The Succulent Thump – Why Writers Need to Read

. . . have heard the succulent thump

of leaf falling upon leaf

– from “Storing Things” by Eloise Klein Healy

I have never understood how people live in this world when they don’t read.  I have (mostly) grown past the point where I judge these people; I’m marrying one of these people.  Reading is hard for him; it takes more concentration than he’d like to give to a flat page of text; he’d rather move, deconstruct, reassemble.  This is truly okay. 8312960168

And yet, I don’t know how he does it, staying in this world of this now every minute of every day.  I don’t think I’d survive.

And I know my work wouldn’t.

My sense of the world is shaped by what I’ve read as much – maybe more – than it is by the people I know, the places I’ve been, the jobs I’ve done.  I’ve been reading longer than I’ve been doing most anything beyond the simplest of human function – breathing, eating, shitting, sleeping, talking.  And while I don’t read while I talk or sleep, I wish I could.

So when it’s hard for me to understand how the man I love most in the world does not like to read, I truly don’t understand it when writers don’t read. In fact, I think it’s wrong when writers don’t read. For a writer to not read is like my fiance, the quintessential car guy to not try to figure out every car in a film by its dashboard or to not want to understand all the aspects of how an engine in our new car works.  It just doesn’t make sense.

Plus, it’s arrogant. To imply that we can do our work without knowing how others do theirs, to insist that we already have enough knowledge about words and language and white space and structure that we don’t need to see how other writers use those tools, to imagine that our work exists in a vacuum where it won’t be informed by what other people have read and written, that’s just hubris. If we’ve read Macbeth, we know the dangers of hubris.

Reading gives us so much as writers – models and lessons and ideas that we cannot produce in our own heads. It allows us to see where another writer might have made a lesser choice, and it lets us strive and emulate the mystical power of a colleague’s work.  Reading teaches us and trains us. Just look at those lines from Eloise Klein Healy – “succulent thump” – now isn’t that just the thing – the repeated “uh” that mimics the sound of the leaves themselves.  If I didn’t read, I would never have considered the sound and let it inform the way I hear the Maple leaves falling outside my office door.  Sad.

Reading is damn good fun.

So yeah, I just don’t get it when people don’t read, but when people expect other people to read and maybe buy their work and still don’t read, when they make arguments about time and the need to write and how they feel like they’re not doing the important work when they read, I find that disappointing. And very, very sad.

So then, I turn back to a good book – right now, I’m enjoying The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummondbecause it’s a week before my wedding, and I needed some light humor and a great love story.  Plus, maybe some day I’ll want to write my own.

What do you take from reading? What do you learn as a writer?


  • Pilar Arsenec

    I love you, Andi. Your posts inspire me. I follow your blog faithfully. I may not always comment, but I actually look forward to reading your posts every day. I want to say thank you. To answer your question, yes, I totally identify with everything you wrote. My husband doesn’t read either, but he’s a creative. He’s more into music, movie and video. The other day he did this video with the kids, that I loved. I told him he missed his calling. He could have been an actor or screenwriter. He has an incredible imagination, but like your fiance, he doesn’t like to sit and read much. He does on occasion, here and there, but not books. You know what I mean? I’m trying to get my kids to be interested in reading. They see me reading all the time. I’m always talking about books and the importance of education. By the way, I’m trudging along reading Gilead. I am determined to finish it. I’m sad that I’m not loving it like everyone else though. :( But yes, I can’t live without books or reading.

  • Suzanne

    I used to be terrible at writing dialogue. It’s still not my strongest skill, but I’ve gotten better, and I have Elmore Leonard and Dashiell Hammett to thank for that. Reading their work has definitely made mine better.