The importance of reading well

Posted by on Apr 18, 2014 in Catherine's Blog, Writing Tips

Young-Man-Reading-By-Candle-LightOf late, I discover that I would rather read than write, rather watch good movies than write another screenplay. A twinge of guilt but then I remind myself how important it is for writers to read well – regardless of the form of fiction or non-fiction they choose to write. There is an intimacy of the soul when reading the right book at the right time in one’s life journey. This week there was a large party for my birthday and I noticed how diverse my friends are. My reading habits are the same: eclectic. Often I read more than one book at a time, roaming from one to another as the mood strikes. Currently, I am reading the 800 page From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present by Jacques Barzun, reknown cultural historian. Love history but just dates and events somehow don’t cut it whereas Barzun weaves meaning from the events and puts forward a point of view and larger picture from historical happenings. Also reading Spring, the Jungian journal which comes out quarterly. This issue is Jung and India and happens to have a rather good review of my last book, Heal Your Self with Writing. The 400 page Journal is quite a good exploration of the archetypes and deeper meanings of Hindu Philosophy and Jungian Psychology (see my own published article in Media/ on this subject).

As I often read serious books as these, I sometimes take a break and pick up a cozy mystery like one of those by the delightful Lilian Jackson Braun. All her mysteries begin with The Cat Who … The Cat Who Read Shakespeare¬†or The Cat Who Sniffed Glue. They remind one of Agatha Christie’s mysteries. No graphic violence, no vulgar expressions, cleverly structured stories with interesting characters – ones you would like to have lunch with. They are short, they flow, and like a good chocolate or sweet, one is not enough.

As many, I have a longtime habit of reading before sleep each night. This habit has become so ingrained that regardless of how tired I might be, I cannot sleep until reading in bed – even if it’s only for 5 or 10 minutes. Other favorite venues for a good read are at the Club next to the lap pool before a good swim and hot tub. At home on an Italian leather maroon couch with a cat on my lap, or waiting for a doctor’s appointment. (I find I never mind waiting if I have thought to bring along a good book. Magazines are not quite the same – for me, at least.)

Recently, thanks to a book club I belong to here in town, I discovered Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety (1987).

It’s about good people who sometimes make mistakes but grow from them, maintain values, and never cease to care for those they love. Again, people you would want to have lunch with and get to know.

Browsing at Bart’s Books, our wonderful local used book store (May there always be used bookstores no matter how convenient Amazon is!), I searched for another Stegner novel but couldn’t find one. That is, until I asked the young man who worked there who said, “Oh, he’s not in the novels, he’s in the classics.” So following him to another room entirely, I found several copies of Angle of Repose (1971) which won the Pulitzer Prize that year. I’m saving Angle of Repose for a summer read, when I travel to Esalen to teach or a conference I’m invited to in Santa Fe. (See 2014 Schedule at

Yes, I have a kindle and use it gratefully when I fly long distances to teach in far flung places such as Kuwait, Delhi, London, etc. Nonetheless, there is something intimate and irreplaceable about holding a real book in your hands, isn’t there? Or am I simply old fashioned?

No matter how you do it or where you do it, read well. To write well, it is imperative to read well!