When notable authors are asked to offer guidance to fledgling writers, more often than not, the advice is unanimous: read, read, and then read some more.
Sometimes, it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to carve out time to read or look at the works of others. Still, it’s important to try and what’s more, to try to experience the works of writers and creators unlike yourself. The evolution and craftsmanship of writing comes what we seek out and what we leave ourselves open to discovering.
Free and Limitless: The public library
Ever since I was a kid, my favourite activity was looking through the old card catalogue (Yes, I used to be able to traverse the Dewey Decimal system with ease!) at my school library and then eventually, the little public library that was only a five-minute walk from my house.
I still believe the best way to find something unexpected is to go to the local public library and spend some time looking through the titles. If not for my strolls along the stacks, I would not have read Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary. Nor would I have found the beautifully crafted poetry in Michael Ondaatje’s Handwriting. I also credit the collections at my local library for introducing me to the graphic novel genre. My Friend Dahmer and the A Contract with God trilogy have stayed with me.
Beyond the books, the library is also a great way to easily access literary and popular magazines. In the past, as a treat to myself, I would pick up a copy of National Geographic every time I flew home, going to an airport kiosk to purchase the latest issue. That happened twice a year. Now, I can peruse old copies of NatGeo whenever I want, or pick up any other magazine that may pique my interest.
Friends + Recommendations = Impromptu Book Club
For me, discussing the act of writing is an undesirable, often downright awful topic of conversation. I’d much rather talk about the fact that Saramago’s The Tale of the Unknown Island touched my heart or that Coetzee’s Disgrace broke my heart.
Whenever I get to spend time with fellow writers, I always try to ask them what they’re currently reading. If it wasn’t for a conversation with a friend who is adept in writing awesomely morbid micro-fiction, I would have never been privy to the twisted mind of Chuck Palahniuk Another dear friend (and fellow non-fiction writer) recommended Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a gripped investigative story that I devoured in only a few days.
When my sister’s partner told me that he had only recently picked up All Quiet on The Western Front, I realized I had not read the classic either and quickly reserved it for pick-up at the library. After we had both read it, we chatted about the authentic narrative voice, and the interesting focus on food, and the eye-opening passages about the effects of war:
Youth! We are none of us more than twenty years old. But young? Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk…
We stick out our chests, shave in the open, shove our hands in our pockets, inspect the recruits and feel ourselves to be stone-age veterans.
Thanks to a generous colleague, I am currently working my way through her copy of The Marrow Thieves (she and her 13-year-old daughter had just finished reading it together). Even my landlord emails me from time to time just so she can tell me about the latest book she’s read. I am always glad to respond with my own discoveries.
We are treasure troves — sharing literature is just another way we can enlighten and inspire each other.
Want to add to my reading list? How did you discover the last book that really made an impression upon you? Comment and share your recommendations!