Alice Kuipers joined us this week, with an interview about writing, her books, and the process of figuring it all out. She also talked about reading fifty pages a day, and her habit of buying a book a week in her chosen genre.
These are important habits for a writer. The simpatico between reading and writing cannot be overstated. I've noticed over the past year or so, that my reading material has changed in some interesting ways. I'm reading Ibsen's dramas, sixteenth century plays and poetry, literary anthologies (those clonky honker books you were forced to buy for your Introduction to English Literature class), sociology books, history, and short story. I have so many books on order at the library I have my own shelf in the "hold" section.
This is unusual for me. Often, I have two books at a time on the go, a fiction and a non-fiction. I very much like to keep up with current releases, and I follow some of my favourite publisher's releases (yes, I have favourite publishers). So what's going on with my reading selections? I've made a list of my observations about my reading that I think might be useful to other writers.
1. Reading sometimes takes us where we're going, not where we are right now as writers.
The unusual assortment of classic literature, plays, and poetry piled by my bedside isn't an attempt to appear cultured (the pile is in my bedroom, the only people who see it is me, my husband, and our kids. And the dog, but she only likes the comics). I'm not trying to be a smartypants, I'm hunting for something. I don't even know what it is I'm looking for, but my brain--which often operates independently of me--knows where I lack as a writer, and has decided that the answers lie in pursuing dense literature. My only hope is that when my brain figures out what it needs, it will tell me and then we'll both know.
I'm not implying that I intend to write dense literary novels. What I hope is that, one day, I will produce a novel of substance. Something enduring because it hits the right human notes. The more I read diverse, dense literature, the closer my brain gets to figuring out how I might accomplish this.
2. Enduring literature (classics) deserve our adult attention.
I'm ashamed to admit I don't own a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. That's just wrong. I further admit that I merely skimmed The Grapes of Wrath in high school. The Old Man and the Sea numbed my sixteen year old mind so thoroughly I avoided Hemingway completely until I was over thirty-five. These, and so many other novels, endure because they are important, yes, but also because they are the perfect blend of right-now culture, human struggle, and culturally transcending truth. I need to learn this. I need to erase the prejudice from my youth, and embrace these novels as an adult. Whatever I think about them is wrong. I need to discover them anew.
3. Reading plays sharpens skills for creating plot.
Ibsen was a complete failure until he was a smash success. Once he ditched the idea that his plays should be written in rhyming couplets, he allowed plot to take the wheel and he produced plays of such shocking humanity certain countries forced him to re-write the endings. Plot revealed completely through dialogue. Mastering such a skill promises boundless possibilities to the novelist. It is my vow to study as least three plays a month.
4. Poetry is nonnegotiable.
I was dumb for too long, believing all that smugness about good poetry versus bad poetry. Intimidated, I avoided the question entirely for years. Believed I could live without poetry, that I wasn't missing anything important either as a reader or as a writer. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
Happily, my brain, which was, once again, acting without first consulting me, caused me to pick up a collection of poetry complied by Garrison Keillor. I began to read. I rummaged in the basement and found old collections, thick with dust. I am converted. I now turn to poetry as I do the Psalms. Writer, read poetry. Period.
Share with us a bit of your reading life. Has it changed recently? What are you learning about how and what you read?