A rainy day, a pot of tea, and a good book... Life doesn't get any better than that, does it? Not if you're an avid reader. And not if you're a writer, either.
I love to crack open a book that's new to me. Heck, I love to crack open my old favorites. After all, what better way to learn to write a novel than to read one?
Writers, I believe, should read two types of books: good ones and bad ones. The good ones can highlight what you're doing wrong. The bad ones can confirm what you're doing right.
Within those two types, writers should read three kinds of books:
1. Books within your genre
2. Books outside your genre
3. The classics of yesteryear, not just new releases
Whether you're a beginning writer or a twenty-novel veteran, reading with a critical eye can help you push your craft to the next level. By critical eye, I mean ask yourself what about the book makes you marvel. Then, ask yourself how the writer made that aspect of her work so awesome.
Maybe a writer's dialogue blows you away. Maybe it's her description. The element you admire most may change as your skill set changes. In any case, your bookshelf can be a never-ending classroom. Here are the top ten books that have taught me.
Nic's Top Ten Most Influential Books
10. Sue Grafton's A Is for Alibi
Grafton bent noir without breaking it. She made the genre into something else. In doing so, she made it her own. And I admire her for it.
9. Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters
This high Victorian serial caught Charles Dickens' eye. And no wonder. The symbolism is sometimes blatant, sometimes
subtle. But it always works hard to carry a larger message.
8. Carla Negger's The Cabin
Now I get it: Peanut butter is to chocolate what romance is to suspense!
7. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
Need I say more?
6. Jane Austen's Mansfield Park
Structure is the object here. In a sense, this novel is a story told in duplicate. Each character, each motive, each setting has its equal and opposite counterpart. Together, these parts tell a poignant tale, delivered to the reader through structure.
5. Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man
This Depression Era novel packs a punch even by today's standards. How? Hammett can convey a dark truth in a single sentence. You get the whole picture in just a few words.
4. Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night
Sayers is a study in theme. Like all of her novels, Gaudy Night's theme is constant throughout - and can be summed up in one word. In this case, that word is "love."
3. Robert Crais' L.A. Requiem
Crais is a master storyteller, working point-of-view not just to
gradually reveal the pertinent facts of his mystery, but also to naturally trigger an emotional reaction from the reader. Joe Pike, I love you from the bottom of my heart.
2. William Gibson's Pattern Recognition
My heart sings each time I read this novel. While the book may seem topical, its characters are really on the universal quest
we all pursue. To my mind, that's the most beautiful thing a novel can do.
1. Frank Herbert's Dune
I first read this book when I was fourteen years old. And it rocked my world. Published in 1965, Dune is an amalgam of messages that seem to sum up where we've been... and where we're going. I can only hope my work will do half as much.
The more I write, and the more I read, the more my list changes. I hope you'll keep reading while you keep writing, too. In the meantime, tell the Rockville 8: Which are your favorite books? What do they teach you about the craft?
Monday, May 24, 2010
Reading for Writers
Posted by Nichole Christoff
Labels: Craft; Advice for Writers
Nichole Christoff is a writer, broadcaster, and military spouse who's worked on-air and behind-the-scenes writing, editing, producing, and promoting content for radio, television, and the PR industry across the United States and Canada. Her latest thriller from Random House Alibi is THE KILL BOX and it's a Library Journal "Best Books 2015: E-Original pick." Nichole's fiction has won both the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart and the Helen McCloy-Mystery Writers of America Scholarship. She has been shortlisted for a Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, too. She loves nothing more than getting lost in a good book . . . unless it would be trying to write one!