Creative writing instructors always tell you, if you want to write, read. Long before I ever considered being a writer, I read everything I could get my hands on. My grandmother taught me to read by the time I was four, using the daily newspaper comic strips and comic books.
Fine and good, you say, but why do I care what you read?
Well, if you read my work, aren’t you the tiniest bit interested in what shaped how I wrote it?
No? Well, listen anyway.
Book Clubs are the Best
When I worked full time, it would take me weeks to finish a book. I yearned for vacation time when I could pack a separate suitcase for the books I’d been meaning to read. This was pre-Kindle, and I did have a carry-on for my books. Without work to distract me, I’d get caught up on my reading.
But there was never any time for a book club, and I so wanted to be in a book club. To me, that was the best use of time–sitting around, talking about books, and sipping wine. Wine makes it happen, baby.
When I retired and moved from bustling Northern Virginia to sleepy Central Shenandoah Valley Virginia, one of the first things I looked for was a book club to join. I found one almost right away, Reading Liberally.
An offshoot of the national organization Living Liberally, whose purpose is to show that liberals aren’t crazy people, Reading Liberally encourages its groups to read books that reflect our personal political philosophy as well as those in opposition. My local group is pretty good about that. We read mostly nonfiction but toss in a couple of novels a year. It’s a great group of mostly like-minded people, which means our discussions are more or less civil, but they’re deep and meaningful.
But That’s Not All I Read
As a writer, I also read writing craft books, books on marketing, and books in my genre, as well as what I call my “fluff” books. Those are books where I don’t have to think (much) while I’m reading. I love a complex, convoluted mystery or thriller, but on occasion I want to read simply for the joy of reading.
“Fluff” books–and no I’m not going to name any because I’m a writer and I know writers have feelings, too–are a good balance for the “heavy” stuff I read: history books, books for writing research, books about key issues of today. I love nothing more than getting lost in a history book with all the detail and the notes. Sometimes, they’re like a novel to me, taking me to a different world.
But after a decent interval of that, I need to clear the palate, as it were, and not think, merely get caught up in a story that’s lively and entertaining but not necessarily cerebral.
So, What Am I Reading?
Here’s what I currently have started reading:
- Paris Circle by Keenan Duffey (a thriller by someone who has a podcast I like, so I’d count that among the writing craft options)
- Audio for Authors by Joanna Penn (again, another writing-related book, since I’m working to improve my own podcast)
- We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (a novel and this month’s selection for Reading Liberally)
Here’s what I’ve recently finished:
- Our Game by John le Carre (I’m working my way through his backlist.)
- The Tailor of Panama by John le Carre
- The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte (June selection for Reading Liberally–and I’ve always loved dinosaurs.)
- Black December and Creatures of Dust by Scott Hunter (the first two books in a series about an Irish police detective who has an unbelievably hard life that interferes with his police work)
- A Spy Among Friends by Ben MacIntyre (about the notorious mole Kim Philby)
- Serbia by Lara Zmukic (research for a trilogy coming out in the fall)
What’s coming up:
- How the South Won the Civil War by Heather Cox Richardson (August book for Reading Liberally)
- Single and Single by John le Carre
- Russians Among Us by Gordon Corera (This could be a combination of research and feeding my need for history and politics.)
And I need to get reading. I’m six books behind in my Goodreads Reading Challenge for this year!
I’m always adding to my list, so let me know what you’re reading.