Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tips from the Tops - what I'm reading...

Tip: Read plenty!
Top: Every writing book I've ever read has stressed how important it is for writers to read.
How it Works in my Life: I'm a maniac reader and have been since grade one. In fact I tried to quit school in grade one as I had learned how to read and thought I was done. (in retrospect I believe I was right but my mother didn't agree) It is tricky reading novels when you're writing them. I have some writerly (published) friends who won't read anything Canadian or won't read anything from the past fifty years or like that. I'm not so disciplined as all that but I do try and be aware of when I'm being unduly influenced by a style that isn't mine. This is an odd time as I've been revising for bloody ever but I'm about to start a new novel tomorrow. Also, because we're de-cluttering I've been poking about in our crazy big library - getting rid of books and organizing the ones left. That has led me to saying 'oh, haven't read this in awhile' and then I might read one of a certain author and decide I need to read all of them again. And I rejoined a book-club I left 20 years ago! This will give you an idea.

Where I read - I used to read every night before falling asleep - if my fella is snoring I do go into the guest room and do that there but otherwise since I hooked up with him ten years ago I don't read at night in bed. I read in the bath though which is why a kindle might not be for me. I read in bed in the morning, the fella brings me a cuppa joe and I stay in bed 'til 7:30 or even later, languidly idly reading away. I read on the couch in the living room usually with the fella reading in another chair. I also listen to audio books in the car and that is reading in a weird and very pleasant way.

What do I notice when I'm also writing or revising - I notice punctuation but it is just like when I look at a map to notice where Turkey is. I cannot remember as soon as I'm not looking. It is some sort of aphasia I imagine. For instance I've been noticing that I haven't been doing the correct punctuation for dialogue. This causes me so much anxiety. I must phone the person who edits for me and tell her to be very alert to that! Then I try and quiet down my anxiety and just attend to the story. I notice how much dialogue there is and how much description and whether the plot works or not. I just read a rather famous mystery writer's second to last book and it drove me mad - I liked it as I've liked all of this author's but I could see see (or imagined I could see) the machinations in her marketing brain work - as in 'oh think I'll put in a bit of Ruth Rendell spooky atmosphere here, some Martha Grimes quirky villagers here, a dash of Elizabeth George's brilliant tormented sleuth mind here...' You get the picture. And I know I'm being unnecessarily critical because I'm working on my own mystery. I also know when I read something so brilliant that it makes my heart break and I feel both hopeful and dashed in the same thought. Hopeful because I love what good fiction can do and dashed because I don't feel confident enough to pull it off.

So here is the current list (the last ten days or so)

On Beauty by Zaide Smith  - audio book and brilliantly done. I've read it before in the book form and love this - also because it is an homage to Howard's End which I can never get enough of. I wonder if I could do an homage to a book I like and carry it off so well?

Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane - read for book club. This book was considered a masterpiece and it was very interesting. It is about a young woman who marries an older man and goes off to a coastal town in Germany. It was written in the latter half of the 1800's and what interested me about it was the incredibly restricted life of women during that time. Like Madame Bovary poor Effi goes wrong and boy does she have to pay for it! Our book club was pretty much divided down the middle on this one - half liked it and half thought it tedious and couldn't get into it.

All of My Friends are Going to be Strangers by Larry McMurtry - I am mad for all of McMurtry's novels set in 'modern' times - the Lonesome Dove type not so much. This involves a set of people who show up again in Moving On and perhaps in Terms of Endearment as well. I'm going out on a limb here - McMurtry is a genius. I'd be so happy to be able to write as honestly as he does. Reading this on the heels of Effi Briest was sort of mind-blowing in that he writes explicit sex scenes (whereas we weren't even sure how Effi got pregnant let alone managed an affair).  McMurtry simply does not hold back in anyway and I think he is brilliant for it. I've read this book before and the others that go with it, as well as his trilogy starting with The Last Picture Show (Texasville and Duane's Depressed)  I love them all! They make me want to go to Texas and hang around seedy bars and smoke dope and get into fights. I want to go to the rodeo and write a book in a garage apartment while taking pot shots at squirrels. I want to make love to fifteen women in twelve days. (OK maybe not those last things but the rodeo for sure) Sometimes I think his writing is like the love-child of Hemingway and Kerouac with Truman Capote as the godmother. I think he's better by far than Hemingway - more honest and more available. I don't even know what I mean. I'm addled when it comes to McMurtry. Simply addled.

The Bell by Iris Murdoch - whoa! Did you feel sea-sick going from Fontane to McMurtry to Murdoch? The Bell is another old favourite. No one writes like Murdoch and this is my favourite one of hers. I'm just diving into this weird story of a group of religious types hanging out near an Abbey in England. I am so irritated with a couple of the characters I could burst but that is because she does it so well. I hope I catch that from her.

Later my pals. What are you reading and do you have any rules about what you read when you're creating your own work?

1 comment:

Hart Johnson said...

I love to read, but find when I am editing, I do A LOT less of it. That's because editing I can take with me and do when I'd normally read. Where when I'm WRITING, then I can read on my commute.

In terms of influence--I mostly try to keep books 'like mine' distanced a little from my writing time (read them at the start of an editing spurt)--there are a lot of genres though, that I will never write.