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    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

How Do You Read?

How do you read?

I get frequent questions—from readers and interviewers—asking me whether I read. My initial response is always, “What, are you crazy?”, but I usually suppress this in favor of something more politic, like, “How can anybody not read?”

People do (not read, I mean), of course, horrifying as this concept is (my husband once had an employee who told him that her daughter had to read a book for school and so she had rented a copy for the child. Having been in her house, I’d noticed that she owned no books (totally creepy), but to have no idea of what or where the public library is?). But come on—to ask a professional novelist whether he or she reads?

Now, I do hear from other novelists who say that they can’t read books in their own genre, or can’t read while actively writing, and that makes some sense (I don’t read time-travel books, myself). But if you don’t read something, how do you refine your sensibilities, improve your craft, or merely fill up your creative well by listening to the lyrical song of someone else’s words?

Let’s put it this way: If there are any novelists who just don’t read, I probably don’t want to read what they write.

A refinement of the “Do you read?” question comes along every now and then, and this one is kind of interesting: “HOW do you read? I used to love reading, but now I have a job, kids, a house, etc., and I just seem to have no time to read anymore. I know you have a busy life, too, so I just wanted to ask, how do you manage to read?”

Now, that’s a question of logistics, isn’t it? So I took a look at “how” I read, physically. Because I do read pretty much all the time, and normally consume 3-4 books a week (lots more, when traveling), not counting whatever I’m reading for research. So how does it work?

Well, for starters, I always have at least one book within reach. If you’re accustomed to only reading in your favorite chair, when you have two or three hours of leisure, with a good light on and a glass of sweet tea beside you, then yeah, having a family is going to inhibit you some. I read everywhere. All the time.

I have a book on the counter while I’m cooking; I can’t (or shouldn’t {cough}) read while chopping vegetables, but I can certainly read while tearing up lettuce, sautéing garlic, or browning meat—and once something’s on the stove or in the oven, I just need to be there. No problem in reading while waiting for things to brown, cook, simmer, etc. (actually, I do pushups on my kitchen counter while reading during kitchen lag-time—I can read the back Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal and do 75 pushups (the sissy kind; I have weak wrists) while waiting for the dogs to eat their breakfast. (Why am I waiting for dogs to eat? Because the fat one eats faster and will muscle his brother out of the last quarter of his meal if I’m not watching)).

I have dogs; my son has dogs, and brings them down with him when he comes to visit. I take the rest of the Wall Street Journal to my office with me and whenever the dogs need to go out, I bring a chunk of it along—or if I’ve finished the paper, I grab my Kindle and read whatever’s up on that while the hounds burrow for gophers or play Questing Beast in the long grass and tumbleweeds.

I have a book on the bathroom counter and read while brushing teeth, applying sunscreen, and performing ablutions. I take the book into my closet and read while I’m getting dressed.

I try to walk five miles a day (and manage it about four days a week; get 2-3 miles on other days), with and without dogs. I have audiobooks on my iPod, and listen to these while walking (on my second re-listen of the entire Aubrey/Maturin series, by Patrick O’Brian—great books, one of my all-time favorite series).

If I have books for review (I do occasional reviews for a newspaper) or waiting for possible blurbs (there’s a small stack of ARCs from publishers), I pick one up whenever I go downstairs and take it along on errands (always take a book to a doctor’s appointment or the post office, is my advice).

Poetry books, and nonfiction books that aren’t for research, but just interesting—I’m reading Simon Winchester’s KRAKATOA at the moment—I leave in the bathroom, and read in small, digestible chunks. That enables me to comprehend everything easily, as I’m seldom dealing with more than a page at a time. {g} Have had KRAKATOA in there for two weeks; about halfway through the book, and now know all kinds of fascinating stuff about plate tectonics, with THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS and John Mark Eberhart’s poetry collection, NIGHT WATCH, waiting for their turn.

The only time (other than traveling) I really read without doing something else is for a brief period after dinner, while my husband watches TV, and for a still briefer period after I’ve tucked him in bed, when the dogs and I lie down on the Taos bed, and I read for 10-30 minutes before falling asleep.

It’s sort of like the way I write. Not in concentrated stretches of 4-5 hours (I do know some writers who claim that’s the only way they can write, and more power to them), but in stretches of an hour at a time, two or three or four times a day (depending where I am in the course of a book; toward the end, I really do write nonstop for ten or twelve hours—bar bathroom breaks (during which I read) and meals (ditto)—but that phase luckily doesn’t last long).

