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From the Archives: A Reader, Writing…A Writer, Reading

By Bethanne Patrick

Originally published on November 6, 2013

Twitter bio ends with the words “Above all, a reader.” That’s how I’ve always thought of myself. Since the time I learned how to decipher words on a page, I’ve been a voracious consumer of the written word, someone who is never without reading material, catholic in tastes both for form and content. Reading is my hobby, my comfort, my entertainment, and my livelihood.

But a funny thing happened last year when I began working in earnest on my novel in progress: I stopped reading. Oh, not entirely; I still managed to read a few pages of one book or another before bedtime–but I was no longer devouring books at my usual rate.

At first, I felt dismayed. My “usual rate” is three to four books per week, and I am accustomed to having several books on the go at once. How could I manage without all of that input?

I wasn’t expecting this vacuum. Over the years, when interviewing authors, I’d often heard that most preferred not to read in their own genre or within their own circle while working on a new book. However, no one had ever told me that she’d stop reading altogether while working on a new book (or perhaps I was forgetting). I was disconcerted. How long would this last? When I stopped writing, would I start reading once more? What might happen after that?

Fortunately, I discovered the answers to all of the above questions once I’d hit a writing slump. I couldn’t pick up the new hardcovers and paperbacks waiting on my shelves quickly enough. But…but…I wasn’t writing. How long would this last? When I stopped reading, would I start writing once more? What might happen after that?

After a few weeks of reading, I pushed myself  back to writing again–and yes, I stopped reading. The difference was that this time, I didn’t miss the reading in the same way, because I knew I would want to read again at some point. However, I also realized that I was missing out during these periods of only reading or only writing. Each informs the other, after all. We hear all the time that if you would be a writer, first be a reader.

Yet while there are a myriad of books about how to write and how to be a writer, there are far fewer about how to be a reader–an active reader, the kind who isn’t simply devouring books for pleasure but who is consuming them as fuel. I’m not saying that those books even need to be written–I’m just saying that they don’t exist, and sometimes that as writers we forget how crucial reading is to our process.

Reading with purpose is a different kind of reading. It’s often taught in MFA programs, but not all of us have participated in those programs, and even those who have can use a refresher.

Reading with purpose does not mean reading like a PhD candidate in literature. It doesn’t mean analyzing the text for meaning, unless that is what is going to help you. No, reading with purpose means reading with an eye to what you, as a writer, wish to accomplish with your own work. It means reading carefully and seeing how another writer has tackled something, be that something tone, character, or any number of writely things. It means recognizing that your writing is going to be different from that of the person who penned the work you’re reading, but that you can still learn from that work. It means opening your mind and heart to other ways of seeing.

And isn’t that why we write?

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GIMME A CAPPACHINO: 5 CAFFEINATED GOTTA KNOW READS

October 22, 2014 Books, Writing 6 Comments

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By Randy Susan Meyers

Halloween nears. Winter approaches. In the Northeast we face snow shoveling, icy roads, and bleak grey skies. Our rewards? Sundays curled on the couch with a great book. I could offer lists of classics you can finally settle into, uber-literary masterpieces to read with your dictionary at your side, or I can tell the truth. There’s nothing like a ‘gotta know’ book to get you through a blizzard. (Think Gone Girl … those books you absolutely must finish, cause (as Stephen King says in On Writing) you ‘gotta know’ how it ends.

For me, gotta know can be anything from a memoir on mountain climbing to a novel of a woman battling a town’s humiliation. It’s all about books that stole my sleep:

THE LITTLE GIANT OF ABERDEEN COUNTY by Tiffany Baker

 

When Truly Plaice’s mother was pregnant, the town of Aberdeen joined together in betting how recordbreakingly huge the baby boy would ultimately be. The girl who proved to be Truly paid the price of her enormity; her father blamed her for her mother’s death in childbirth, and was totally ill equipped to raise either this giant child or her polar opposite sister Serena Jane, the epitome of feminine perfection. When he, too, relinquished his increasingly tenuous grip on life, Truly and Serena Jane are separated—Serena Jane to live a life of privilege as the future May Queen and Truly to live on the outskirts of town on the farm of the town sadsack, the subject of constant abuse and humiliation at the hands of her peers.

“…the kind of book you find yourself stealing time from workday chores to read.” USA Today

THE DEEPEST SECRET by Carla Buckley

 If you read The Deepest Secret late at night, better drink some coffee. This multi-layered story of a family beset by multiple crises is outstanding—the beauty of Buckley’s writing has us treasure each character, even as we cringe at the choices they make.

 

“Smart and thrilling…A taut family drama about a mother blindly obsessed with protecting her teen son from the UV light that could kill him.” PEOPLE magazine

THE KEPT by James Scott

In the winter of 1897, a trio of killers descends upon an isolated farm in upstate New York. Midwife Elspeth Howell returns home to the carnage: her husband, and four of her children, murdered. Before she can discover her remaining son Caleb, alive and hiding in the kitchen pantry, another shot rings out over the snow-covered valley. Twelve-year-old Caleb must tend to his mother until she recovers enough for them to take to the frozen wilderness in search of the men responsible.

Scott’s characters are dark brush strokes of appetite and deceit.” New York Times

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys

 Shelved as YA, it’s is most certainly an incredible read of adults.

A harrowing and horrifying account of the forcible relocation of countless Lithuanians in the wake of the Russian invasion of their country in 1939. In the case of 16-year-old Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, this means deportation to a forced-labor camp in Siberia, where conditions are all too painfully similar to those of Nazi concentration camps. Lina’s great hope is that somehow her father, who has already been arrested by the Soviet secret police, might find and rescue them.

“This superlative first novel by Ruta Sepetys demonstrates the strength of its unembellished language. A hefty emotional punch.”—The New York Times

TOUCHING THE VOID by Joe Simpson

 Joe Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, had just reached the top of a 21,000-foot peak in the Andes when disaster struck. Simpson plunged off the vertical face of an ice ledge, breaking his leg. In the hours that followed, darkness fell and a blizzard raged as Yates tried to lower his friend to safety. Finally, Yates was forced to cut the rope, moments before he would have been pulled to his own death.

The next three days were an impossibly grueling ordeal for both men.

“One of the absolute classics of mountaineering…a document of psychological, even philosophical witness of the rarest compulsion” —Sunday Times

Now get yourself a nice wool blanket, some cocoa, and enjoy…. 

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