• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —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. Gosh, what would I do without books! At 11, I got a hold of my father’s copy of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, I believe. That was my first ‘real’ read. In middle school my lunch break was spent in the library in the corner reading. I, too, wonder how people get by without reading. I joined Goodread’s reading challenge of this year and am reading my 17th book since New Year’s day. My dad was a prolific reader and my mother was not. His father and brother read a lot also. Myself and a brother read but the other brother does not. Funny how that turns out! I bought my daughter books when she was little in the hope that she would become a reader like me. But I quit pressing books on her when I realized maybe she wasn’t going to become a reader. I just let her decide to read when and how. She now tends to re-read her favorites like the Harry Potter books, and others. She might read 4 times a year.

    I have a bedside book but also take it with me to work, or whenever I have to wait for someone. Right now, I’m reading every single book I have in preparation to re-read Outlander all over again, which will be the 9th or 10th time for the first two, three books. I read Echo of the Bone too fast when it came out and just devoured it! Everytime Diana releases a new book of the series I have to start at the top.

  2. I also cannot understand how people just don’t read. As a high school teacher, I am concerned when I see my students reading books that are obviously below their grade level for reading. Too many kids today just don’t have the patience to read anything too substantial. Perhaps e-readers can help remedy that…they are “gadgets” and kids love those. :)

    By the way, you will enjoy The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks!

  3. Diana,

    I encourage my daughters to read everything they can get their hands on. I started when they were about 6 months, and then gave them board books, bedtime stories, and daytime stories. I also read while around them. Now, at twelve, they are reading at bedtime, sneaking books under the bedcovers after lights out. They are watching out for the next in the series’ they follow. Novels, manga, comics, magazines, etc. I love to see them engaged.

    I get into trouble when reading, not able to ‘hear’ my husband’s questions three times in a row. And I have a stack of books to get to next. I take them everywhere, hard copy or kindle. Next to the bed, sofa, in the bathroom, in my purse. Now that I am home full-time dealing with fibromyalgia, I find books comforting and a great companion.

    I love Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books. So much fun to read. I just finished her latest too!

    Have you read C. J. Sanson’s books? He writes historical mysteries, set in England during the reign of Henry the 8th. His central character is a London lawyer.My father-in-law introduced the series to me.


    • I have read all my life. I learned, when I had the mumps, that I could escape the pain while I read.
      I read at work on my breaks and lunch and when it was a new Outlander book, I’d sneak it in to the ladies room.

      Now, that I’m retired, I read all the time. When I do housework, I carry my nook with me wherever I am in the house and read while I dust, or do the dishes or cook. I also get in trouble when I read. My husband feels I’m ignoring him. So, I do most of my reading when he’s not home, or late at night after he goes to bed.

      I just finished Treason at Lisson Grove and I think it’s Anne Perry’s best Charlotte and Pitt to date. I really love her inspector Monk series.
      I also just finished every book from Outlander to Echo in the Bone again. I think I’ve read the first 3 at least 10 times. Now that all the books in in my Nook, if I feel down, all I have to do is go to one of your books, Diana and I can escape to the 18th century and spend time with Jamie and Claire, wherever I am. I really want to know what happens, next. I am also, looking forward to Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner. It sounds very interresting

  4. I love to read. Must read everyday. I always have stacks of books in my TBR pile, but Im one of those people who can only read one book at a time. My short term memory isnt always that great lately and Im only 33!!! Too much on my mind between work and my 4 children I guess. :-D I try to read when i get off work for a little while in the afternoons, then later in the evening after the kids all (finally!) fall asleep, for a longer stretch. lol Then on the weekends when im off, I devote a much longer period of time each day to reading~ for as long as I can keep the kids occupied with something else ;-D

  5. I listen to audiobooks while I drive instead of the radio. I love it. I have listened to all of your book, including the Lord John books, several times over and am currently reading/listening to Game of Thrones. Very enjoyable. But I do find that I have to listen again and again and again to the Outlander series. I feel like I miss Jamie, Clair, Briana, Roger and the kids if I don’t. They’re like a part of the family — ha ha.

  6. I read when ever I can (re-reading Outlander series right now!!!). Waiting for the bus to work, on the bus, breaks at work, lunch time, waiting for the bus home, and sometimes in bed before I sleep or if I wake up early. If I’m not reading I’m sewing or doing other hand work – I joke that if my hands weren’t busy I’d be eating chocolate (but that’s not a bad thing, is it?)!

