The Making of a Novel: No Time to Read for Pleasure

08/06/2010 07:48 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The other day when I was visiting a book club, someone asked me if I read very much for pleasure. I had been talking about all the books I read as I researched The Threadbare Heart -- books about women and weaving, textile design, and the history of the color red. The question jarred me, at first, because I thought, Isn't reading for research reading for pleasure? -- but I knew what she meant. She wanted to know if I read anything just because it strikes my fancy, because I like the cover, or the premise, or the author.

I used to read that way all the time, but I had to say no. I don't read that way anymore. It's one of the worst parts about being a writer. I always have an enormous list of books I want to read, and I never get very far through it because of all the books I feel I need to read for research. Whenever people are talking about a great new book they've read, odds are good that I haven't read it -- and when I do get around to reading a great new book, it's usually something that everyone else has read last year, so I always feel a little left out.

It's summer, though, and there were all those "great summer reads" lists published a few months ago -- NPR, Janet Maslin at the New York Time,s Oprah and I'm not going to let a whole season go by without reading something just for fun.

I'm going on a short vacation next week (I wonder if the table will be cleared of all my novel research before I go? I wonder if I'll be able to stay away from my writing for three whole days?), and I bought Ayelet Waldman's Red Hook Road to take with me. It's a brand new hardback book with a plot that I wish I'd dreamed up.

And next up -- though I don't know when it will be -- is Ilie Ruby's debut novel, The Language of Trees. I read about this book on 1st Books: How Writers Get Started, which is a fantastic blog hosted by novelist Meg Waite Clayton. I love the title of this book, the cover is intriguing, and the write up about this book's genesis hooked me on Ruby's writing.

I enjoy reading everything, but reading just because? There's nothing like it.