by Erica German Writers must be readers but that doesn’t mean when we are not writing, we are reading—just that we should be, right?
I am obsessed with finding out what my favorite writers are reading and why. Their reading journeys almost always include a few classic titles along with tomes written by their favorite writers or in their favorite genre; they even delve into a few books from genres foreign to their own work and/or interests. For the writer, the reading experience has a heightened purpose; it teaches while entertaining our inner child. When Cassandra Claire was asked if she always knew she wanted to be a writer, she responded, “I always loved writing. And reading. Most people who love to write, start with a love of reading.” To get the most out of reading, writers read anything and everything. While an average reader/non-writer type primarily reads book only of a preferred genre, I like to think of myself as the Indiana Jones of readers, willing to take risks with books that are outside of my comfort zone. This summer I have planned a unique journey for myself.
I plan to start in the genre I am most familiar with, paranormal fantasy. Cassandra Clare has written two series that I have found entertaining, The Mortal Instruments and her more recent Infernal Devices. I am waiting my turn for the public library copy of book five in The Mortal Instruments, entitled The City of Lost Souls. In the mean time, I have picked up book one and two of her Infernal Devices series, Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince. These books are laced with mystery, danger, and romance. This genre appeals to the writer in me the most. This is the genre my imagination takes off with and I am currently writing my own paranormal fantasy that I hope will someday make its way to bookshelves everywhere. Reading books in this genre inspires me to keep writing. I can see the many different ways that writers deal with similar character types and plots. Clare is my favorite author in this genre.
When I am finished camping out in the make believe of Clockwork Prince, I plan to pick up a book I had begun reading during the 2012 spring semester of school; it is a young adult fiction novel set in realty. The Lucky Place, by Zu Vincent, is a story written from the perspective of a three year old girl who is trying to make sense of her dysfunctional family life. This is not a genre I am as familiar with, but I appreciate seeing how Vincent handles writing from the perspective of a child who is so young—most of us have little recollection of what it was like to be three years old. It is essential that fiction writers learn to write from perspectives they have little to no memorable personal experience with. We writers should do our research and then become someone else for a few pages—this is a writer’s right and responsibility—to become someone else for a blip in time. I wish to further develop this skill in myself so that I can write more convincingly.
Another real world fiction I have scheduled along the summer way is The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green. This was recommended by a reader/family member. This is a young adult novel about one young person’s struggle with cancer and I find myself simply fascinated by the behavior of those who must face death head on. Almost every one of my favorite tales contains a life or death situation where choices must be made regarding actions and personal character traits. It takes a strong character to face death with courage and controlled fight. I have always loved Snow White and Rose Red, a story where two girls face a ferocious bear with kindness, and the more familiar Hansel and Gretel where the threat of starvation leads to a more life threatening circumstance involving a cannibalistic witch. The Fault In Our Stars may serve to enlighten my understanding of how one might handle certain death (in reality, we all do and I think this is why we read and write so many of these type of stories).
Green’s novel is sure to inspire my understanding of character, but novels are still written one word at a time. That is why Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s book on craft, poemcrazy, lays on my summer reading map. Wooldridge is passionate about words—I have had the privilege to converse with her in person and I must say that “passionate” is understating her love for words. Words are so important. Think about it; they inform; they soothe; they encourage; they hurt, no matter what that foolish “sticks and stones may bread your bones” sing-songy saying says. The meaning of a poem may not change when you employ your thesaurus; however, the tone, the feeling a reader experiences as they read your poem, is largely influenced by the exact word you chose to use. Fiction writers, listen up! Choosing the right word for a tricky scene in your story is essential to communicating well to your reader. If your readers can’t feel what it is like to be a wandering angel, a three year old girl, a terminally ill teen, they are likely to slap a bookmark into page twenty and shelve your novel until they retire and have time to burn. Personally, I don’t want my hopeful novel to be buried in dust six months from the date of purchase. Wooldridge’s book contains suggestions for writing and personal stories that are simply delightful. I am confident that her suggestions will give life to the words I choose for my own beloved story.
