Books as balm

Someone recently on Twitter asked if other people read while they are writing. Personally, I feel at a loose end if I don’t have at least two books on the go at any one time, although some of them have been on the go for a while now. I’ll get there in the end.

I do know that I have to be careful to not let what I am reading influence the way I write, as I’m aware of how easily others’ styles can reflect into my own work. It’s probably not a big deal most of the time, unless one chapter reads like Janet Evanovich, and the next like Jane Austen, which could be a bit confusing for my readers. I hope that any of these influences are rounded out during the rewriting and editing processes, like a pebble getting rounded in a riverbed.

I’ve been thinking back to some of the books I’ve read at important times in my life, and wondering if they follow any kind of pattern. I read Hunter S. Thompson‘s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ during my final exams at high school, which may not have been a great idea in terms of a calming influence, but perhaps said something about breaking out of the system.

I read Charlotte Bronte‘s ‘Jane Eyre’ to distract me when a very beloved pet died, and found it’s length and the intricacies of the language a really good distraction from the ragged hole I was carrying around in my chest.

I re-read two of Diana Gabaldon‘s books, ‘Cross stitch’ and ‘Dragonfly in Amber’ when I had medical issues recently, and had to spend time hanging around doctors surgeries a lot. Partly because I’m a tad paranoid about the germs which must be lurking in surgery waiting room magazines (I mean, think who has handled them over the last ten years – and what contagious diseases did they have?), and partly because they are absorbing. I think having read them before increased their soothing effect, as I knew more of less where we were going.

When I’m sick with the ‘flu, I always seem to turn to James Herriot‘s stories of being a vet in the Yorkshire Dales, possibly for the same sort of reasons.

There are various sources which suggest that reading can really help us through the bad times, such as these ones discussing the effect of reading on depression: Reading your way out of depression, and Reading as a Form of Depression Therapy.

Do you also find your choice of reading matter reflects your situation in life? Do you use reading to improve your mood? Or are you able to take knocks in literature more easily than in life?

Would love to hear your thoughts! :)

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17 thoughts on “Books as balm

  1. I don’t tend to seek out books to improve my mood, but they do seem to have that effect.

    Scratch that, they have the power to change my mood, for better or worse. Sometimes they’ll inspire me to improve myself in some way, other times they’ll make me sad that I haven’t done more with my life.

    Either way, books can provide extremely powerful experiences, which is what I hope to achieve in my own writing one day.

    Thanks for sharing and providing food for thought. :)

    • You’re welcome. I find that those Alumni magazines are more than adequate for making me sad that I haven’t done more with my life. I don’t need books to reinforce the point!
      I’m not sure that my writing will provide powerful experiences, but I hope that it will help to lift some people’s moods. :)
      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I love all your little stories here about what you read when something in particular is happening in your life. That’s very inspirational and proof that 1) writing counts and 2) reading is a wonderful hobby with more benefits than just opening your mind, already an amazing plus.

    I find that all writing is a tapestry. Yes, you have to find your own voice and make your own unique contribution, but no writer is an island: We’re all connected by the wonderful stories and poetry we’ve read and will continue to read. Good writing influences us, assimilates into who we are, and helps shape our outlook on the world. It’s impossible not to carry that on into our own writing, and that’s a good thing, if you ask me. Writing is sharing!

    • I really like that idea of writing being a tapestry! Good metaphor. And I totally agree about the influences all feeding into your own voice, but i guess it’s rather like that with everything in life – with the way you dress, what you cook, and the everything else. We are social animals after all.
      Glad you liked my little stories about my reading. So much a part of my day, even when it is really full! And thanks also for passing on the link to Melanie :)

  3. Stephanie linked me to you because I too wrote a little bit about how the things I read influence my writing. Mine was a little more clinical in terms of how it can help me to hone my craft based on what I do or don’t like in other’s works.

    I feel like there is a time for every book. I am not afraid to give up on books if they don’t feel right because one day, there will be a right time. I guess I make subconscious emotional choices.

    • Thanks for the link – I read your post with interest. I think I keep that kind of list of what I do and don’t like in a more amorphous blob in my head, but I’m sure it still informs my writing. That said, there are authors I greatly admire who I would never try to emulate, either in form or content. David Malouf springs to mind, as I’m reading his Short Stories on and off at the moment. He manages to tell a story, without anything very much happening, but he perfectly recreates the time and the people and the feeling of a place. I could never do that as well as he does.
      Thanks for dropping by! :)

  4. I tend not to re-read books in their entirety – there’s always so much other stuff to digest – but I’ll go through highlights and selected passages. It’s usually Rita Hayworth & Shawshank Redemption, which (having already seen the film) I encountered in literary form during a first, very tough year at university. Even decades later, the last two pages are some of the most thrilling prose that King ever wrote.

    Failing that, it’s Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs, which is one of my desert island books, simply because I don’t think he’s ever really improved upon it. The geek shall inherit the earth.

    • That’s very interesting about coming back to re-sample pieces. Personally, I need to get into the feeling of the whole thing to really appreciate it, but it’s rather like watching an old movie – I like the story, and couldn’t just watch my favorite scenes. I think perhaps you must have much better focus than me! :)
      I’m re-reading Hitchhikers at the moment, and it’s like coming back to see an old friend after many years absence.

  5. There’s no way I would be writing now if it weren’t for reading. You just can’t have one without the other. However, when I’m editing my writing I always feel the need to read something else besides my own stuff, but can’t seem to find much time for it. I keep books in the library (the bathroom) even if that is the only time I get.

    • Totally agree on the editing front – it can be rather too reflective reading ones own work! Fascinating that you read in the bathroom – I read mostly on the train. Don’t you find that the pages curl?
      Thanks for popping in! :)

  6. There are always so many books to read that I think I’m just picking the next one, but who knows if my subconscious is picking it for a deeper reason. It does feel that way sometimes, especially when you’re just picking a book off a shelf.

    • I agree – how could you not! They must be very determined people I think.
      Sometimes I wonder if even small things like the colour of the binding appeals to a particular mood.

  7. I don’t think that I use reading to improve my mood – music is much better at that, what with being instant and much more visceral. However, I will choose to NOT read sometimes if I know my mood is rotton or I’m too distracted, because that’s not really fair to the book. I just actually gave a book a worse review than it deserved because I was so busy while reading it that I had to keep putting it down, and therefore it lost its flow for me, but I made sure to say that in my review – that I didn’t fulfil my duty as a reader and give it the attention it deserved.

    • I take your point about music being more immediate, and I use it for that too, but sometimes it just isn’t long enough! Something like Jane Eyre can keep you going for a week, on and off, whereas theer aren’t that many pieces of music which can do that for you.
      Thta’s very good of you, I have to say, to not read something when you are too distracted.:)

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