Since I was talking about the guilt of happiness last night, it seems only fitting to move on to the guilt of reading. Reading is a lifelong passion of mine that started when I was a young child and my mom read Chicken Little and the Wind in the Willows. In grade school. I remember summers when I rode my bike to the local branch of the Chicago Public Library, took out a stack of books, brought them home and spent the day reading them, and went back the next day. It was probably a mile from my house, and those days are gone forever: if my nine-year-old grandson wanted to ride a mile by himself, I’d be horrified and strictly forbid it. I do remember that my reading habit didn’t make me popular with neighborhood kids.
I guess it was when I became an adult with responsibilities that the pleasure of reading became attached with a tinge of guilt. There were other things I should be doing, and reading was (and is) such pure pleasure. I found myself saving my book until the last thing at night, a habit that persists—taking an hour out of the day to read seems a bit slothful to me, although I did do it yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. Taking advantage of the short period when we have deck weather.
Author Susan Wittig Albert reminds me that as authors reading is research and education for us. No reason to feel we’re neglecting more important things—we’re doing what’s important to our careers. I do know over the last years, since I’ve been writing mysteries, I have developed a much more acute sense of what I think works in others’ mysteries and what doesn’t. I’m no arbiter of taste, and what suits me may not suit the next person but I’ve learned to spot plot discrepancies, out-and-out blunders, awkward wording, the things that would mar a mystery of any subgenre. And by seeing those things in the works of others, I have I hope been able to strengthen my own manuscripts.
So one of my current goals is to read more—during the day, at night, whenever I feel like it. Even, as I will tonight, leave unfinished business on my computer of desk to read. What am I reading? A Wee Murder in My Shop by Fran Stewart. Who can resist a 14th-century Scottish ghost?