I began reading not long after I decided to become a writer. I wasn’t a big reader while growing up. I was more interested in becoming an actress and for a short stint, a lawyer. Later, I lost complete focus and wanted to be nothing (due to being possessed and all). When I did start reading, I read all kinds of books.
I often bought books at Zellers, from the $1.00 bin, carrying five or six home whenever I could. I still have my favorite one, right here next to my desk, Story of My Life—a hard cover for only a buck! As I continued reading, I noticed a few things. I noticed some writers were exceptionally good at metaphor, some were good at creating pace and others were good at characterization and symbol, some were just darned good at reading the human psyche.
I began reading books with a renewed vigor. I began asking, “How did the writer do this?”
So with that being said, these are the books I liked most (and also learned stuff from).
- Memoir: The Glass Castle - humor. If the story is sad, how come I laughed?
“Dad had kept this job for nearly six months—longer than any other. I figured we were through with Battle Mountain and that within a few days, we’d be on the move again. ‘I wonder where we’ll live next,’ I said.
Lori shook her head. ‘We’re staying here,’ she said.
Dad insisted he hadn’t exactly lost his job. He had arranged to have himself fired because he wanted to spend more time looking for gold.”—Author Jeannette Walls
(He got fired so he could look for gold?! This family is beyond eccentric and that’s funny! The book makes you appreciate your own screwed-up family.)
- Fiction: The Stone Diaries - metaphor. Count the metaphors in this hard-as-stone story.
“Only bread seems to ease her malaise, buttered bread, enormous slabs of it, what she’s heard people in this village refer to as doorsteps.”—Author Carol Shields
(Did she just make a piece of bread sound like a rock-solid slab of concrete? The book is full of these clever metaphors.)
- Fiction: Story of My Life - pace. This book moves along fast!
“Skip Pendelton’s this jerk I was in lust with once for about three minutes. He hasn’t called me in like three weeks which is fine, okay, I can deal with that, but suddenly I’m like a baseball card he trades with his friends? Give me a break.”–Author Jay McInerney
(So like when long, almost totally run-on sentences get paired with short snappy sentences sorta like Michael Jordan meets Snookie. Bam! This like makes you move really, really fast. Get it?)
- Memoir: Angela’s Ashes - emotion. I must have cried twenty times while reading this book.
“Oh, she says, we’ll have a lovely tea when your Pop brings home the wages tonight.”—Author Frank McCourt.
(Ack! We get set up with happy thoughts that don’t ever pan out because Pop neverbrings home the wages! Yet, I’m always hoping he will! And so I’m crying just knowing it’s not ever going to happen.)
- Fiction: The Handmaid’s Tale - human psyche. What does this story say about the human race?
“I wish this story were different. I wish it were more civilized. I wish it showed me in a better light, if not happier, then at least more active, less hesitant, less distracted by trivia.”—Author Margaret Atwood
(Has she just put her finger on the apathetic pulse of society?)
- Fiction: Dark Places – mood. This book has a distinctly dark mood… how did the writer achieve it?
“But the shoe boxes of donations were gone, and I was left with a mere three letters and the rest of the night to kill. I headed back home, several cars blinking their headlights at me until I realized I was driving dark.”—Author Gillian Flynn
(It’s dark outside, she has a night to kill, and she’s driving dark! That’s a lot of darkness packed into two sentences.)
- Non-Fiction: The Anatomy of Story – symbol. This book (one of my very favorites) contains a great chapter on what symbol is and why writers use it.
“A symbol creates a resonance, like ripples in a pond, every time it appears.”—Author John Truby
(I honestly did not understand symbolism until I read this book.)
- Non-Fiction: Eats Shoots and Leaves—punctuation. A hilarious look at a writer’s obsession with good punctuation…and the insane errors we make! This book has lots of helpful hints for writers.
“The rule is: don’t use commas like a stupid person.”—Author Lynne Truss
- Non-Fiction: Cartwheels in a Sari—fun, but informative. Want to know how to write a great spiritual memoir? Want to know how a family gets caught up in a crazy cult? Read this book. It doesn’t matter what religion you’re from, you will enjoy this woman’s journey through a cult.
“Guru summoned me to his throne, pushing the microphone away for privacy.
‘Oi. I am very, very disappointed in you and your spiritual life.’
‘Such a special soul, I brought down especially from the highest heaven to serve the Supreme in me.’”—Author Jayanti Tamm
(That’s the first clue to figuring out if you’re in a cult—the other person is always supreme!)
- Fiction: Rebecca—gothic romance. One of my favorite genres! Even though Rebecca is dead, she’s always there. How does the author keep her alive?
“He did not belong to me at all, he belonged to Rebecca. He still thought about Rebecca. He would never love me because of Rebecca. She was still in the house as Mrs. Danvers had said, she was in that room in the west wing, she was in the library, in the morning-room, in the gallery above the hall.”—Author Daphne Du Maurier
(The name Rebecca is used more than anyone else’s name in the book.)
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