I spent much of last year reading, and plan to spend much of the coming year doing even more of it, so I've laid down some reflections.
I wasn't much of a reader when I was a kid. I avoided it when I was younger so I could play baseball, other sports, make believe in the woods, etc. I didn't have the attention for it, I suppose I was restless. When I was 10 I got into the idea of making movies, and messed around with my parent's camcorder. At this time I learned that a film director was a profession, and I decided that was what I wanted to be when I grew up. I shot a bunch of little movies, some comedy, some sci-fi, creating space ship sets in my basement, some clay-mation. Mostly these were made up as we went a long, though in early high school I started to experiment with writing a variety of short screenplays, some shot, though many remained as exercises in writing the form. When I was 16 I acted in my friend James N. Kienitz Wilkins' movie Fight A Force of Friendly Fire. I had heard some actor interviews talk about "method acting" and I was curious, I investigated this "technique" some and decided I would try some method acting out on this film. I feel with some surges of intensity I alienated some friends, though it was a rush, I was addicted to it, I decided I had more fun acting, being on screen, on the stage, so I decided more so than a film director, I wanted to be an actor.
These days I focus more on myself as a writer, though I do some acting from time to time, mostly in our Wood Sugars projects. But my time exploring film and acting was an important period to put me on a path to explore myself as a writer. Some of my writing experiments began as a way to develop new material to act in or shoot on film, such as my early collaborations with Daniel Mac Rae. It was a great experience to act in new material he was writing, and see his pieces progress through various drafts along side the rehearsal process. I learned a lot about writing from him.
The relationship between reading and writing is a tight one. Most accomplished authors when imparting advice to writers mention they should read, a lot. To be a serious writer, is to be serious reader (as paraphrased from many different authors). The reason may be obvious. Writers create using language, and reading is important in building up a command on language, in exercising the imagination. Some times painters have to stock up on paint. I also think it's important to actively engage in the form you enjoy creating in. If you don't enjoy reading, then how do you expect anyone else to enjoy reading what you're writing.
As mentioned, I didn't read a lot as a kid. I had spurts though where I enjoyed it. In 5th grade I enjoyed Goosebumps and Michael Crichton. In 8th grade I wiggled my way into an Honors English class, as most of my friends were smart kids and I wanted to fit in. My teacher, Mr. Berry, however changed the way I thought. Mr. Berry seemed to have a bohemian past, on his wall was a banner "No Matter What We Study, Everything is Connected." I remember many engaging philosophical class discussions. Each week we had to write "lit logs." They were a sort of informal book report, where we'd write a letter to a classmate, they would respond, all in conversation about the books we were reading outside of assigned class reading. The vibe of class discourse, for perhaps the first time in my life, got me thinking, or attempting, to think deep, to really examine human nature, the meaning of life. I was also going through puberty, so maybe my brain was also going through complimentary changes. Through writing these lit logs, though on a weekly basis I didn't have the time or reading speed to finish every book, I found myself genuinely curious about books, and had a blast talking about them.
In high school, well, I spread myself thin with sports and extra curricular activities, and making some movies, that I barely read what was assigned for class, though I did make every effort to. Many evenings I'd fall asleep with a book open.
I started to take reading seriously again in college. Many of the great actors seemed to be voracious readers. Dustin Hoffman, Richard Burton, Al Pacino, Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, all seemed to mention literature throughout various interviews. Tom Hanks I believe kept an active book list on his MySpace page. I felt that, to further myself as an actor, I should probably deepen my "sensitivity to language." Naturally, in theatre school we read a lot of plays. I read some novels and poetry on the side, trying to correspond reading choice material to parallel an acting role, to perhaps expand my understanding of a character perspective or time period. For my role in Magnets: Hyena Daniel Mac Rae recommended Cormac McCarthy's Child of God and Outer Dark, as well as Irvine Welsh's Marabou Stork Nightmares. Such books buttressed a visceral thought process and inspiration toward bringing the character Jerry Thompson to life. This, over the years, led to my interest in authors as artists, just as for a long time I was quite interested in various actors, or film directors before that. And this of course led to my urge to throw down more writing of my own, and not just as material to shoot. I found a thrill in language sometimes being its own means to experience a story. I began to see literature as a mind expanding drug. Words, stimulating imagination, put the author inside my head, while at the same instant, I was put inside their's.
I have a lot of writing goals for 2013. Though as active as I want to be as a writer, I want to be even more active as a reader, pushing myself further, eating up more pages than I ever have. One, because I quite enjoy it. Two, because I'd like to keep growing as a writer, and as a person (reading has been linked in brain studies to increased empathy). I also find; the more actively I read the more fluid word choices feel as I write.
I will be writing some more about my reading. Much in the vein of those lit logs, some posts here may be, not as a book review or a book report, an exploration, a further dialogue about literature. I remember watching Martin Scorsese's documentary A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies where he showed clips and talked about the movies that inspired and influenced him. I'd be interested to do something similar here with novels and short stories and essays as I continue my own journey through the creation of literature.