  7. I am going to look up the Aubrey/ Maturin series. I wrote it down and I am anxious to read something that you love. It is interesting to me to read a book that is so loved by someone that I consider a friend or someone I admire like you. Will I love it like you or hate it and find it boring? Or too complicated, etc. I

    I so loved Outlander the first time I read it I couldnt wait for my friend (who is a nurse btw) to read it and talk about it with her. She tried and said she just couldnt get into it. I was so disappointed and even aggravated. I wanted to say , ARE YOU KIDDING ME? How can you not love this book? But this same girlfriend loves Nicholas Sparks and reads all his books . I read a few and I am done with him. geez

    Bodie Thoene is one of my favorite authors for historical fiction. Her series are page turners. Her books take place during WW2.

    Stephen Donaldson’s first fantasy series is excellent.

  8. I just read this week’s New Yorker article about Pixar, and the way they described the pieces of plot sounded very Outlander-esque…Scotland…strong female heroine…thrown into a stone circle…

    Have you heard much more about it? From other online sources, it sounds different in plot but does it increase interest in a movie adaptation of Outlander?

    thank you!

  9. I have a book in my bag for the comute to work, one on the bedside table for night time reading, the waiting stack underneath, and the list for my next trip to the bookstore or shopping spree at abebooks.com.


    That is going to be for the books I don’t feel I have to physically possess in my hands but just curious reading.

    I can’t sleep if I’ve come to the end of a book so I must always have one at the ready.

    I don’t watch TV either and haven’t had reception/cable, etc. since I moved to Mexico in 2005. I suppose that originated with not knowing Spanish? Even though I’m in my fourth year back across the border, I still don’t have cable or satellite or whatever. I have a wimax internet connection. Why pay for the cable if I only use it for internet access?

    HOW CAN PEOPLE NOT READ? At the entrance to the Baltimore Inner Harbor Barnes Noble stands a carved wooden sign displaying what was once the city motto (wishfull thinking or delusional): Baltimore: The City That Reads.” I am a paralegal and I often receive phone calls from clients who tell me they received correspondence and “don’ know what dat say.” I ask them to read it to me so I can explain but they can’t read and bring it into my office to read for them. I am unable to understand many of the phone calls because the caller’s (even though they were born in America, as were their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents) are unable to construct a grammatically correct sentence using words listed in a standard English dictionary.

    I commute to work on public transportation and on a daily basis encounter people who are unable to read the bus route displayed on the front of the bus and after a few blocks must get off once they realize they are on an express and don’t want to pay the extra forty cents. My workday commute is filled with so-called educated adults, and high school and college age students who are unable to communicate with me without lacing their language with “dis, dat, doze, dem, ain’t”, etc. and whose sentence structure appears to have been tossed in a hat, jumbled about and dumped back out of their mouths. A good number of these people are working in local law offices, banks, and government jobs.

    Public education is free but they have failed to avail themselves of its benefits.

    To pass the time, I’ve occasionally attempted to engage some of the more literate in a conversation about the latest book in my hand, only to be told, “I don’t read books.” Most vivid in my memory is a tidbit from last Wednesday’s commute. Having just received in the office mail, three Connie Willis books I had ordered online, I was browsing Lincoln’s Dreams. I turned to the 53 year old woman of three years acquaintance who was seated beside me. She works in a call center for a large insurance company. “Did you know Lincoln dreamt of his death?” I asked. With a tone of condenscion as if reading a book was beneath her (I later discovered American Idol is the mainstay of her existence): “I don’t know who that is.”

    BTW, how is the knee?


    • Dear Kate–

      I hear people like that all the time on _this_ side of the border. Nrg!

      Knee is great, thanks! {g} Can–and do–walk five miles a day. (Could go farther, but that’s as much time as I have during the average day.)


    • Kate,

      I might have seen you in passing on the light rail. Every now and again I have to take it from Hunt Valley into BWI, as that is where I work. My colleagues can’t understand my own “eye hunger”, but my daughters do. Thank god they have learned the joy of enmeshing themselves in a good read. We should really buy stock in Borders! My husband certainly doesn’t “get” it. He says we have enough books. Blasphemy! And history is one of my favorites, too.

