The Art of Reading: An Article by J. Kap.

J. Kap

I settle into my oversized armchair, with a mug of something warm and my favorite book.

I’m sure this is a familiar sentiment for a lot of you. Our reading time is sacred; it’s our safe space. The chair is our transport to another universe, one usually much more glorious than our own, where a knight in shining armor or dark brooding cape will always come to save you. Where you meet a lovely girl in the elevator but she’s actually a serial killer. Where you’re on a train but the destination doesn’t matter; it’s the journey that’s important.

As someone who loves reading, as I’m sure many of you do, one of the last things we ever want is to make reading a chore. Although some of us might enjoy the opportunity to sit down and break apart our favorite author’s sentence structure, that’s probably not the case for most of us.

But what if we’re also writers?

We’ve worlds of our own dancing across pages and pages of manuscripts, sitting in piles on our desks, our floors, our lives. And for the briefest of moments, when we find the time, we seek desperately to escape once again into the world of reading. Until that little nugget of motivational speech you read on Instagram earlier worms its way into your thoughts: shouldn’t you be writing? Shouldn’t you be reading a book about the craft of writing? Shouldn’t you, shouldn’t you, shouldn’t you…

Until, of course, we close our books and return to staring at our documents, our notebooks, and our own manuscripts dreaming of revisiting those other places.

And if I told you, that you could get rid of that nagging in the back of your mind by simply reading your favorite book, what would you say?

I hope the answer was a resounding YES!

Because you can.

There is an art to reading which allows us to pick apart and dissect what we enjoy while simultaneously scooping up techniques that we can use for ourselves. It’s not unlike the stockpiles of craft books you’ve probably got in the corner (I know I do!) except you don’t need to buy anything new for this. You’ve already got all the craft you need: your own library!

So settle in, because there’s three things I’d like you to do to prepare:

  • Have an Idea of Your Strengths & Weaknesses

  • Keep a Notebook Handy

  • Take it Easy

Have an Idea of Your Strengths & Weaknesses

Let me elaborate, because this can mean so many things. As writers, we’re bound to see countless flaws in our work but only recognize perfection in others. The book you’ve chosen to read for this practice has gone through countless revisions, just like you and your writing will. What you want to do is try to pick up on some of those techniques and usurp them for yourself.

I’ll go first.

I know that I struggle with bringing my vocabulary up to a college level, despite writing in the Adult and New Adult genres. I also have trouble with more than two people in a scene, and any action sequences. On the flip side, I’m pretty confident in my prose and descriptions, as well as my worldbuilding. All of these factors help to inform what I should be looking for as I read.

I suggest writing these things down somewhere you can see or remember them, such as a sticky note or a small notebook, which brings us directly into our next point.

Keep a Notebook Handy

And it doesn’t always have to be a physical notebook,but you will need a place to keep notes. This is not your regular reading session. Think of it more like a one-on-one with your favorite author (and their editor), where you get to pick their brain and see how it works. You will want notes for this.

Okay, so I’ve got my notebook. I’ve got my book. I know my strengths and weaknesses. But what do I do with all of this?

Let’s take a short example from one of my favorites: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch:

“As Locke and Jean stumbled to their feet, the door on the wall opposite the window slammed open, and in stepped a broad-shouldered man with the slablike muscles of a stevedore or a smith. Vengeful satisfaction gleamed in his eyes, and the smell of hard liquor rolled off him, sour and acute even from ten paces away.”

Take a second to think about what, if anything, you picked up from that paragraph. (This is good practice for being active while you read!)

The first thing I noticed was the word “stevedore”. I have absolutely zero idea what that is. If I was on a kindle, instead of a paperback, I might’ve tapped it to pull up a dictionary. Either way, it goes in the notebook. The next thing I picked up was the way Lynch described the tense environment: stumbled, slammed, slablike. There’s alliteration there, as well as using strong verbs that elicit strong reactions and give indication of movement, something I should try to include if I want to write better action sequences. And lastly, I can appreciate the way Lynch comments on smells rolling off of this villainous entity. It really contributes to the overall feeling of this hulking creature so large that scents don’t just float off of him, they roll.

Okay, we’ve got our first example, but we spent nearly ten minutes picking apart a single paragraph. This is going to take forever! And that’s OK, because we’re going to:

Take it Easy

Reading as a craft, active reading, the art of reading, whatever you want to call it… it’s not the same as plowing through a book in a single night (or even a single sitting!) It takes time, and care, but can also be extremely rewarding. All the books on your shelves probably have hundreds of nooks and crannies in their carefully crafted manuscripts that maybe you didn’t notice the first time, or the second time, or even the third, because you were so eagerly devouring them.

This is a much calmer process, both on you and on the story. Take breaks if you need, but also take your time. This might be a thing you do one chapter at a time, maybe even a single scene at a time. That’s why I’ve been saying “favorite” book this entire time; you probably don’t want to do this with a book you haven’t read. You can, absolutely you can, but it will be much more effective if you’re practicing with a book you already know and admire. You don’t need the added mechanism of brand new worlds and characters trying to get into your head at the same time!

Maybe this is an odd way to end this blog, but I’d like to leave some homework for all of you interested in pursuing reading as a craft. Pick up your favorite book, turn it to a random page, read a random paragraph, and write down whatever comes to mind. The first things you noticed, the first things you felt, anything really. That gives you a great idea of what you already see and what else you might want to try and look for.

I hope that, the next time you sit down in your favorite armchair with that nice warm mug, you take a chance to appreciate the flow of words all around you, and most importantly: find the joy in reading.


Follow J. Kap on Instagram: @ladykapdragon

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