We are what we read.

The books we read tell us things about ourselves as both readers and writers.Book

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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’.

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