Tag Archives: reading

Lessons from a Reader: Keep Your Opinions Out Of It

I’ve been reading a lot lately. I’m currently on book number 18 of 2012. With all that reading there are some things I like and some things I can’t stand.

One thing I’ve always wished I was better at was taking lessons from what I read and applying that to what I write. Being a writer you’d think that would be obvious, but it never is. I’m the kind of reader that wants to know what’s going to happen next, so I usually fly through the text and don’t slow down enough to learn some lessons as a writer.

So I’m going to start posting these notes to myself, these lessons from a reader so maybe I can start saving some of this insight.

Keep Your Opinions Out Of It
When you’re writing fiction, I don’t care about your politics. In Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer the character’s mother (Who also happens to be a writer—oh my gosh, stop making your characters writers, it comes across as lazy! Research another career.) goes off on Fox News and the president encamped at a Texas ranch. Gee, which president could that be?

Obviously the author is not a fan of George W. Bush. But who cares? It doesn’t help the story. You just turned your character into a stereotype and needlessly annoyed half your audience. And for what? Nothing.

There are times when political opinions are necessary in fiction, but make them necessary. They should make the character three dimensional, adding intrigue and depth, not cardboard flatness.

2011 Reading List

Once again I’ve cataloged all the books I’ve read in the past year. It was a decent year for reading and as in the past the list is dominated by favorite authors and post-apocalyptic sci-fi.

I’ve noticed my reading really picks up when I find an engaging story and really drops off when I read non-fiction that doesn’t have some sort of story structure that maintains my interest. As a case in point, I remember reading the 23rd book on the list in late July. At that rate I should have read more than 28 books in the year, but I got slogged down in several marketing books in the fall and didn’t get re-engaged in good stories until the end of the year (no offense to those non-fiction books, it’s just the nature of the beast). As in past years, having a stack of books I’m eager to dive into next always helps. That plagued my fall reading as well.

You can also check out my previous reading lists: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001.

Continue reading 2011 Reading List

2010 Reading List

Time for my annual brag-a-thon of the books I read in the past year. Nobody likely cares, but I find joy in keeping a running tally. Plus it’s fun to keep track of stuff on an annual basis (like when I turn on the heat—yes,  I’m weird).

This year was a mix of post-apocalyptic tales and some of my favorite authors. I tend to put off reading some of my favorite authors so I can save up their stories, but the result is never I read them. So this year I got around to reading a few from some of my favorites like Anne Lamott, Barbara Kingsolver and Frederick Buencher. I also dove more deeply into the post-apocalyptic genre, carrying over last year’s obsession and being spurned on by publishing my own story.

This year I think I managed to read more books than I have since 2002. I’ve found one way to read more is to have a stack of books on hand that I’m eager to read. That way when I finish one book I can dive right into the next book. Most of my reading droughts happen when I don’t dive into a new book right away. Oddly enough, I’ve had to turn to the library to keep that interesting stack of books (cuz the 1,500+ books in our personal library aren’t enough?!). Carrying a book with me wherever I go also helps me read more—I get my best reading done while waiting for the dogs to pee.

You can also check out my previous reading lists: 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001.

Continue reading 2010 Reading List

Reading a Chapter from My Book

There I am, sitting in my grandmother’s rocking chair reading the first chapter from my novel, Least of These. It’s kind of like attending an author reading at your favorite bookstore, except you can be in your house and I can be in my house and nobody pays  me to record audiobooks for a reason. But it’s still pretty cool.

Watch the video.

You can buy a copy from Amazon if you like. A few friends have also created e-versions from the free PDF (iPhone and ePub, I think), but I haven’t gotten around to posting them. If you’re clamoring for those, hit me up in the comments I’ll stop procrastinating.

And for the record, I noticed one error and a handful of corrections I wanted to make after reading the first chapter outloud four or five times. I told you it was a rough draft.

2009 Reading List

Every year I keep a list of the books I read and every year I post that list for kicks. I don’t know what anybody else gets out of it, but I enjoy it.

This is perhaps the third year in a row when I’ve gone on a sci-fi bender. That kick accounted for a full third of my list in the last month and a half of the year. I think it’s fair to say that I’m a big sci-fi fan and that sci-fi is perhaps single-handedly keeping me interested in reading. Which is odd, because I’ve never considered myself much of a genre reader. I’ve had pretty wide ranging tastes and usually enjoy general fiction. I don’t even own very many sci-fi books, probably fewer than a half-a-dozen that I can name (and we own a lot of books).

I also went on a little teen novel kick, thinking one of my novels might land in that genre (like I said, I’m not very genre aware). It’s a fun little genre, defined more by the characters and focus than anything, but also kind of a genre with an identity crisis (while they’re categorized ‘for teens,’ they’re perfectly capable novels for adults as well).

You can also check out my previous reading lists: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001.

Continue reading 2009 Reading List

Pretentious Literary Snot

Sometimes I’m a pretentious literary snot. Unlike most debt-ridden, almost-newlywed, post college twenty-somethings, my wife and I have a library of nearly 800 books (and the number swells monthly). Now we justify it by picking up the books cheap at the used section of Barnes & Noble, where I balk at paying anything over $5 for a book. The 88-cent paperback table is my favorite gold mine.

But sometimes I think all these books make me a bit of a snot. I ride the bus to work and read quite a lot, and I take great pride in telling people how many books I read. Last year I read around 35, and this year I’m on a pace to break 50. I keep a list of the books I read each year, and every time I finish a book and need to select a new one from the shelves, I go over that list in my head and try to find a writer I haven’t read lately. I’d like to say I do this to have some literary diversity, to give myself a broad spectrum of influences, to hear voices from many different cultures, races, genders, societies and times. And that may be true, but I also like having an impressive list of authors I’ve read.

I’ve already read an Anne Lamott book this year, so I pass her up for Barbara Kingsolver, whom I haven’t read since last year. I’ve actually read a few Frederick Buechners, so I better stay away from him. I haven’t read Maya Angelou yet, and I should be able to say that I know why the caged bird sings. Apparently just knowing isn’t enough.

And all this week while reading Maya Angelou’s famous book I keep hoping people notice what book I’m reading. I want them to see this uppity, suburban white boy reading some black literature. I understand your pain. I feel the sting of racism and stand by you in solidarity. That’s what I think. But my actions betray me. Some relative will make a remark about coons and rather than speak my mind I stay silent. I may be seething, and will later consult with my other solidarity-minded relatives and quietly condemn the racist among us, but I never extinguish the hot spark of racism like I probably should. As I walk to my wife’s work in what some would call the wrong end of town I watch my back and pay more attention than I should to each passing car, each African American pedestrian.

I’m as sorry as the rest of them, and it makes me sad.

The other day I was contemplating writing a book about riding the bus and reading books, yet another of the book ideas that cross my mind and slowly slip away unwritten. But the idea of appearing a pompous literary ass who quotes books to sound important soured me.

I like to think I read books because I like to read, not because I want to be important. And I think the best evidence for that is the fact that I’m so quickly swept into the rhythmic plot of a book that I quickly forget to underline witty passages or pay attention to the arrangement of words and sentences the way most writers do. I just read and read, as fast as I can, barreling toward the end of the book to find out what happened.

And maybe that’s how it’s done: being so wrapped up in humanity and discovery and holiness that we don’t realize the passage we quoted is Shakespeare, or the man we befriended is black.