I like to think about what my characters read, even if I don’t mention it in a book. Do they read fiction? Self-help? Science? Biographies? Magazines? Newspapers? Poetry? It helps me see them offstage, and then I can bring that material onstage if I need it. A friend who read The Calling said she was struck by the magazines Mae sees lying on the coffee table in one of the last scenes in Tylerton, when Hubert’s reading reminds Mae of the complex person he is. My friend subscribes to The American Prospect, and seeing it on that table along with Runner’s World and Car and Driver told her a lot about Hubert.
My magazines and scholarly journals started piling up while I was reading four books at once: two works of literary fiction, one genre novel, and one nonfiction book. (I’m down to two books now, almost done with one of them.) In spite of all this reading, I feel intellectually unplugged without the magazines, out of touch with the worlds of nature, history, politics, culture and science that I’d usually be reading about. The only periodical I’ve kept up with is the weekly Santa Fe Reporter, and I’ve only been reading a few major stories in each issue. I normally read everything cover to cover.
Do I need to know how to survive a kayaking disaster? No, but I read the “Survive” articles in Sierra anyway. I read recipes in New Mexico Magazine I have no intention of cooking, and research in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine on therapies I may never use, as well more applicable articles on yoga and meditation. In IDEA Fitness Journal I read about new workout programs I might or might not ever teach. All this material finds its place somewhere in my life, enriching my knowledge, making me think, helping me understand others’ lives, or showing up in my books.
For example, I learned about the Arts in Medicine program at the UNM Hospital through New Mexico Magazine. I wasn’t looking for this information, but volunteering with Music in Medicine was a perfect fit for Jamie’s talents, character and personal history. It became part of his background in Shaman’s Blues. I found an article on voodoo as a healing tradition in Alternative Therapies that I’m using in depth for one of my works in progress. The Reporter plays a role in Shaman’s Blues, as Mae gets acquainted with Santa Fe.
I owe it to my protagonist as well as myself to get caught up on my magazines. Mae Martin would not get behind on IDEA Fitness Journal. I need to be current with what she’s reading.
Writers—what do your characters read? Readers, do you notice if a character does or doesn’t read?