Read and Reread

reading“For all I know, writing comes out of a superior devotion to reading.” Eudora Welty, On Writing

I just did something I haven’t done in years. I read two novels in the span of two weeks. Joy! I fussed and fretted over making the next pick. What if it didn’t live up to my new expectations? Should I choose non-fiction so as not to lose the magic of reading two novels in two weeks?

I would venture to guess that most of us fell in love with reading before we started to write. I read voraciously as a kid, having little else to do in the rural Pennsylvania town I grew up. To this day, I can remember the panic I felt at not having the next book lined up well before the current book was finished. I would spend an entire Sunday reading.

Once I started writing, reading become harder, primarily because I only had so much time. The free time I did have went to writing. Also, the more I wrote, the harder it became to get completely absorbed in a book. And despite needing to read to learn to write, reading still felt luxurious (and guilt inducing) if I picked up a novel in the middle of the day. I wrote more and read less. My reading pace dropped to about one book per month and went to zero during the dark days of the Novel Incubator.

Aside from the benefits the scientists and journalists tell us we get from reading, we writers should be reading as much as we can in as many genres as we can to learn our craft. Ideally, I think it would be a great benefit to read good books twice—the first time for the thrill of the story and the second for how the story was crafted. I don’t do this regularly, but I have started a to-be-read-again stack (keeping it far away from my to-be-read stack so as not to induce heart palpitations over all I have to read). I have several books I want to outline to understand how one particular craft element worked for that book.

At the top of my to-read-again pile is Lacy Eye by Jessica Treadway. Flashback is a big part of this book, and Treadway seamlessly takes us again and again into the past. I found myself often flipping back several pages to figure out just how she led us there. Also in the pile are Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng and Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout. In reading a great many novels, I have discovered that some of my favorites are told in the omniscient point of view, which oddly enough, would work very well for my novel. I am, however, terrified by the thought of trying to attempt this particular point of view. The next two books in the stack are We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, which deal with unreliable narrators. I still don’t know what I should believe of what the narrator tells me in Shriver’s book, and in Ishiguro’s book, I know not to believe the narrator since he lives in the world he wants to live in.

As expected, the next couple of books I had started after those two delightful reads in May, I stopped reading about fifty pages in. The reality is that whatever book I started next was doomed from the start. It had a lot to live up to. What I finally settled on was Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, a book I heard outlined in a Muse session on time given by Lynne Barrett. I already know what happens in the book, which makes it all the more interesting to read. I can see each carefully selected word is a lead up to the eventual outcome. I can follow how the author handles time. It’s like reading the book for the second time.

It is only by reading a lot can we really interpret what we learned in all of our classes. Sure, we can listen to our instructors, do exercises, and read snippets of novels in class, but we really can’t figure out what works and how it works unless we read through to the end. So when thinking about your summer reading list, select a favorite and reread it. You may learn something.

3 comments

  1. Anna

    Your memory of reading as a child and lining up the next book before finishing the current one struck a chord with me. I used to take out six books at a time from the library and then settle in happily with the first one. My mother (a reading teacher, ironically) was horrified at the time lost from homework and chores. She took the five remaining books and stacked them up on the floor of her closet, expecting to deter me from finishing them too fast. Of course, her ploy didn’t work. As I finished each book I sneaked into her closet, replaced the book on the bottom of the stack, and picked the next one from the top. By the end of the week, next library day, I was ready for six more. Nothing stops a devoted reader!

  2. You have been very helpful. I’m ordering Lacy Eye and We Need To Talk About Kevin right now. They are just what I need as I’m working on constant flashbacks with an unreliable narrator.

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