By Chris Zook
As much as many of us would sooner forget 2016, I will always remember it as the year I rediscovered the joy of reading. That probably sounds odd coming from a professional editor. But before this year, reading was primarily a means for pursuing my joy of learning or something I did as part of my job; that is, not an activity I necessarily enjoyed for its own sake. I’ve, of course, loved many, many books over the years, particularly those that inspired me and helped me become a better person. And I’ve always enjoyed learning about language and grammar.
It wasn’t until February of last year, however, that I feel I became a reader (of fiction, in particular) and began anticipating my next free moment for reading—and not solely because whatever I happened to be reading was so binge-worthy. So, similar to what Katie Barry discussed in her recent blog post about joining a book club, I’ve expanded my reading horizons in ways that my work and marketability as an editor can only stand to benefit from.
How My Reading Habits Evolved
For most of my adult life, starting with graduate school, reading fiction seemed like an unproductive use of my time: when I read, the material needed to be educational in some way, be it for my academic studies, self-improvement, health, or professional development. If I wanted to be entertained, there were plenty of two-hour movies that would get the job done in much less time. Not to mention that constantly reading for school or work made me less inclined to want to spend any more time reading when I wasn’t “on the clock.”
The few times over the previous 25 years that I did read fiction, it was because I was interested in a particular book’s message or because I was in a situation where I couldn’t do anything else, like sitting on an airplane or train (pre-smartphone era, of course).
What changed? The process started a few years ago with book recommendations from a longtime author-client and mentor, who is a voracious reader. During our meetings, he would sometimes hand me a nonfiction book that read like an adventure story, such as Born to Run and Into Thin Air. When he started recommending novels he enjoyed “just for fun,” out of my respect for him as a knowledgeable reader, I decided to give them a shot.
After my client retired from writing three years ago, I was no longer in regular contact and getting his latest book recommendations. At that point, my concept of reading fiction mainly revolved around books tied to a favorite movie or TV series. And I still hadn’t developed a regular pleasure-reading habit. In fact, it took me the next two years to read the five-book A Song of Fire and Ice series (aka A Game of Thrones), thinking it was quite an accomplishment at the time. But once I had completed it, I was left wondering what to read next.
Two months later, I finally got around to visiting a favorite used bookstore (whose fiction section I had never bothered to look at). There, I discovered a number of new series in the science fiction/fantasy section, including three by an author whose books I had read quite a bit of when I was a teen. Thinking back on my teen years, I realized that was probably the last time I experienced the joy of reading for its own sake.
Due to the used bookstore’s incomplete inventory of some series, I quickly rediscovered a venerable institution that had dropped off my radar: the public library system. This opened up an even larger world for me—one filled with three decades’ worth of award-winning titles in my favorite genre, as well as recent literary fiction, classics I had never gotten around to, graphic novels, and a surprisingly expansive (and free!) collection of ebooks and audiobooks.
As I watch my Goodreads “To Read” shelf steadily grow, for the first time in my life, I feel like there isn’t enough time in the day for reading. And as an added bonus, whenever I sit down with a book, I know I’m developing myself professionally—to one day break into editing fiction, which I’ve only done on a very limited basis thus far, and mainly for friends. However, this kind of reading never feels like work, even when I’m looking up a word I don’t know or highlighting a typo, plot hole, or inconsistency in my e-reader. Ultimately, I may very well be in the process of reinventing myself (at least as an editor) by doing something I love—a common refrain of many of the self-improvement books I've read over the years.