as she said, it’s like a magic trick and I want to be fooled

Yesterday, Caitlin Kiernan posted an interesting entry on the pitfalls of reading as a publishing professional. In particular, the following passage resonated with me:

Basically, I wish I could read the way I used to read. I did not dissect as I read. I simply became immersed in the story and let it sweep me happily along. Now I cannot help but dissect. I try not to, but I do anyway.

She was looking at it from the writer’s point of view, but I must admit running into similar issues myself as an agent. I clearly remember long afternoons on my college campus spent lost in other worlds being created for me by novels I still recall very fondly. Some of which I can’t read the same way anymore because that voice in my head that is always sizing up the story won’t be quiet. It still does happen — I recently read a client manuscript in which I became so immersed that I stayed up until well past my bedtime and forgot to take notes. But it comes ever so rarely now. It’s not that critical reading can’t be enjoyed for its own worth, but anything on submission from someone new that accomplished the level of that old sense of wonder would get an offer of representation in a nanosecond.

16 responses to “as she said, it’s like a magic trick and I want to be fooled

  1. The same applies to games and game-making. It’s impossible for me to play anything anymore without noting how they did things: the terrain, the effects, the character dialog….

  2. Pardon me if this should seem obvious, but what particular genres do you represent?

  3. Funny, I’m running into this conversation everywhere this week. 🙂 The exact same thing happens in da music biz. Most of the musicians I know can’t listen to music “for fun” any more, b/c they’re constantly thinking about the mix, who’s playing on that track, I would’ve written a different lyric there, etc. Not to mention not wanting to be influenced too much by others, particularly if they’re in a writing/recording phase.
    I am consciously trying to keep music “innocent” for me … since I’m not actively involved in making it I’ve been pretty successful so far, but I do find myself listening to music from new artists in a different way. I have to make myself stop thinking about where is this person from, what might they be like in live performance, would they be good as an opener etc., and just let the music itself happen.

  4. I think many of the arts are like that. Once they become business, they are difficult to see as art again.
    Once I held a movie camera for a few projects, it became impossible to watch anything without trying to imagine what the cameraman was trying to accomplish.

  5. not me
    I read a lot and I write, but I tend to get caught up in stories just like before. It’s afterwards that I dissect them. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m grateful! Maybe it’s my big blue velvet chair that I use for reading and never for work.

  6. Yeah. I used to get swallowed up by almost every book I read; now I’m lucky if it happens more than twice a year. (Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go was the latest, not counting re-reads, and that was ten months ago.)

  7. I’ve noticed that since I started writing fiction that I too intellectuall dissect what I read; that I’m more concious of technique; how a writer sets up their story; how they use language, etc. I find with myself I tend to slip back and forth between analyzing what I’m reading and just getting caught up in what I’m reading. I don’t try to control how I perceive what I’m reading or get all stressed out about it. For me, becoming more conscious of how fiction is done from the writer’s POV hasn’t ruined my enjoyment of fiction. Instead, it’s made me enjoy it more because I feel that I can better recognize quality fiction or stuff that’s crap because I’m more aware of now what makes for a good or a bad piece of fiction.

    • You took the words right out of my mouth! This is exactly how I am.

      • Maybe the answer to Jennifer and Caitlin’s problem of their not feeling that they can enjoy reading as much as they used to, is maybe for them to not be so hard on themselves and not freak out when they do find themselves analyzing the fiction they read. Maybe all they need to do is just to accept that it’s a fact of life that how they read fiction has changed, and perhaps this acceptance and relaxing will actually allow them to enjoy reading how they used to.

  8. And when you do get caught up…
    Jennifer said that if she does get caught up in a story, the author would get an offer of representation in a nanosecond. Want to know what writers do when they read a book that sweeps them away? We become evangelists for the book, telling everyone we know. Most recently, that happened with *The Sparrow* by Mary Doria Russell. I shoulda been on commission because I sold that book to everyone in my family and all my friends.

  9. Yikes…since I haven’t heard yet, that lets me out.
    but I know what you mean about writing/agenting/reading — I was a great reader. I loved books, books, books…and now, a book has to be fantastic, sheer genius, to pull me in. It’s a shame! Thankfully all my old favorites can still do it (though part of that may be comfort/reminiscence).

  10. I have to agree with that comment, only it’s from a reader’s point of view as much as a writer’s. It’s been a long time since I’ve found a book that I really can’t put down – which means I’ve resorted to reading the Blood Jewel Trilogy – again. As for getting a book from a new author that accomplishes the carry-away-to-another-world that we all yearn for…That’s a high bar to set that’s got me quaking.

  11. I find that, although I too dissect as I read, for me it only enriches the experience of a good book. The more I understand about how something is created, the more I can enjoy that creation, because for me it adds another, wholly separate level on which to enjoy it. On that level, I get to glimpse and lose myself in the processes of the world at work, and that’s a marvelously heady experience.
    Though it would sometimes be useful to be able to read on only the one level, I don’t feel that I truly miss it.

  12. Re: Reading (Marie)
    I totally agree! I don’t read the same as I used to. I think it comes from two things: I’m more critical and my time is more valuable.
    The time I use now to write was time I used to spend reading. To get me to read, the book has to grab me or else I’ll feel like I’m wasting time I should be writing. I’ve tried new authors in the past 6 months and fewer books get my seal of approval.
    All is not lost. I recently discovered an author that I couldn’t put down so it can still happen, just not as often. I find myself annoyed more often with writers who can’t keep my attention, bore me or do all those things I’m trying to avoid doing when I write.
    Given all that, it hasn’t taken away my joy of reading. I just choose more carefully what I read now.

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