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 for 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
War and Peace (Vintage Classics) has so far been a great novel about Russia during Napoleon’s European conquests. I got this as a gift and delayed picking it up because of how large it is, but the beauty of Tolstoy’s prose makes me wish I started sooner.
May Reading List
Flash Fiction Forward is a fantastic little book containing all kinds of flash fiction stories that showcase to readers how big of an impact writers can create with as little words as possible. There are a handful of extraordinary writers like Robert Coover, Grace Paley, Lydia Davis, and Dave Eggers. If you’ve ever listened to The New Yorker Fiction Podcast like I am, you’ve absolutely heard of all these authors. This book defines flash fiction as a story under 750 words. As an exercise, try to give yourself rigid word counts. You’ll find it’s not as easy as it seems.
Short: An International Anthology of Five Centuries of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms, despite its very long name, is an interesting book on the history of short works from all over the world, starting at a very early period in time. The earliest works are from the 1500’s. The interesting thing about this book is that the stories are listed in the order of which the author was born, tying them to a specific writing era, which is a bit unusual for an anthology. This book covers multiple genres like fiction, prose poems, essays, tableaus, and tropisms — none of these go over 1250 words. Again, if you’re looking for a challenge, use strict word limits.
The Only Story is Julian Barnes’ most recent novel, which I haven’t had the chance to read yet. After reading The Sense of an Ending and seeing the movie, I knew I had to buy this book as soon as possible. Barnes has an amazing way of withholding information from the reader and his characters simultaneously to the point where you’re reading and you’re not even sure if Barnes knows what’s going to happen next. Not much typically takes place in his books; they’re subtle, but deep, like Russian literature. Barnes describes this as the one story he has to tell, meaning this is the one we have to read.
Little Fires Everywhere has popped up on every other website’s reading list for good reason. Ng is not only a great writer, but a great source of inspiration on Twitter. One thing she did that really jumped out to me, which was something I could imagine myself learning in grad school, was she looked at crime reports in her very well-off suburban neighborhood as hilarious sources for creative inspiration. The wording alone in the reports was enough to paint a picture in the reader’s mind about what first world problems are. The point, though, is that Ng pays very close attention to detail, pulling information from real life to leave the reader wondering how it’s possible to write so intimately.
Some Say the Lark is a tough poetry book to read, but absolutely worth the multiple rereads it took to understand some of the poems. I love a challenge coming out of grad school, and this book hits all the right notes on an intellectual level. Words bounce back and forth across the page, stanzas break open in between sentences to lead the reader effortlessly down the page, and speak about nature and poetry in ways that I never thought were possible. Some of these poems are an absolute inspiration for my own work. Many ideas I have in my head about nature that I can’t get down on paper are in this book and are written so perfectly. Chang’s poetry can be found in The New Yorker, so this isn’t just me hyping her up. She earned it.