For today: Just finished Charlaine Harris’s new Sookie Stackhouse novel, DEAD RECKONING (good as always) this morning, 35% of the way through Anne Perry’s TREASON AT LISSON GROVE, which I picked up right afterward, four more pages about subduction zones in KRAKATOA, and about 25 pages into the ARC of a thriller off the blurb pile. Plus entertaining stuff from WSJ about the medical maladies of historical characters and why birth-control pills make women marry less-masculine men (also good op-ed piece by a British writer on pusillanimous response of Brits to killing of bin Laden).

Now mind, I don’t watch television. That helps.

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167 Responses »

  1. I don’t understand people who never read. I mean, I’ve watched TV – it’s not that good. I read every chance I get throughout the day, which isn’t as much as I’d like with two school-aged kids, two dogs, two cats, and a husband who’s home for 28 straight days every other month. But I do make time to read every night before bed. I don’t think I would be able to sleep without that literary nightcap.
    Also said husband came into our marriage a non-reader. I like to think that I converted him. The small library in our basement might have had something to with it. (If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em and all that) But I would say that it has something to do with the fact that he spends the other 28 days as captain of a towboat ont he Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Evidently life on the Mississippi can be rather slow (current high water notwithstanding).
    Still, those that would choose TV over a good book – to each his own. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Give me the thousand words any day!

  2. I started reading at the age of four (reportedly) and have been in the middle of several books at a time ever since. Getting an ipod and an audible.com account has likely saved not only my sanity but my eyesight, in the past few years.

    As a nanny, my mind isn’t really challenged by my work so having the ability to get outside on nice long walks with an audio-book enlightening me while I wander around the neighborhood keeps me from feeling unengaged. I’ve listened to the Outlander series so many times that my internal voice is beginning to have an English accent. :) Only joking, although it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true.

  3. Years ago, I read a biography of Judy Holliday in which she described her love of reading as “eye hunger.” I knew immediately what she meant. I taught myself to read when I was three, and from then on I’ve been a passionate consumer of the written word. Even if it’s the back of a cereal box.

    When my kids were little and I was home with them all day, with no car, no money and noplace to go, reading books kept me sane. I’d go to the library at least three nights a week (getting a little time away from the kids, too) and I was reading 10 to 30 books a week. When the kids were playing, when they were asleep, while I was eating my lunch, while I watched TV at night (I still find it difficult to watch TV without reading a book at the same time). I read very fast and I was inhaling books. I started at the 000s in the Dewey Decimal System, picking out whatever interested me, and I think I’d worked my way up to about the 790s by the time we finally moved out of town.

    Nowadays I have my own writing to do, plus housework and running a small publishing company, but I still go to the library at least once a week. I still read while I eat my breakfast and lunch and while I watch TV. And I get a little time to myself to read after my husband’s gone to sleep (fortunately, my sitting next to him with my bedside light on has never bothered him). We’ve cut way back on our magazine subscriptions, but we get the daily paper and I read that, too. And I’ve recently discovered the joys of audiobooks, and listen to them when I’m out walking. (At the moment, Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade is accompanying me on my walks.)

    I finally changed eye doctors after failing for several years to get through to one doctor that a real reader doesn’t hold the book smack up in front of her face, and thus does not need her reading glasses’ focal length adjusted to that distance! My books sit on my lap, or proppeed up on the table, or pillowed on top of a large sleepy cat.

    I recently got a Sony Reader, and have been rejoicing in the wealth of free e-books available. I don’t know that the e-reader will ever replace real books for me, but it sure is nice to have dozens of choices when I’m sitting in yet another doctor’s office.

    What on earth do people DO if they won’t read?

    • Eye hunger – yes! That’s what I’ve got.

      Why else would I – like you – read the backs of cereal boxes, advisories at train stations, fine print at the bottom of the screen during cheeseball drug ads… I still remember berating an ex for… well, we were in York and I read the map at the train station and started walking toward the hostel (Dame Judi Dench Walk!).

      At some point I must have asked something like “how much farther do you think it is?” and he replied “I don’t know” so I, slightly exasperated, asked “didn’t you read the map? or any of the signs?” and he said, “no, you were reading them.” Acck!!!!

      If I’m really watching something I’ll knit instead – and I wish my light didn’t bother DH!

