Some people have lofty dreams: careers, higher education, to have a large, expansive family—I have dreams of writing a book. Many books. Any book.
When I read a book, a few things always happen (depending on if it is a good book or a bad book).
With a good book—my imagination develops tracers: flashes of light that remain after something bright has burned in the darkness. Fireworks. Burning hot dog roasting sticks (sorry, my Montana is showing through). Tail lights in the distance, crunching gravel beneath tires. The story leaves a memory, an experience, a ghost that forever inhabits a part of myself.
A good story leaves the characters behind to stay with me forever; I can recall them at will. Not the entire story, my memory is far too poor for that, but I can picture the story and the characters clearly enough. They are forever suspended in my mind—sometimes in certain scenes or just impressions.
Talia and Kris alone in the waystation all winter (Arrow's Flight, Mercedes Lackey).
Sabriel in a bathtub blushing over the sounds of a giggling couple in the next room, while thinking it is Touchstone (it isn't; Sabriel by Garth Nix).
Tiger and Del arguing, fighting, laughing and much more (Sword-dancer series, Jennifer Roberson).
A good book, for me, leaves a scar. As a writer: it creates characters and worlds I can only stare at longingly. I can only kick myself for that 'Why didn't I think of that!' (Because I was 7 when that book was published, nerd).
Memories aside—a good book reminds me that there are plenty good books left to be written and they make me remember that my contribution—once it happens—has value. More importantly, perhaps, they make me feel like contributing. I'm not saying that I detest writing or that I find it a chore, but I do find it very sacred. It's very precious to me and I often find reasons why the circumstances aren't write (hah) because I want to be in the perfect place when I do sit down to write. That isn't realistic, but—have we met?
Many of these characters, places and experiences that I have encountered while reading hold firm places in my mind. At any moment—I need only remember a book and suddenly the Sandtiger is grinning back at me or a bell rings out in the fog, and I know Sabriel is there, waiting. I can feel the cold water rushing around my ankles—I am transported.
A good book becomes a good memory and, I'd like to think, tries very hard to replace a bad one. A good book reminds us to dream, because it is often in dreams where novels and characters are born.
A good book gives me characters, places, styles, plot and guidance. As both a reader and a writer—I learn from reading as much as I experience it. I can acknowledge a book for the skill on a line level, for deftly penning a plot—and for giving me scenes that forever burn like embers in my mind. I can both learn from, and enjoy, the hard work of dedicated authors. A book is a gift from the imagination and hard work of one person, to the imagination of next.
A bad book is even worse for a reader-writer. Before I continue, let me explain: I am not insisting that anything I write is considered "good" nor can I claim to be involved with the making of a "good book" as I have not yet been published (or even survived the second draft). The following opinions spring only from my life experiences and what I, personally, consider to be a bad book at this point in my life. A bad book was quite different for me 10 or even 15 years ago and the same can be said for what I considered good in my youth.
I had an entire section on what bad books do to people—but I think I'll just let it go. We all know a bad book when we read/hear/experience it. And bad books can be found everywhere: self-published authors, New York Times Best Selling authors, even ourselves. They can be books written by terrible people (I once saw a beloved author be disrespectful about politics on Facebook and I can no longer read their books) or bad books written by people who refuse to accept any kind of feedback or criticism. We all have a certain way we want our books to be read and experienced: but full of typos, cliché names, weak-willed characters and mindless sex is never the answer (for me, at least).
Bad books leave scars that only amplify the good books in our lives. Even bad books have lessons to teach us (as writers and readers) and characters to adopt—even if only to tape their mouths shut and throw them down a dark stairwell for their own protection. Sometimes I read so I can remind myself what kind of writer I don't want to be.
Right now I am about 20% through Clariel by Garth Nix. I am reminded that there are still stories left to be told, monsters left to banish (both in real life and in literary ones) and memories yet to make.
Read the good with the bad: learn from both. Spend the money on the editor. Don't write what you know: often we know only a life of cruelty and unfairness. Write to make the world better than it is, not to remind us of how dark and awful humankind really is. We already know that. What we need, more than anything as mortal creatures reading books, is hope.
Final disclaimer: this opinion of "don't write stuff with typos" and "only write good books" is an opinion I only recently embraced. See my earlier work for contradictions and furthur proof that I am far from perfect.