There was a discussion about this on a writers' board I frequent, and I was discussing it with a friend recently, too, so it got me thinking about my reading style.
Writing, it seems, is one of those things that follows you everywhere you go. My writer-brain is always on, picking up interesting bits of conversation around me and turning them into stories, trying to find the perfect words to describe that sunset. And if I'm waist-deep in a new novel, like I am now, then it's even worse. Sometimes I can't shut it off at night, no matter how hard I try. My brain keeps trying to work out that plot point, I think of something I wrote that day and how it can be improved, or those characters keep talking in my head.
No, I'm not crazy. I'm a writer.
The writer-brain, especially lately, continues whirring along when I read. Even if I'm sucked into a novel, even if it's a my-God-this-is-so-good-I-want-to-superglue-it-to-my-hands novel, the writer-brain won't quit. I find that part of my brain noting the structure--pacing, POV, etc.--and drooling over great similes and fantastic description.
Does this bother me?
Not really. I kind of enjoy it, actually. First of all, it makes me feel like I'm working even when I'm not. I can read for pleasure all day, and when I close the book I feel like I've accomplished something.
Second of all, it makes me feel smart. I might not actually be smart, and I'm sure there are many things my writer-brain is still missing, but I feel more intelligent if I'm picking things up as I read. I probably didn't start reading like this until midway through college. Before that, when people would point out some aspect of a novel or short story, I would feel stupid that I hadn't noticed it. And somehow, my brain trained itself to start noticing without any serious effort on my part.
The friend I was talking to about this last week said he hoped he never got that way. "I never want to be unable to read for pleasure," he said. "The very idea terrifies me." And that's all well and good, and sure, there's a part of me that misses being able to get sucked so far into a book that I don't notice how the writer is doing it.
But for the most part, it makes the reading more pleasurable for me. I feel like I'm getting entertainment and education at the same time, and damn, that's nice. Even crappy books that I want to throw against the wall, I feel good about because I noticed what made it crappy, instead of having some vague idea that it was bad but being unable to articulate it.
All in all, it's a "to each his own" kind of thing.
And now I suppose I should do that other writerly thing and actually, you know...write.
If you don't feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then possibly what you are doing isn't very vital. If you don't feel like you are writing somewhat over your head, why do it? If you don't have some doubt of your authority to tell this story, then you are not trying to tell enough. --John Irving