We should share what we read with our own blessed readers, and build every bridge we can between us and that precious intellectual family that we should feel happily committed to do all we can to find. Wherever they are.
Writing books has turned me into a more social person than I have ever been. People want to talk to me about books all the time now, either my own or theirs or one they think I should read. The thing that taught me to build a protective shell around myself has become the thing that is finally bringing me out of that shell. What better way to get someone who has been obsessed with reading and writing his whole life eager to talk to people? Send him to a book festival, and let him soak in the presence of readers and writers who share that same lifelong obsession!
Readers are some of the most thoughtful and considerate people on the planet. There is no greater blessing for the author than finding out that that book we wrote impacted someone other than us; and the wonder in that doesn’t ever wane, no matter how many times we hear it.
I used to joke around that I had an army of angels that came with me everywhere I went. During those ‘lucky twenties’ that so many of us somehow survived, I did an awful lot of stuff that I could have never made it through without some serious divine intervention or some incredibly high-level dumb luck. Now I’m a lot more careful, and conscientious, and part of the reason for that is because I am the face of my books. If I misrepresent them in any way, and they suffer for it, then I am creating suffering for myself. I don’t want that; I want to find the folks that will love my books and make sure they get a chance to read them. That’s the army of angels that I think of now.
It’s part of how I keep cool in traffic and derail arguments, when I do. I just think of the possibility that that annoying person is a reader, and maybe we have read some of the same books. Maybe they have read some awesome book that I would love too, and I won’t get to hear about it unless we have a friendly chat instead of a heated one.
Hell, maybe they’ve read one of my books. There’s a great exercise in invoking the gifts of gratitude. Next time someone cuts you off, imagine that your biggest fan is behind the wheel of that car. Imagine that they aren’t paying attention as well as they could because they can’t get their mind off the book that they can’t wait to get back to reading when this perfunctory drive is over at last.
Then imagine that it’s one of your books that they can’t stop thinking of. If that doesn’t fill you with gratitude, and create just a little patience, I don’t know what will.
Is that silly? Is that misusing my imagination? I don’t think so, and I don’t think that any of my dead philosopher friends would disagree. It’s safe to say, at any rate…they are dead, after all.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,