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Merry Monday - The Importance of Reading as an Author

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So here is my planned reading list for 2017:

  • Éric Desmarais - A Study in Aether: A Baker City Mystery

  • Tanya Huff - An Ancient Peace

  • Caroline Frechette - Blood Relations

  • Jostein Gaarder - Sophie's World

  • Madeline Ashby - VN

  • Jeanette Walls - The Glass Castle

  • Margaret Atwood - The Blind Assassin

  • Thomas Keneally - Schindler's List

  • Ursula Le Guin - A Wizard of Earthsea

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald - Tender is the Night

  • Terry Pratchett - The Colour of Magic

  • Kass Williams - The Elf Conspiracy

You might notice that I have a fair bit that isn't in any of the genres I write in. Sophie's World is the type that I expect will fundamentally alter my perception of the world. The Glass Castle as well.

I have a feeling I will like F. Scott Fitzgerald because I'm not a Hemingway fan. I like to include at least one classic in my reading list. Last year, I tried Wuthering Heights and found it annoying. I also tried The Sun Also Rises and I just find that I didn't enjoy the story or care about any of the characters. Tom Sawyer was good though. Mark Twain is my kind of classic author.

I've never read Schindler's List. I've only seen the film. I've seen the film many times as part of character and scene study for a play called "In Silence", which featured women in a Nazi camp. We performed this in high school theatre. I was the stage manager for that one. We did pretty well with it, but we weren't the school that won a lot of awards for theatre. Just a few talented actresses and actors usually won. We did win an ensemble one for costumes one year that I got to accept. Anyway, I digress. I figure Schindler's List is a good pick for 2017.

The rest is me catching up on my woefully inadequate sci-fi and fantasy reading background. Why not just read a bunch of sci-fi and fantasy books to catch up? There are a couple of reasons not to do that:

1. I believe in palate cleansers. Like with food, if you only read one type of novel all the time, it won't wow you as much as if you take a break in between. Change the flavour and each will stand out more and delight your taste buds.

2. I really love having my perception altered. It gives new depth and meaning to everything I experience. Last year, reading Elizabeth Berg's "Open House" let me see how divorce was for another woman. There were things that were the same as my experience and other pieces that were different.

3. I expect I'll probably write some non-fiction or historical fiction someday, so it's important to read some of those too.

4. I'm considering a Masters in Library Sciences someday, so I should be well read beyond speculative fiction.

5. The world is vast. Reading a book takes you on a journey. I get to live so many lives and see places I haven't been able to travel to yet.

6. Most famous authors like Stephen King recommend reading outside your own genre. I figure when experts recommend something like this, there's a good reason for it. I figure authors that have sold millions of books, probably know something about what helps authors get better.

I just finished Bram Stoker's Dracula. I have Neil Gaiman's American Gods to finish before January. I'm only on chapter 8 of American Gods. I also have a couple of French children's books to finish. Those will probably need to be renewed at the library.

I also tend to read some comic books or graphic novels throughout the year when I want something really short and easy. I'm enjoying House of Mystery by Vertigo. Maybe I'll take out some manga in the new year.

A friend once told me he didn't think authors have to read in order to write. Would you take your car to a mechanic that doesn't drive? Here are some other reasons writers need to read:

1. Writing is a business. You need to know what else is in the marketplace, so you know how to market your own work. Things like age group and genre are just a small part of it.

2. Reading exposes you to different ways of doing things. Maybe you suck at dialogue. Grab a book by an author you enjoy and see the ways they handle dialogue to improve. Grab others and compare them.

3. Reading improves your vocabulary. Writing isn't just about putting words on a page. Sure, for the first draft, the individual words matter less you need to just get something down. After the first draft, you want to use the right words. Shouted, bellowed, whispered, choked, screamed, rasped... How your character says something can paint a picture of their mood or their whole personality. And sometimes they just say it without any particular tone or manner.

4. Reading can inspire your own work. Authors often steal from each other. We don't steal the exact same thing as what we read from another. For example, I have a plant creature that is completely different than a friend's plant creature. Her origin is different. Her role in my story is different. Her relationship with my protagonist is similar, but not the same. Her abilities are different. What about originality? When was the last time you saw anything truly original? Even most technology comes from improvements on previously made products. Canadians invented the 56k modem, which was really just an improvement on the modems that came before. Now, I'm in no way saying my plant creature is an improvement on my friend's. I'm just saying we both have cool plant creatures. Did you know that in England they call flashlights torches? Perhaps to them, flashlights are simply an improvement over sticks with fire rather than a new invention.

5. Reading improves your brain. It teaches you things. It gives you an experience without actually going through it. That is a simulation. You can find yourself knowing exactly what to do in real life because of what you read. If you read several mystery books, you might just learn how to gather evidence when something is stolen from you. You might also learn that leaning toward an opponent during a fight puts your head in a bad place and you avoid getting hit with a pool cue.

Some reasons some people don't read:

1. Too tired. This is when you need a really easy read like a romance novel or something like Dan Brown. Many powerful people such as presidents and CEOs will grab trash to read because they spend their days making hard decisions and their brains need a rest.

2. Sore eyes. This is when audiobooks are great. They're expensive, so head to your library, a site like audible, or get librivox. Now, librivox is a volunteer service, so the quality of the readings vary. I listened to most of Dracula, but the last couple chapters are read terribly, so I read those with my eyes.

3. Too busy. Audiobooks can help here too as you can listen on the bus, while driving, while preparing dinner, etc. There are also blinks. Blinks are summaries that give you the main points of a book. Short stories are good if you're busy too.

4. Don't like it. It could be that you hate reading. It could also be that you haven't read anything you enjoy. You haven't found genres or authors that you like. Maybe the material isn't something you connect with. That's Hemingway for me. Try anthologies of different genres. Try comedy. Try reading an autobiography, biography, or memoir about someone you admire like a favorite athlete or celebrity. All too often, I run into people that try to start with heavy reads like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. Some do this because they think there is some prestige to be gained by jumping into a series of thick books. Wondering if fantasy is for you? Try something lighter like The Hobbit. Try fantasy novels for younger readers. Try Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Try Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Try a Terry Pratchett. Don't start with Game of Thrones. It's thick. It's complicated to follow. Or try things that are similar to an experience you've had. Maybe you've climbed a mountain? Read someone else's experience of climbing a mountain. The familiarity of an activity you enjoy can be comforting to find within the pages.

5. Too expensive. The library is your friend. Be responsible with the books and you won't owe anything to read them. Secondhand bookstores and thrift stores often have books for less than a dollar. Libraries also sell off books. Some ebooks are free, but the quality might not be great if you're looking to improve your writing skills or vocabulary. Bookstores like Chapters often have a clearance section. I got a whole Terry Brooks series for around $15.

6. Can't see. Audiobooks and braille. Yes, I realize someone who is fully blind can't read this, but there are many varying degrees of blindness. I believe outside of the library, you can also get free audiobooks from CNIB.

7. No space. Get more bookshelves ;)

8. Don't want to. If you're an author, you have to read. Find some motivation. If you aren't an author, I'm not sure why you're still reading this blog post ;)

Off to read before bed.



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