One would expect writers to be on the cutting edge of the book scene, devouring best-sellers one after another. After all, reading got us into this mess. Not just reading, but reading good books. I sometimes wonder, would I be enamored with writing today if I’d tried to read James Joyce’s “Ulysses” or William Faulkner’s “As I lay Dying” while I was still a tweenager instead of reading everything ever written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Douglass Adams? I suspect not.
That isn’t to say those aren’t perfectly fine books. I confess, however, I’ve never managed to make it through either, which is a personal frustration as I’ve been told Ulysses is the greatest book ever written. How is it I cannot get past the first chapter then?
But I digress.
Over the past four years, or since I started writing for a living, I find I’m reading less and less. This is not good, as I was reminded last week repeatedly at a writers’ conference in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We need to read, to keep our imaginations lit, to stay abreast of changes in style and analyze what works and what doesn’t so our own writing stays fresh, and for myriad other reasons that would bore you to tears if I listed them. For this reason, I’ve established a summer/fall reading list to make sure I’m hip. Or whatever it is I’m supposed to be these days.
I share this list with you with a caveat, one that also attempts to answer the question posed earlier. You won’t recognize many of these authors, but give ’em a shot. Writers don’t always read the latest and greatest best sellers. I’m learning that writers, by the nature of their networking and community, read books by friends who are writers. We help each other out, which is, more often than not, a good deal despite the time invested. However, not all writers should be, if you know what I mean, so sometimes I have to wade through some heartbreaking time-suckers. I will not recommend those books, as a service to you.
On the other hand, we also get to read some phenomenal books by lesser-known authors, some of whom are self-published but should be moved to the front of the line. I will announce those gems as I find them.
Tosca Lee’s “Demon: A Memoir” – Okay, this was going to be on the list but the moment I started it I had to push through, so now it’s just a recommendation. I read this book in three days, it’s so good. For my Christian reader friends, DO NOT JUDGE this book by its gruesome cover. As a writer, I cannot load my brain with dark imagery and would normally have given it a wide berth. However, I’m so incredibly glad someone recommended this because it’s fantastic. I cannot say enough about the way this book has changed my thinking about good and evil. I’ve never considered what fallen angels might think about having no possibility of receiving forgiveness while watching us blind and foolish humans receive chance after chance. Tosca Lee’s descriptions are fantastic and quite believable, and will stay with me for quite some time. The ending felt a bit repetitious at first, but I get it now: We still don’t get it. Because of this book, I will add everything Tosca Lee has ever written to my reading list.
Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” – A small-town reporter and the local pastor notice some strange goings-on in their neighborhood. Recommended by a friend and endorsed by Jerry Jenkins. That’s enough for me.
Connie Mann’s “Hidden Threat” – Just out and looking like a book I can get lost in. Connie is a boat captain from Florida I met at a conference a few years ago. I’ve read most of her books and can easily recommend them, especially last year’s “Tangled Lies.”
Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See” – The story of a blind French girl and a German boy who meet in occupied France during WWII. Although not really into romance, I’m a sucker for a well-told behind-the-scenes war story.
MEMOIRS — Hey, I write ‘em, I gotta read ‘em, and frankly, I think memoirs are among the best reading out there—because truth is indeed stranger and much more interesting than fiction.
Paul Kalamithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air” – the story of a young neurosurgeon facing terminal cancer. Recommended by a writer friend. I’ll keep you posted.
Annie B. Garman’s “Unexpected Grace: When Your Child is Born with Half a Heart” – I haven’t even started reading it and my tears are getting ready to flow. This was a finalist in the 2017 Selah Awards so I know it will change me.
MYSTERY AND HUMOR – may as well get those in one package when you can, don’cha know?
Chelsea Field’s “Eat, Pray, Die mystery series. – I was just about to give up on humor and re-read an old favorite (Douglas Adams’ “Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul – highly recommended) when I stumbled across these. The second book in the series is called “The Hunger Pains,” which screams “READ ME!” So I shall.
There are many other books on my Round-to-it list, primarily writing books (apparently, I should read one a month so I’ll start with Steven James’ Troubleshooting Your Novel); Christian inspiration (Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and classics (“Les Misérables” – I know, I know, but I haven’t yet). I won’t list them all because I don’t want to overwhelm my mind . . . just tease it a bit. I promise to let you know if I find any of these time-investment worthy.
How about you? What’s on the top of your stack? I’m always ready to read something new.
Except “Ulysses.” I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for that.
My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. — Psalm 45:1