      Have enjoyed reading everyone else’s entries. I am always looking for a new book or author, other than our favorite (DG), in fact a lot of times, I read from the young adult section because I can’t seem to find anything in the “adult adult” section (not to be confused w/gasp,porn, of course). So I would love any suggestions!

      • Susan,

        In re to book suggestions, someone on a much earlier blog post recommended the Felix Castor books by Mike Carey. The first 3 have been published in the US, and all 4 or 5 have been published in the UK. I have had to cut back my book habit these days due to having 3 kids in less than 2 years (a lovely daughter and twin sons), so I haven’t read the last 2 books in this series as they are obviously not in the library here in Oklahoma. But if you like fantasy and mystery and hilarity, then you’ll probably like these books. Don’t know if Dr. Gabaldon has read them or not, but I think she would definitely appreciate the sense of humor and unique stories.

        Hope this is helpful.


  10. I read much in the same way….sometimes I’ll have 2 or 3 books going at the same time, 1 upstairs, 1 downstairs,and another in my purse. An addicted reader will always find a way!

  11. I have a fear of being without a book. I call it “Lackolibraphobia”.

  12. I have a ‘resistant reader’ in the form of my son. When he was little I read the 5 of the ‘Harry Potter’ series out loud to him in an attempt to get him ‘hooked’. I am afraid that whilst he loved the story, he failed to pick up a book for himself. The whole exercise has given me an enormous amount of respect for Davina Porter though! Thank you Diana for creating such a wonderful alternative universe to escape too. Warmest regards from beautiful Brisbane, Australia.

  13. I can´t live without books. The craziest thing i have done was when I flew to Newzealand. I decided to take a flight via Los Angeles (from Europe), because via Los Angeles we were allowed to take two suitcases, each 32 kg with us – instead of 1 suitcase with the weight of 20 kg when having a flight via Singapore…. so I was able to take many books with me for that 5 week vacation.

    Unfortunately this times are gone with 2 piece allowance…

    I habe stacks of books everywhere in my appartment, I always read more than one book at one time (sure – depending on my mood).

    When I was at school I was strictly forbidden to borrow more than 10 books per week from the public library…. so I tried to hide the exceeding number of books…. and to get the best value….. as many pages as possible….

    At the moment I prefer real books – I do not own a kindle or ebook-reader…. I like the feeling of pageturning…


  14. Thank you so much for this! I’m getting better at reading in small chunks. I think my problem is that when I get into a good book, I just can’t put it down! And then I realize that I’ve spent ALL of my extra time reading and none of it writing! Then I think, “wow, this is a good book! I wish I could write one this good!” and go back to reading.

    I suppose it’s all about balance and discipline. What you do does sound amazing though. I already do it to a point. I carry a book around with me and read while I’m in line to pick my kids up from school and stuff like that. Not sure I could read while doing all that other stuff. Worth a shot though.

    I guess I just have to learn to occasionally put the book down and get to writing my own!

  15. Thank you for making me realise that actually, I still do read.

    Ever since I’ve entered university I have felt that I’ve given up reading on my way in. Studying theatre and media studies with a minor of literature, I’ve got and had to read a LOT – but reading for pleasure somehow got lost on the way. When my day consists of reading scholarly texts, plays, screenplays, and of writing papers, essays, protocols of films you watch, and of constantly re-reading what I’ve written, the thought of “having” to read when at home, before going to bed, somehow loses its appeal.

    But your blog post made me see that even if it took me about two months to finish the last novel I read, and a few weeks to get through the last audio book, I actually do read. I read (and grade) papers right after getting up in the morning. I read my way through the day at the library. I will actually take up those three copies of Figaro’s Marriage (one German, one French and the opera’s libretto) again right after finishing this reply and read my way through them, regardless that it’s nearly 1 a.m. here.

    So thank you. Your blog post pretty much made my day. And also my reading. So on with the Figaro. And have a very nice day.