Indiana Jones faced many obstacles and I imagine along the way there will be spilled glasses of milk and scraped knees to tend to—I am a mother you know—but, I know an adventure awaits me on pages spattered with story. Unashamed, I admit to being a fiction writer, not a deep thinking poet. I am simply a playful child trapped in an adult body who is always looking to explore my world in new ways. Reading offers an escapade, dangerous and frightening, safe and free.
What will you be reading this summer?
Cassandra Clare’s quote can be found at http://www.cassandraclare.com/about/#about-cassie
I’m currently reading “Two for the Dough” by Janet Evanovich. The is the second book of 18 in the Stephanie Plum Series. I was never much for crime or mystery stories. I’m more of a romance kind of woman. However, I love Evanovich’s writing style and in turn absolutely love the stories. I plan to read all of the books in this series. I am also reading Dave Ramsey’s book “The Total Money Makeover.” This book is basically a self-help guide to becoming debt free, something I really would like to become a reality in my life. I also plan on reading Ray Bradbury’s classic “Fahrenheit 451” and Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s book “poemcrazy” before fall classes begin. So you can see I am stepping out of my romance-novel comfort zone this summer to broaden my horizons and brighten my days.
Debbie- it is so great to hear you are stepping out of your reading “comfort zone”. I have never read any of Janet Evanovich’s works, I’ll have to check it out. Have any of these series influenced your personal writing style or are they serving as a break from your current work(s) in progress? Also, if you feel like writing up a review, we’d love to read it! Happy reading!
Debbie–Having read the first five of the eighteen, by Janet Evanovich, I must say that she has a way of drawing non-crime/mystery readers in. I believe her strength as a writer lays primarily with her use of characters in her novels. My nineteen-year-old daughter (not much of a reader until recently) was so excited to tell me that she had found some novels by an author by the name of–your’s truly–Janet Evanovich.
Have you ever read anything by Wooldridge? I have, and her way with words is delightful; my heart is full when I lay the book down at the end of a reading session. There is an article about her under the interview tab on this website in case you are interested in learning more about her work.
Hooray for trying something new this summer! A writer’s favorite reading genre is like an old t-shirt, comfortable but you probably are going anywhere special in it. Have fun and let us know how you like the books you have chosen–you could even submit a book review to our review editor if you are inspired to do so.
Here is another reading list from NPR: http://www.npr.org/series/153632767/critics-lists. It’s very diverse and thorough. I am focusing on classics this summer myself; my book list is similar to this one from Good Reads: http://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/classic. Happy reading everyone!
It’s summer, so “Feed your head. Feed your head.”*
Since it’s summer, I’m avoiding lists (well, except for my exercise tracking list, and my to-do list for the class I’m teaching, and then there’s the bills list, but yeah, I’m avoiding lists) and following my interests, and the doormouse’s advice, and letting one book, idea, or style lead to the next. Plus, I’m allowing myself to re-read, to dabble, to hop-skip-and-jump between works.
For example, I re-read Pat Barker’s novel Regeneration, which sent me on to the poetry of Wilfred Owens, among others. Their work led me back to Brian Turner’s poetry, and then on to Nick Flynn’s The Ticking is the Bomb. Flynn’s fragmented style, and several conversations with my writer’s group, got me thinking about structure, so I’m currently mixing selections from John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction and Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing (RIP). And, since it’s Zen and writing, that led back to Jane Hirshfield’s fabulous essays on poetry in Nine Gates, while Garner’s discussion of the fable got me to finish Walter Mosley’s modern fable, Fortunate Son. I can’t read Mosley without missing detective fiction, so Otto Penzler’s anthology, In Pursuit of Spenser, arrived just in time. Also, Flynn’s memoir, and questions about memoirs, their purpose, what makes them engaging, what makes them relevant, sent me back to Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind, which ties back to Regeneration’s look at psychology and art.
Where to next, you ask? I’m open to influences and suggestions.
* from “Go Ask Alice,” perf. Jefferson Airplane, written by Grace Slick.