When I was a kid, I read a lot. I think it’s the key to becoming a writer.
First, you become enchanted with the stories of others, setting your imagination on fire.
Over time, you learn how stories work, almost instinctively. You identify with your favourite heroes, you boo your favourite villains. You know you need to find an emotional core and follow a basic structure.
Then you discover you have stories of your own that you’re dying to tell.
So, in my mind, readers become writers. But I have found that between the pressures of everyday life, and working, and writing my own stories – it’s my reading that has suffered. I just can’t find the time to read like I used to.
One time, when I was about nine years old, I had to stay home for the day from school, sick with the flu. My mother – who was a stay-at-home mom at the time – had some kind of appointment and she was nervous about leaving me alone. So she gave me two Nancy Drew books she’d been saving for my birthday to keep me busy.
By the time she was home a few hours later, I’d read them both.
That kind of glorious indulgence is something I just can’t do anymore, but I’ve been working in the past couple of years to try to make more time for reading in addition to writing. I think it makes me a stronger person as well as a stronger writer.
Critical to this new initiative: used book sales.
I can’t speed read like I did when I was nine anymore. I have to read in drips and drabs (if I tell you most of my reading is done in the bathroom now, is that TMI?). So I can’t deal with the pressure of library book deadlines. Three weeks isn’t long enough for me to know I can get through a book; forget about the one-week deadline for new releases. And I don’t have a fortune to spend buying new books for my personal library, either; plus, $20 a book seems like a lot when I’m not sure I’ll like it.
(Don’t bother suggesting eBooks. I’m a strictly paper and ink kind of girl.)
A few years ago, a local church was having a used book sale so I thought I’d drop by and check it out. What I found was thousands of books and hundreds of people. It was almost overwhelming, but for $30 I picked up about 15 books – about a years’ worth of reading for me – just by grabbing titles I recognized from reviews and friends’ recommendations. I read them all, at my own pace.
And I loved them all, too.
Now I’m a pro. In additional to the annual church sale, I also visit as many other used book sales in the city as I can. I come ready with a list of my most-wanted titles, sorted by author, and a reusable bag or two.
I can usually pick up a year’s worth of reading for under $40, plus a few teen titles for the kids to try out. If we like them, great. I pass them around to all my girlfriends. If we don’t like them, it’s easy to throw them into my bin of donations for next year, at a cost that’s less than a single day of library overdue fees.
Plus, nothing can compare with the thrill of finding, on that last shelf or buried in that bottom-most box, the title you were really, really hoping to find.
It’s like coming home with a whole treasure box full of gold.
That church sale was just last week so I’m sitting on an abundance of riches right now. I can’t wait to dig in. If you need me, I’ll be in the bathroom!
Lee Ann Smith says
Can you believe I’ve never gone to a used book sale? My impression always has been that they are spread out in a messy jumble and I’d end up more frustrated than happy with new treasures. You’ve caused me to re-think this idea! Would love to tag along with you to try it out – I guess next year when you’re ready for the next sale?