An absolutely essential part of writing, as we all know, is reading. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. My best ideas are often inspired by whatever I’m reading. I often find myself adopting writing techniques from other authors for my own writing style.
One thing I haven’t done with this blog that I feel will be a huge help to you, the aspiring writer, is to showcase some of the books I’m currently reading and interested in reading.
You’ll find I read a little bit of everything: fiction, style and craft, non-fiction, poetry, classics, short stories, mixed genres, and contemporary. The only genre I typically avoid is sci-fi — not because I look down upon the genre, but because I’d much rather see the show or movie.
I think being open to a wide range of genres and going out of my comfort zone has been a huge help to me. It helps me break away from my usual writing habits, which is what I think leads to writer’s block.
Below, you’ll find all kinds of books that I personally find interesting and reasons why I think they’re worthy of being on that month’s reading list.
What I’m Currently Reading
Catch-22, the first book to actually make me laugh out loud on multiple occasions. What’s surprising so far is how elevated the vocabulary is. I’ve only ever heard about how funny the book is, but I never expected this to actually be a slow read. There are definitely some parts that are funny and read quickly, but there are others that focus more on the seriousness of the war and how people are being affected by it long term. This, so far, has the feel of a period piece, but I’m sure anyone who has served can relate in some way to Catch-22.
June Reading List
Leaves of Grass isn’t the easiest book to get through. Many of Whitman’s poems are extremely long period pieces that don’t necessarily relate to problems we face today; however, as you’re getting through the book, you find little, hidden gems that make you question how anyone could have such amazing insight into human nature. I fell in love with the transcendentalists; they’re the ones who got me into English when I was at Nassau Community College. Whitman isn’t just about nature either. He does touch upon politics; many of his poems criticize slavery at a time where no one knew the future of the United States. Being unafraid of voicing an opinion is exactly what I’m looking for.
Up in the Old Hotel is one of my favorite books of short stories. This book is all about old school New York City. Joseph Mitchell was a reporter for the New Yorker and he went around the city documenting the quirky people that made New York City what it was: a vibrant, unusual, eclectic city filled with the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. One of my favorite stories is about a male-exclusive, all-you-can-eat meat fest typically held by politicians to encourage donations. Mitchell’s writing is absolutely amazing. The people he meets and the conversations he has with them are funny, deep, and paint all kinds of pictures about what New York City means to them.
The City and The City is not an easy book to read by any means. It can be vague at many points, but that’s the whole point. The reader is taken through a city that appears to be normal on the outside, but there’s so much going on beneath the surface — enough for the reader and the people who inhabit the city and learn the secrets of the city as the book moves forward — it’s hard to tell if there are two cities or if it’s just one. The book is bold and Miéville does a great job with tension. Readers will find themselves naturally making comparisons to the country they live in if they have privacy concerns and their natural freedoms are being questioned or are already in jeopardy.
13 Ways of Looking at the Death Penalty is sure to get you questioning whether or not the death penalty is necessary for civilized society. The boldness of the book is necessary because many people are capable of saying, “Yes, that rapist who fondled all those children is helpless and there’s no reason for him to deserve a second chance.” That may very well be true, but perhaps it’s not as simple as that. If a murderer kills someone and we kill the murderer, are we any better? Whatever your answer may be, this book boldly chooses one side of the argument. You don’t have to agree with it, but you do have to see both sides of an argument if you wish to develop yours even further. Fun fact: The writing on the spine of the book is actually my handwriting from when I was an intern at Seven Stories Press!
The Odyssey (yes, really) is a book you should read if you haven’t yet. But what makes this book so special? Look at who it’s translated by. Emily Wilson is the first female translator of The Odyssey. Hard to believe, considering how long the book has been around, right? Everyone knows about it, but not everyone knows that Homer’s epic is actually more about the women than Odysseus. Penelope has to hold off all the suitors; Circe tells Odysseus’ men how to get home; Nausicaa finds Odysseus washed up on shore, naked and battered by Poseidon’s ocean. Wilson highlights the role women play in this translation of The Odyssey, which highlights a much-needed, often-overlooked perspective on this timeless story.