I have a confession to make, dear readers: I have been a bad, bad writer the last year.
I didn’t carve out time to read.
This is a huge mistake on my part. Reading is SO IMPORTANT for anyone who is seriously trying to be a writer. Regular reading is the second most important thing a writer can do to improve her craft (with regular writing being the most important, obviously). You want to read everything you can get your paws on. Reading good books shows you how other skilled writers tell their stories, helping you learn the tricks of the trade while(hopefully) inspiring you to do better work on my own projects. Reading bad books, on the other hand, shows you what not to do (I’m not naming any names *cough 50 shades cough*) and helps you improve your writing by learning from the mistakes of others.
I could ramble for days on the benefits of daily reading. I genuinely think it’s the best thing ever.
And yet I only managed to read 15 books in 2014. *facepalm*
I know, I’m the worst. But I’m vowing to work on it in 2015, so there’ll be no more shameful facepalming come 2016!
So far I’m off to a slow but acceptable start. I kicked off the new year by reading two fantastic titles that have inspired me to keep picking through my ever-growing book collection.
The first book completed in 2015 was Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead.
I’d picked up Gilead in a discount pile at Barnes and Noble last summer, and, because I sucked at reading last year, never got around to it. I didn’t even think about it until its follow-up novel, Lila, came out last fall and everyone started raving about it. I read that Lila took place in the same universe as Gilead and Robinson’s other Gilead-based novel, Home, and my interest was piqued. I’d never heard of a literary fiction writer basing multiple novels in the same universe and recycling characters in a non-series format; I’d always associated that move with Sci-Fi and high fantasy genres, so a non-genre writer breaking with convention and doing work like this was very interesting to me.
Intrigued, I dusted (yes, dusted) off my copy of Gilead and started reading it before bed. And I am SO glad I did. It is one of the most beautiful novels I have ever read, hands down.
An epistolary novel whose protagonist is a dying Congregationalist minister writing letters to his young son that he hopes will be read when his son is a man, it is a story that at its core is about living life and trying to live it right. As a non-religious person, there were admittedly parts when the prose dragged a bit, so the reading was a bit slower than it normally is for me. But even at its preachiest parts I never lost interest. This is VERY good, because by the time I came to the last page I found myself crying over the realization that I’d just read a near-perfect novel and I was just overwhelmed in general by the experience.
I mean, with passages this simplistically beautiful showing up on page after page, how could I NOT shed a couple of tears when the story ended?
After I wrapped up Gilead I shifted gears and moved on to one of 2014’s most praised releases, Anthony Doerr’s World War II bestseller All the Light We Cannot See.
I am not a huge fan of stories set in World War II (they just aren’t my thing), so I started this book with the intention of looking at it from an industry perspective, much like how I approached the Twilight series and 50 Shades of Grey. I wanted to break it down and figure out why it caught on as well as it did and became such a big sensation. I figured even if I didn’t like the book’s content, at least I’d learn something useful about America’s current cultural zeitgeist.
Then I started reading it…and five hours later I finally came up for air, halfway done with the novel.
Needless to say, I was COMPLETELY wrong about not liking this book. It is genuinely fantastic. I fell in love with the two protagonists, a blind French girl and a math savant German boy, in a way that I never expected I would. And the plot is absolutely riveting; I can’t remember the last time I read half of a book in five hours. I literally couldn’t put it down. But what I loved about this book is that at its core is that it’s a story about people being good, even when the world around it is as evil and horrible as the world could be, and Doerr accomplished this so fully and so sincerely that I couldn’t help but have a little bit more faith in humanity once I came to that final page. I can honestly say that All the Light We Cannot See is a story that will stick with me for years to come.