When you have a job in books, you read all the time. And it’s true: I spend literally every single day of the week reading manuscripts on one or two computer screens, hands hovering over the keyboard, usually poised on the seat of my chair in something like a crouch or a perch; a chiropractor’s nightmare. People ask if I get tired of reading.
First, I have a really easy job. Nobody’s sick. Nothing is going to fall on me, and nobody is shooting. I work in a cozy office at home, with the cat and both dogs snoring on the rug. Yes, I started this business and worked hard to make it viable, but it still feels like a guilty privilege. I take it as seriously as possible and devote myself to the part of it that matters most–offering helpful, effective advice to writers who are staking a major chunk of their future happiness on the chance of publishing novels. I know how this feels because when I’m not editing, I’m writing, too.
That said: I do get tired of being critical. The most delicious thing in the world is a finished novel that isn’t in need of an opinion. At the end of the day (literally, in bed with a book 30 minutes before falling asleep) I want to be something more important to writers–simply, purely a reader.
When almost two months go by without reading anything for fun, burnout is imminent. I think of my imagination as a jazzy, colorful pet, and if it starves to death, what good am I to writers? The ability to run loose in somebody else’s fictive dream is part of both the job of being an editor and the joy of being a reader. And what good am I to myself, or anybody I love, without an imagination, and everything else that flows from it–a sense of humor, a sense of fun?
All of this is context. Right now, my desk is surrounded by science fiction. In a sort of remedial frenzy, I scooped up Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, Ferrett Steinmetz’s Flex, Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, Veronica Roth’s Divergent, and Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor. In short, it’s a speculative buffet for the little imagination creature: sci-fi, urban fantasy, political spec-fic, YA dystopian, and fantasy. Something about Divergent‘s simplicity turned me off after the first few chapters, but I admired Leckie’s respect for her readers’ intelligence, and I loved Steinmetz’s caper, which transforms OCD into beautiful magic. I’m reading Lagoon right now, and loving the setting (Lagos).
Speculative fiction is superfood for the imagination. It’s full of weirdness and wonder. You can be as precious as you like about the craft of writing, but without imagination, where’s the depth? What’s the point? That’s not to say that all fiction should be written about invented worlds, but having encountered many writing teachers and editors who crinkle their noses at speculative fiction as if it’s as the red-headed stepchild of novels that are Worth Our Time, well, to them, I merely point out that we fun people are sitting at this table here and the Picky Eaters Club is over there, next to the really big bowl of plain lettuce.
In short, editing doesn’t ruin the pleasure of reading–not one bit. Knowing how to change a bike tire hardly destroys the pleasure of riding it. Editing is just a way of interacting with my imagination, articulating how the fictive dream wobbles. But first and always, I’m a reader. Reading is a temperament, a lifelong habit, or a bit of both, and I get a near-ridiculous amount of comfort from the knowledge that even if I live to be as old my centenarian grandmother, I will never run out of good books to read.