      Seriously, what *do* people do if they don’t read?

  4. i was just thinking about this myself…

    1) first thing in morning (brushing teeth, etc.)

    2) during breakfast

    3) on the way to work

    4) during work breaks/meals

    5) way home

    6) during evening

    7) take baths to read more

    i need to do more standing/moving reading after reading (!) that article about how sitting literally kills you…

  5. I simply couldn’t survive without books, although I don’t read in all the ways that you do (each to their own). eReaders have been a blessing when going on holiday, as I don’t have to pack so many and I also love to listen to audiobooks whilst doing horrid things like ironing.

    Just begun another degree in Scottish Cultural Studies and been introduced to 14 writers/poets in 14 weeks – just loving it. Poetry isn’t usually my “thing” but some of this stuff is amazing and largely ignored by the so-called literati which is a shame really.

    Never underestimate the power of the written word! It beats sound bites by miles (oh, and I don’t actually have a TV any more – got rid of it 6 years ago; incredibly liberating).

  6. I’m the crazy lady at my work who gets to work early to have some oatmeal and read before clocking in. I read on the way to and from, the lunchroom and while eating. People are astonished that I read so much but – I’ve gotten two coworkers to read the Outlander books (one is just starting Echo and she keeps asking me questions about it and I’m RAFO!) and I see more and more people bringing books and Kindles and Nooks to lunch now. I believe I’ve been a good influence.

    I haven’t been able to read any Anne Perry since I heard about her past. I used to love reading about Monk and the others in her historicals but I just can’t make myself pick up any new ones. I shouldn’t let it bother me – there’s loads I don’t know about other authors I love but since I do know now…I just can’t do it.

  7. As a young child, I didn’t read. I can’t fault anybody for that. My parents had 7 kids and really no time to encourage it. When I got into high school, I had to take a remedial reading class. I could read, just didn’t really comprehend what I was reading. I had a wonderful teacher. She encouraged us to read anything and everything, no matter what. However, porn was frowned upon, Catholic school and all.
    We are big readers in our family. I encouraged all three kids, now 30, 27 an 20 to read whenever they could. Middle child even wrote a short story in high school that his teacher said was very good, but he never pursued it any further. Maye the “bug” will hit him someday. Youngest child is earning her degree in English.

    Diana, I discovered your books while traveling in Alaska of all places. Saw Drums of Autumn, realized that this was a series and when I returned started with Outlander and, as they say, the rest is history.

    I don’t read really anymore than two books at a time. I can multi task, just not in that way. My husband reads everything! He’ll stand for hours in at the magazine counter, perusing magazines. He always said he knows an awful lot of sh** just from doing that.

    As for television, if it’s not BBC or PBS I don’t really watch it. I do, however, have some weaknesses, but won’t go into that.

    You’re a wonderful writer. I’m so glad I found your books. I recently read the Lord John books and just love his character. Can’t wait for Scottish Prisoner or book 8.

  8. I am currently reading The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson, The Outlandish Companion, and rereading Dragon fly In Amber. I just ordered through a book trading website A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick and The Thirteen Tale by Diane Setterfield. I can’t imagine not reading more than one book at a time. There are so many that I always want to read that I can never choose just one. lol

  9. I am taking copious notes of what tickles your fancy. I’ve been leary of reading the Sookie series, but now I feel with your feedback… :)

    I feel so fortunate to have met you! You were book signing last night at Hastings Entertainment along historic 66. I suddenly turned bashful and couldn’t bring myself to say half of what I planned. And then my husband and my five old popped in to see me. They knew how excited I was to meet you. As much as I tried, I couldn’t drag little Jonny over to meet you. He was much too interested in the colorful books displayed. Reading of Jem and having a five year old is enough to keep any mother on the edge of their seat.

    Looking forward to the discussion of “An Echo In the Bone” today at the library!!!

    • Dear Cassandra–

      Well, the Sookie books are a fast, relatively simple read. Not the place to be looking for gorgeous prose, but what they do have is 1) a very appealing and individual “voice” (they’re told in first-person, so the voice is the character’s, as well as the book’s), and 2) an interesting “world,” logically worked out and entertainingly presented, and 3) quick-moving plots with pretty much nonstop action (no place to be looking for philosophical introspection, either, though every now and then the character does run slap into the philosophical difficulties involved in living with things that look like people but don’t operate on the same moral system).