  16. I am so happy to see I am not alone in my reading. all. of. the. time. ness….lol I have a 45 minute commute so I listen to audio books. I am on my second go around on the outlander series. I just love listening to it over and over again. It is my Claire/Jamie/Bree/Roger fix. I am currently listening to Voyager . But, I am also an avid reader. So I read on my Kindle quite a bit. I love that I can download books from new or more obscure authors as well as out of print books. Also, my tastes run all over the place and I will read Stephen King or Sharon Green depending on my mood. :) I read in the bathroom, kitchen while cooking or car (when someone else is driving) and of course when sitting anywhere waiting for kids. Reading on the treadmill works out quite well as well and I love to listen to my audio books when cleaning the house or doing some other activity where actually reading a book wont work. I do not watch much television but will read while my husband watches. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty reading so much. And I am in school so also reading text books. My other passion is used book stores. There is a really great one in my city called the York Emporium (in York PA) and it is awesome chock full of lots of really interesting books that I have never heard of as well as newer books. I honestly do not know how anyone could NOT read. I mean, what would they do with themselves? I guess watch TV? lol

  17. I think I am one of those people who asked you if ever get a chance to sit down and read The Outlander books to enjoy as we do on Twitter (blushing) Well I probably am crazy, but my dad always said there was no such thing as a dumb question. (So I asked) You were very gracious and answered me.

    I think it is very sad for a child to live in a household with no books. When I was a kid we had to go to bed at 8:00, but if we wanted to read we could stay up till 9:00. Well my sister, 2 brothers and I thought that was such a treat! My husband and I read to our kids every night when they were little. As they got older we would all take turns reading out loud. We read all the Harry Potter books that way. Now 29, 27 and 17 they all love reading.

    Someone above asked about children books. I was a Preschool teacher for 19 years (3 year old in my class) I highly recommend any Robert Munsch book. Every year at back to school night my boss would have me read Love You Forever. It’s beautiful for both kids and adults. most of the moms cried when I read it. The kids love the sing the “love you for ever part” The kids favorite book was Good Families Don’t. (the fart book, giggle giggle they say)

    I enjoyed reading about how you all read. I think I have always loved to read. But I have to admit that although I have always had a book on hand to read I was never so obsessive about it until I discovered the Outlander series. I first bought them via my Kindle, then I had to have the books to hold. I read them while cooking, folding clothes (I have my kindle in a case that can stand up ) My husband and I watch Bones and I commercial read. I read them at the pool, Dr. office, in the car if I am not the one driving. They are on my desk, in my bedroom, in the kitchen and when our bathroom is done there will be one there too. Most of all they are always in my head. I have the Lord John Series too which I love much more than I thought I would. I read them, talk about them, discuss them on multiple sites. I am going to get them on audio for my husband and I to listen together while I wait for book 8 and the Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner. I think I should read some of the books you all suggested too.
    Thank you Diana, for your books and your blog : )

  18. “Our reasons for reading are as eccentric as our reasons for living”. This could also apply to non-readers. “To read or not to read” may be a complicated question with equally complex answers. I am a reader, book nut, librarian- toward the extreme positive end of the plus/minus scale. My brother is barely literate for a variety of reasons, undiagnosed dyslexia being one of them. Physiology and genetics may stack the deck against some folks. People who read only for information, those whose lives are largely lived externally may not be able to appreciate reading for pleasure. Young Ian and Jamie (DG characters) show some of those contrasts. Ian is more of a “physical being” prone to hands-on concrete methods. Jamie can and does live more internally, though he’s very pragmatic scholarship and the printed word are very important to him. To varying degrees we all live in worlds of our own creation. Whether those worlds are pure imagination (the life internal) or material (the life external) depends on a widely diverse mix of nature and nurture.

  19. Great question! I too have books all over the house, in every location where I might have a few minutes to read. I usually have at least 5 books going at any given time. My Kindel never leaves my side, that way what ever I am in the mood to read it is close. It easily fits in my purse, 1000′s of books at your fingertips. I also love to make use of car travel time with audio books!
    My favorite all time reading location is while camping with my family. My husband goes fishing and I read uninterrupted for hours in the fresh air awhhh heaven!

  20. I always take a book with me while I’m brushing my teeth too:) I have a rechargable toothbrush, and each cycle is 2 minutes. My husband jokes that he can tell when I’m reading something particularly interesting as I’ll keep hitting the “on” button and brush for 6 minutes!
    As a side note-I was fortunate enough to get a preview copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks before its release. It is an absolutely fascinating read. My copy didn’t have the photo section, but one can’t have everything haha. A cousin just started working at Hopkins and we had a long emailed discussion about her cells that they are still working with to this day~


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