Monday, July 15, 2019

An Author's Reading Life

By Yolanda Smith

Mallory has ambitions of being a world-class violinist someday. She keeps her instrument finely tuned and follows a rigorous practice schedule. Although she covets a chair in the renowned philharmonic, Mallory never attends orchestral concerts.


Andre spends hours in front of a canvas in his private studio. He paints from morning 'til night and believes, if he is diligent, he will be a featured gallery artist in the future. But Andre has never stepped foot inside an art gallery.


Edgar wants to be a master chef.  His loyal wife assures him he makes the best bologna sandwiches she’s ever eaten. But wifey-poo would like to ditch the bologna on occasion and spend an evening of fine dining at the local five-star restaurant. Edgar is too busy whipping up his personal creations to step foot in anybody else’s eatery and taste something other than his own dishes.


Carrie wants to be a bestselling author. Day after day she taps a thousand words on her keyboard, the story finding its way from her head to the magical screen. Carrie doesn’t have time to read books. She never reads classics, nor does she consume titles off the current bestseller list. Audio books aren’t an option because she’s too busy listening to other things.


Mallory, Andre, and Edgar are figments of my imagination. But Carrie? I know her. Sometimes she’s young, now and then she’s old, and often she’s middle-aged. She writes memoirs, poetry, middle grade fiction, Bible studies, and romance novels. Carrie also goes by many other names.

I ran into Carrie recently and asked, “So, what have you been reading lately?”

Eyes downcast, she offered a shrug of shame. “I know I should do better, but …”

Not a Judgement, but a Plea

Have you met Carrie? Does she stare back at you from the mirror while you brush your teeth?

When I became a writer, I assumed all writers loved books at a high level. I assumed they recognized the life-changing power of story, thereby gulping down as many tales as they could swallow. But Carrie never ceases to shock me, and she shows up everywhere.

Carrie is busy, and she has a list of excuses—all valid, mind you. I hope she doesn’t feel I’m judging her for not reading, or not reading enough. But I’m begging her to change her ways.

Here’s the thing. Carrie can’t expect to be a bestselling author if she doesn’t know what a bestseller looks like. She’ll never develop an ear for the cadence of literary language, tease apart the particulars of her genre, nor feel the evocative power of written words unless she consumes the work of the masters.

Finding Time

For some of us, reading is as natural as eating, and we would shrivel up and die if we didn’t feast on a steady diet of literature. But for other folks, reading is an extra item on the to-do list, only to find space once everything else is crossed off.

How do we make more time to read? Here’s a short list of options for finding ways to consume more books:

  • Skip television. Don’t hate me. Can you scrub a half-hour program from your TV time in favor of higher learning? Could you—gasp—forfeit a whole hour? An average novel takes somewhere in the neighborhood of nine hours to read.
  • Listen to audio books. I get in listening time when I’m driving, cooking, folding laundry, or getting ready for the day.
  • Keep a book on your smartphone or tablet. Read a few paragraphs during those odd cracks of time when there’s nothing else to do but mindlessly scroll the internet.
  • Read aloud to your kids, grandkids, nieces, or nephews. I’ve been doing this for the last twenty years, and there were many years this was the only kind of reading I had time for. Don’t discount the power of picture books and children’s novels. Some of the best stories in the world come from picture books.
  • Find a reading partner, join a book club, or become a member of an online literary community. Reading is more fun when you can discuss it with someone, and you’ll find strength of motivation from this activity.

What to Read

Read books in your genre. Analyze the books that make all the lists and win the awards. Read books outside your genre. You never know when something will ignite a new idea you can incorporate into your own writing.

Read books that are heartwarming and endearing, or lighthearted and fun. Find titles that make you angry or cause you to examine your opinions. Grab books that are too hard for you and will stretch you. Revisit old favorites. Read a classic once in a while (audiobooks are great for this), and definitely find room in your repertoire for the latest releases.

Already a Reader

If you are already a reader, consider ways you might encourage the nonreaders in your life. You’d be surprised what you might be able to accomplish.

After five years of marriage, my husband finally caught on that one of the primary ways he, a nonreader, can connect with me, a book vulture, is by reading. Physical books put him to sleep, but he spends hours on the road each day and discovered he enjoys audiobooks. He’s read more books in the last year than he has in the last decade. We’ve had great fun chatting about all the bookish things.


There will be seasons when reading is more of an option or less of a possibility. Take regular time to reevaluate your reading life and see where changes can be made.

What would you like to be different about your reading life? Do you have suggestions for incorporating more books into a busy schedule?

(Photos courtesy of



  1. Whew. There for a minute I thought I was Carrie. Escaped another one. Or did I? Good thinking material here, Ms. Yolanda. Thank you.

    1. You're so funny, Warren. I'll try not to call you Carrie next time I see you at church. Thanks so much for stopping by. Blessings! :)