We are what we read.
My favourite books are:
- 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff;
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows; and
- Andrew and Joey by Jamie James.
The first two are compilations of letters while the third is a collection of emails. All books are written in bite size chunks; perfect for the slow reader.
I love books, but I’m still a word-at-a-time reader. In Primary school, I was in the bottom reading group and ashamed of my inability to master this fundamental skill. My school mates had no problem with this basic task. I continued as a reluctant reader for the first few years of high school, but this changed when I was introduced to 84 Charing Cross Road.
Opening this book I discovered it was a series of letters between a book collector in America and the owner of a specialty book shop in London. I read the first letter in the book and was hooked. I read another and then another. The sense of success was immense. Letters were sometimes only a few lines long and never more than a page or two. We were studying this book in my English class and I kept up with the reading assignments. For the first time I was able to contribute in class debates. This book taught me that:
- the intimacy of a story can grab the reader, transporting them to another place and time;
- reading is fun and pleasurable;
- stories evolve a chapter or a letter at a time; and
- If you keep reading, you get to the end and this is its own reward.
My peers probably realized this at age five. I was a late starter. I knew I would remain a plodder, but my desire to read had been ignited. It would never be extinguished.
I have a few favourite authors and I’m sure my reading ability, sexual orientation, and love of cultural difference has influenced my choices.
- James Patterson was a favourite of mine for more than a decade until he started co-authoring books with other writers. He specializes in short chapters of 2 to 4 pages and I found it easy to zip through his books. As a slow reader, I still set myself targets for the number of pages I will read before putting the book down.
- Armistead Maupin wrote many gay themed novels and I devoured them for a while, until I felt there was a sameness about them all. As books they were less than 300 pages and this length didn’t frighten me.
- Alexander McCall Smith, with his books in The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series is also on my favourite’s list. These books are set in Botswana and I love the way he weaves culture into the plots using his simple, chatty writing style.
What does this mean for my writing?
I am a slow reader, people watcher, lover of cultural diversity and gay. It comes as no surprise to me that I have written:
- short stories highlighting my interpretation of different cultures;
- some stories with a gay theme; and
- am writing a gay romance novel with short chapters.
I am what I read. Perhaps this applies to all of us. Maybe, ‘We are what we read’.