  10. I used to read in a very similar pattern as yours, but in the last year or so I’ve been trying to give myself more time with my own thoughts and not multi-task so much (not always successfully). I still have to have a book/audiobook with me pretty near everywhere I go though. I have loved to read as long as I can remember. Even though I can no longer smell, I can still remember the smell of my home town library and still convert miles in my head as a trip to that library, which was exactly one mile.

    Except for newspapers and a few magazines, my husband is not a reader and I sometimes wonder how I could have married a non-reader, but it will be 32 years next month so I guess there’s something else going on. He loves music like I love books. My daughter has language based learning issues and will only read what she has to for school and it makes me sad that she will miss so much by not reading for pleasure. Like many others have said, watching no or very little television is key. My mother always asks me how I can read so much and I tell her I read while she’s watching old movies.

    My husband’s mother has kept so many things which is the opposite of my purge and toss self, but it makes for fun discoveries. Recent finds – his grade school penmanship books which prove that he could, at one time, write legibly. And in a bookcase in the living room, like they are still being read daily (can’t believe I never noticed them before), are about 40 of those thin Golden books, given to him by his grandmother, all with inscriptions & dates from the late 50′s. So he was a reader at one point because these books are in the sorriest state I’ve ever seen and look like they’ve been read a thousand times. The edges of the thin bindings are extremely worn and the front covers are missing on every single one. Still trying to figure out what that says about him :)

  11. I have a very similar reading habit, I read (devour) books on a regular basis. I love your series and have re-read it so many times the spines are starting to wear out. I am a very visual person and the language and descriptions in your books give me such clear pictures in my mind. I think I would perish without being able to read for any length of time and I eagerly look forward to new books in this series. I haven’t really gotten into the whole e-book thing, I really like the tactile experience of real books and the way they smell. I don’t think I am ready to give that up for portable ease yet. I have actively read to both my girls and am happy that my oldest who is almost 9 has acquired our love of reading. She is reading a lot now and I find a real joy in sharing classic books with her that I have always loved reading like Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, etc… . It will certainly be a while before I can share your books with her but I recommend them to anyone looking for a good book, I have my sister in-law who has a 2 yr. old listening to the audio books of yours now. I love reading any book in any genre so it is encouraging that so many others are reading too, makes me feel a little less freakish coming out of the library with a duffle bag full of books.

  12. I grew up reading and have always devoured books (I actually used to get in trouble in elementary school because I would read a book under my desk while the teacher was talking!). It’s gotten harder now that I have a job and am married with a new house; however, I carry a large purse and always have a book in it. This way I can read on my lunch breaks at work and if I have an appointment (car, doctor, manicure) after work or on the weekends, I always have something with me! I also keep a second book by my bed and try and read for at least a 1/2 hour before going to bed — it helps me unwind and it’s better than watching TV in bed!

    The best thing about summer, in my opinion, is being able to come home from work and unwind on the patio with a good book and a glass of wine (of course we don’t have any kids yet so we’ll see if I’m able to continue this once I’ve got some little ones running around!)!!

    Diana — absolutly love your series. I’ve read all of the novels and this has put me in the mood to read them all again this summer. Plus, they’re the perfect size for my tote bag :)

    Reading is so important! It’s so sad that there are children out there in households that do not encourage reading! I know I already have a list of books I’m going to read to and with my children, it’s one of the favorite traditions of my childhood and I can’t wait to pass it on :)

  13. Thanks for sharing your reading habits with us!

    I am a high school librarian and lucky enough to be able to read at work (sometimes). I will never forget sitting at the circulation desk reading Outlander for the first time (20 years ago!) and the number of people coming up to me and saying, “I don’t know what you are reading, but I want it next.” Apparently I have a very expressive face when I read. I take great pride in knowing that I have turned HUNDREDS of people onto your books.

    People ask me often how I can read multiple books at the same time and keep the plots and characters straight. They follow multiple TV series don’t they? Between audio, Kindle and print, I am currently working on 5.

    I have just finished A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness and Juliet by Anne Fortier and highly recommend both.

  14. It boggles my mind that some folks just don’t read. My mother read to me and books have always had a special place in our house. I read to my kids, and my grandkids love to be read to…being the good Grandma, I have plenty of books for them to choose from (they are currently 3 and 18 months). I have to thank you for introducing me to Laurell K. Hamilton, who in turn introduced me to Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse), BTW. Now I wait for the new titles from all three of you!

