Sunday, September 23, 2012

Stack dump

Writing has always been a difficult task, but I wonder if it's gotten more difficult in our modern world. How is one to write with all of these distractions?! Like this one, for instance. It's very difficult for me to write my own stories when there are at least one hundred of them already here, with updates once a week. I consider reading good stuff an essential activity for all writers. In fact, I was tempted to declare reading good stuff a mandate for all humans, but I was afraid I'd sound like a pompous ass, and sure enough, that's exactly what it sounded like. Read that again.  See what I mean?

These distractions I speak of also impede our reading ability. We're awash in reading material and without some direction, we'll drown. Or worse yet, we'll just doggy paddle. We'll think we're reading, but we won't ever get around to reading the good stuff. We'll just continue nibbling on bits of junk* as they rush by in this river of information. I have subscriptions to lit sites delivered directly into my inbox that I never, ever get around to reading. Every once in a while, I delete them all because they're clogging up the works. I have a folder on my desktop labeled 'To Be Read', but it rarely gets read. I have stacks of books and journals on my shelves and lying around in my office just begging for my attention. There is just so much out there. How can we, as readers and/or writers make sense of it and choose reading material?

First, I should define what I mean by "good stuff"? Obviously, this term is open for interpretation and can mean different things to different people. Further complicating this is the fact that the meaning can change depending on the situation. My ideal reading material for a long plane ride might be quite different than the reading material I choose for every day reading. Then there are books I read with a certain goal in mind - such as improving my writing, or learning how to make soap. I also read to find out what the market* is reading. I read to do research for my writing.  To me, "good stuff" will help you meet your goal, whatever that is.

For instance, if you're interested in a good yarn told by a superb writer, read The End. I read this based on a blog recommendation from a tried and true source, despite mixed reviews when I researched it myself, and it did not disappoint.  This is truly a beautiful book.  Likewise, Let the Great World Spin and White Teeth.  On the other hand, if you're thinking that you don't have much time, but you want smart, witty, absolutely hilarious short stories, T.C. Boye, Stories just might do the trick.  I'm sure someone is out there yearning to know more about South Africa and to have it delivered in very human terms.  Agaat or Triomf.  This reminds me that I haven't seen anything new from Van Niekerk in a couple of years, and that is a crying shame.  She writes beautifully. If you want to read a classic and have an impeccable attention span combined with an inexplicable love of long sentences, it's In Search of Lost Time for you. I've loved every word of it so far, but I'm still slowing picking my way through and I fully expect to finish before I die.  At least I hope so.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals is a light and funny travelogue. If you're in the mood for hard-hitting and dreary - don't snort, this happens to me quite often - I'd try Poachers or Winter's Bone.

This might sound counterproductive to those of you who are already lamenting that you don't have enough time to read, but I think that a little time invested  in research can really pay off in your reading life.  I'm not opposed to books which are on the bestseller lists.  I will probably be mocked incessantly for saying this, but anything from Oprah's list is almost always a success for me.  That being said, there are some really incredible books out there that don't make it to the widely publicized lists.  As a reader, try to identify which lists seem to resonate with you.  Take time to read book reviews and when it turns out that you agree wholeheartedly with a review, follow that person or blog and try out more of their recommendations.  If you can find someone with the same reading style as you, you've hit the jackpot, my friend.  Hold on tight and don't let go.

*I tried.  I really, really tried to like 50 Shades of Grey. The problem is that I can't get past Chapter 2, and without actually reading it, I can't like it.  I am flabbergasted, mind-boggled.  Why do so many people like these books, other than the obvious sexual overtones, which we can get anywhere, anytime on the internet if we so desire?  I truly cannot understand the reading preferences of the reading public.  Apparently, it's now going to be made into a movie.  A tiny sliver of my soul just shriveled up and died.

3 comments:

  1. I also tried really hard to like 50 Shades of Grey, I didnt get it . I think I got a little further than you but if I can't get into a book by about the fifth chapter, I dont feel the need to read it. Reading is a very precious time for me because it is the only time I have to myself and I look forward to looking into your suggestions. I am always up for a new and exciting read if any more come to your mind.

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  2. I tried to read 50 shades of grey too before I knew what it was about. I feel like I should have gotten my money back. Not only was it written in a form that a fourth grader would grasp, but I didn't like the content either. So disappointed for a book that had so much hype and great reviews. I am positive that you could write something better.

    Kailey

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  3. Dear Diff Mama:

    I wholeheartedly agree - I treasure every moment I can find to read, so why read junk? Oh, my dear, I have so many suggestions. What kinds of books do you usually read? Let me know if you read any of my suggestions and tell me what you think. I'm currently reading 'The Song is You' and I would recommend it.

    ****

    Kailey:

    Thanks, Little Chicken! You made me smile! I'm flattered that you read my blog - I'm sure you have tons of grown-up girl things to do. I'm working on writing that book right now and if it isn't better than 50 Shades, for the love of God, please let me know and talk me into not writing anymore. You're right - the reading level was so simplistic it was almost insulting. I felt like I really got cheated because I never even made it to the good parts. Sounds like I didn't miss much!

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