Writers read differently than most people. We read the way that singers and songwriters listen to music, learning our trade and modifying our techniques by intuitively studying the work of others. In this sense, reading is not a luxury but a critical tool of our profession. As an aging writer, I find that my reading habits have changed significantly. The onset of vision problems has made the process more difficult, and consequently I choose books more carefully. With my “voracious reader” days behind me, I find myself re-reading classic works more often than discovering new novels. It’s not often that I start something new and decide it’s worth the investment of time required to finish it. As a younger reader I would finish almost everything, but I no longer have that luxury. Today, I would rather re-read a couple of Patrick O’Brian novels than struggle through something mediocre. Nevertheless, I do occasionally discover new gems. One has been the Jack Taylor series by Irish novelist Ken Bruen. From the first chapter of the first book, The Guards, I knew that I was in the hands of a pro, and that what I search for in novels—gems of human insight—could be found aplenty in those pages.
To those readers under 40, I say this: don't take your great vision for granted, and build up your bank of vicarious experience and insight while it’s effortless for you. Your older self will thank you.
On that note, I don’t do product endorsements, but for those experiencing age-related vision problems, I would recommend the Kindle Paper White, which works differently from other digital readers. I’m a lover of actual books, not devices, but I find that the Paper White comes closest to the experience of reading on paper. Most important, it projects light sideways through the screen, and not directly into your eye, which is ideal for late-night reading in bed. And of course most devices allow you to increase the font size of what you are reading. Sadly, a digital device will probably never smell or feel like a real book, but it can compensate for human frailty in many ways. So, let technology be your friend, and read on!
This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in “At the Scene” enews March 2017 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.