    I usually have a non-fiction writing-related book going (WRITING THE BONES by Natalie Goldberg at the moment), a stack of magazines to get through (currently on a travel kick since I want to do more of that since the kids are finally grown), and whatever new fiction books take my fancy (or re-read the ones I have waiting for the new ones to come out – have re-read all your books, all Laurell’s Anita Blake books – that are out in paperback – and all the Sookie Stackhouse ones in paperback since last Christmas already…sigh).

    So…when’s the next one due out again?

  15. I also find it amazing that some people NEVER read! And I agree that it’s very odd to walk into someone’s home and not see a single book, newspaper, or magazine. When I asked one friend why she didn’t read she replied, “Oh, it hurts my head to read.”. Reading is my favorite activity, always has been. Luckily, both my kids (now 24 and 21) picked up the reading habit from an early age. I feel that being exposed to books in the house and seeing me read and read to them had a big impact on them. My husband said that he could count on one hand the number of books he read for pleasure growing up! I was floored. He said that he never wanted to sit down long enough to read a book when he was a child, because he wanted to always be playing and running around outside. Plus he said that reading was boring! Insane! When we first got married we got into the habit (my idea) of reading aloud James Herriots animal doctor series, “All Creatures Great and Small”, etc. in bed every night. We’d take turns reading. Then my husband discovered the Tom Clancy books and fell in love with them. He hasn’t read anything for awhile now because he says that he has to read so much for work that he doesn’t want to read anything when he gets home. I still don’t understand that since reading for me has always been a pleasure and escape. He does keep some of his engineering magazines in the bathroom for those “extended” times! lol I do so much agree with you that if you truly love reading that nothing should stand in your way of finding those moments to indulge yourself a little. Reading for your own pleasure should be a gift you give yourself everyday!

    You have given me many hours, days, weeks, and years of reading bliss with your wonderful books. Thank you for what you do and your commitment to your fans. You and your talent are a gift to the world!

  16. I thought I was the only one who reads several books at at time. lol I really enjoy the outlander series, and have read them several times , my husband is like didn’t you already read that. I always have a book with me, if I forget I feel like i’m missing something, I have been known to go to the store and buy something to have a book to read, we go to car shows with our 1930 model a, I always bring several books, and usually get them finished, thats the weekends I like when I have that much time to relax and enjoy. How do you like your kindle, I am hesitating on buying one of these as I still get excited about buying the new book and starting it, I like the feel of the book in my hands.
    I enjoy coming to your site and reading your comments, and am looking forward to the next book. thanks again for such a wonderful series.

  17. Like everyone here, I’m also and have always been (since Dick and Jane) a voracious reader. While I’ve been known to read while in a passive phase of cooking, but haven’t been coordinated enough to ready while doing actual prep! Kudos to those who can.

    I always wonder what kind of imagination a person can have if they don’t read. Where do they go in their heads during the quiet times?

    I usually only read one book at a time but I found something fabulous just in the last couple weeks. I have a Kindle (and a Sony eReader), and with Kindle you can download the Kindle app to your PC and Android cell phone. Then you can access all your Kindle books from any of them AND sync them up; so, I can read on my breaks at work, pick up on my cell phone at the train stop and finish on my Kindle before bed. All the same book, wherever I am. Isn’t technology wonderful?


  18. I am glad to hear that there are others out there who read as much as I do! I read very quickly and usually choose a book based on the “size” — one of the best things about your books, Diana! Can’t wait for the next one — am re-reading the earlier ones for about the 5th or 6th time!

  19. I would doubt the character of someone whose home contained no books :)

    My parents owned a bookstore when I was very small and books have always held an almost sacred place in my life. I considered myself a purist when it came to books – none of that electronic stuff for me, give me a book in its “proper” form. Well, once I started getting into BIG books – ahem, yours – carrying them around while traveling got to be a real drag (pun intended). I finally stumbled into the modern age and bought a Kindle which I carry with me everywhere. It makes me feel very rich, book-wise, to have so many books at my fingertips. And it’s nice to take Jamie and Claire to keep me company when I’m sitting with nothing to do.

  20. Hello Diana,

    I carry a book everywhere I go as well and I only purchase handbags with enough space for a large book ;)

    I recently read As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann, have you read it? If not, you should check it out, I think you would really enjoy it!



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