(from the State Library of Queensland. Because people there spend time reading! By fireplaces!)
One of the most frequent questions I get asked about my job in publishing — and when people see that I really, really like reading — is: ‘so, when are you going to write your novel?’
This is not a bad question in theory; many people who love reading also like writing a whole lot. And lots of people who have careers in publishing or journalism or academia or other books-and-writing related fields do go on to write books (see: everyone else who works at First Second except me).
However: I am not at all interesting in writing a novel (or a nonfiction book, for that matter). From working in publishing, I know from experience that writing is difficult and demanding and extremely time-consuming and publishing books takes a lot of time (again) and effort and emotional engagement, which just does not seem like the best spare-time hobby.
But when I tell this to people, I frequently get an, “oh,” and an “so you just love reading?” as if writing a novel was the ultimate step in devotion of being a book-lover, and that if you do not achieve that pinnacle, you’re just like one of those people who only goes to church on Sundays instead of interring yourself in a monastery to demonstrate your true love of God.
So I am here today to say, it’s not bad to be ‘just’ a reader.
You can love reading books quite a lot and not particularly enjoy writing books. That’s because reading (looking at words on paper or a digital device) and writing (making up words in your head and putting them down on paper or a digital device of your choice) are two different activities. They are definitely linked activities — just as cooking and eating are — but there is only an indirect causal relationship between them. No matter how much reading you do, novels do not burst forth from your skull like the goddess Athena.
But books are wonderful even when they’re not indirectly inducing novel-writing!
They tell stories about places we haven’t visited and people we don’t know that help us better relate to others’ experiences; they create fantastical worlds that help us escape from our decidedly non-fantastical lives; they provide a point that people can relate to other book-reading people from; they present us with new ideas that change the way we think about the world; the reading process enables us to get better at both more reading and talking to people; and reading can even do things like stave off dementia.
Any one of those reasons all on its own is a perfectly excellent reason to enjoy reading.
(Of course, it’s true the other way around, too — if you love reading because you want to be a writer, that is of course completely, totally, absolutely fine.)