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I know that sounds like some kind of exaggeration, like, “I need to buy that set of geeky solar system glasses” or “I need that pint of ice cream” or “I need to see that movie in theaters.” We might joke around, using the word “need” to refer to things we merely “want,” but sometimes I seriously wonder if reading should be filed under the list of requirements for mental health.
Recently, I wasn’t able to read for about two weeks. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I had been reading piecemeal from various nonfiction books for some time, namely The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman, Royal Romances: Titillating Tales of Passion and Power in the Palaces of Europe, and now I’m working on Using Medicine in Science Fiction: the SF Writer’s Guide to Human Biology. That technically counts as reading. But I hadn’t immersed myself in a fictional world for some time, and it was starting to wear on me. I felt tired, unfocused, lethargic, irritable.
Then the weekend arrived. I looked at the pile of dirty dishes and unwashed laundry, glanced around the empty house, said “Screw it,” plucked one of my library books off the shelf, and flopped down on my window seat to read Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine.
I spent almost four glorious hours suspended on an airship between Earth and Mars and loved every second of it. Afterwards, I felt awake and aware in a way that I hadn’t been for days. Rejuvenated. Renewed. Resurrected. The list of synonyms goes on.
Point is, we need to read. Not just nonfiction for research or personal edification, but also poetry, short stories, essays, and, most especially, fiction. And as writers, we REALLY need to read. For inspiration. For relief. For sanity.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pick another book from my shelf.