THIS, y'all, this is why I do it.

So, y'all know I'm pretty fanatical about reading. In fact, I read more than I write, and that's a whole helluva lot. I make it my business to get through 2-3 books per week, if the vagaries of the new gig and time allow. And there's a reason for it. I could easily say I don't have time to read but -
 
the truth is, if I don't have time to read, 
then I'm not a serious writer

Books are my university, my mentors, my safety net, my go-to for writing advice. So I thought I'd share a few of the things I've read recently, and little snippets that taught me something:

From Ramsey Campbell's THE INFLUENCE:
"Hermione almost dropped the flashlight. The lit wall nodded toward them..."

What it taught me: Tis a small thing, but my first instinct when writing about a flashlight would be to view it from the vantage point of the beam of light. I like how he turned it around, and had the wall nodding instead. Nice.

A reviewer wrote, "When other horror writers were cranking up tension [with] physical horror, Campbell managed by sheer writing skill. This is very much akin to what one might expect had Camus or Sartre ever written a supernatural thriller." Damn.

From Daryl Gregory's PANDEMONIUM:

"Kansas had the purity of a sixth-grade math problem, an exercise in scale and stark geometry."

What it taught me: To look at description seriously freshly, to really see a scene and come at it from an unexpected angle. Who woulda come up with something mathematical to describe a landscape??

A reviewer wrote, "Daryl Gregory can write like a son-of-a-bitch." I'll say.


From Joe R. Lansdale's "The Night They Missed the Horror Show" (full story at that link, tho it's not for the faint of heart) from his collection of stories, BY BIZARRE HANDS (I'll pull out a couple of snippets):


"They tied Leonard's hands behind his back. Leonard began to cry. ... The chain took up slack and Leonard felt it jerk and pop his neck.  He began to slide along the ground like a snake. ... When he hit the bridge, splinters tugged at his clothes so hard they ripped his pants and underwear down almost to his knees. ... Leonard picked up speed and the chain rattled over the edge of the bridge, into the water .... The last sight of Leonard was the soles of his bare feet, white as the bellies of fish."

What it taught me: To be unflinching. I actually had to put the book away and go watch, like, Dr. Phil or something to clear the horror from my head and stop my hands from trembling. It still chills me. And I'm nowhere near unflinching enough in my own work - YET - but I know that's where I need to be.

A reviewer wrote of the short story, "[Lansdale] digs in with a keenly honed medical saw. The reader laughs and screams and falls dead silent. Maybe in the same paragraph." Yeah. And shudders and feels ill. Great work.

From "My Pretty Pony," a short story in Stephen King's NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES: 

"All those days, stretching away across the plains of June and July and over the unimaginable horizon of August."

Or:

"Grandpa knocked another roll of ash off his cigarette with the side of his thumb. The boy believed Grandpa was so lost in thought that the wind was smoking practically all of it for him."

What it taught me: That even tiny shards of realism can be poetic.


These are the tiny lessons I pick up from books. Seriously, if you're not reading a lot, you're missing out on the tiny gems, the turns of phrases, the character-revealing dialogue -- all the ways you can bend the language. No education like it.

Me? I just finished Mike Shevdon's SIXTY-ONE NAILS (nifty little Feyre novel, outta my genre but I read everything), and have to take a break from Hawking's THE GRAND DESIGN (that shit makes my head hurt), so I'm casting about for the next in my TBR pile...we'll see what it turns up. So what are you reading?

13 comments:

Shainer | October 25, 2010 at 12:31 PM

I recently started reading Mark Henry's zombie series.

Lydia Kang | October 25, 2010 at 3:56 PM

I agree! My books are my university too, though I wish I could go through three books a week like you!

Franklin Beaumont | October 25, 2010 at 5:37 PM

I'm with you, constant reading is essential for any writer to keep inspired and to keep learning new and fresh approaches. Although 2-3 books a week is more than I can manage.

Milo James Fowler | October 25, 2010 at 7:57 PM

Great way to be intentional about your reading. I try to do the same thing and learn from the greats (and not-so-greats). While I can't finish a single book in a week due to all of my grading and writing, I'm always in the middle of at least four or five good ones at any given time.

mshatch | October 25, 2010 at 8:05 PM

just finished Never Let Me Go and am about to start Girl With the Pearl Earring while also reading The Ides of March.

Liza | October 25, 2010 at 8:09 PM

Great lessons. Thanks for including the quotes. Reading good writing is a joy.

Vicki Rocho | October 26, 2010 at 12:41 AM

Loved this post! My mom always told us we could learn something from every book we read.

I just finished Demon by Tosca Lee. Fabulous. I'll never think about demons the same way again.

lbdiamond | October 26, 2010 at 10:01 AM

Lovely examples! It's so awesome when the words are so perfect that it hurts! ;)

Roland D. Yeomans | October 27, 2010 at 9:06 AM

Those are just awesome examples,Zoe. Roger Zelazny was and is my muse and inspiration. As in this passage :

"For six days he had offered many kilowatts of prayer, but the static kept him from being heard On High."

If you have the time, come check out my homage to Autumn where I tried to do justice to Zelazny and my love of the season, Roland

Kristi | November 2, 2010 at 11:20 PM

I'm currently reading "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak and couldn't agree more about reading being a life line for writing. ;-)

Reviews Of Unusual Size! | November 12, 2010 at 11:32 AM

Awesome post, Zoe. I read 200 books last year, but my reading has decreased a lot this time around, largely due to moving and a long daily commute to work, but I still LOVE a good book. And I love how a good book makes me want to write.

Right now I'm reading WILD CARD by James Swain on my nook and THE SOUR LEMON SCORE by Richard Stark in paperback. (I like to read what I'm writing, and I'm working on a 50's post-apocalyptic crime novel)

salarsenッ | November 17, 2010 at 8:28 PM

So true that books are our mentors. For me, reading another writer's work grounds me, keeps me in the zone. And Stephen King...heck, yeah!! He's written such a broad base of ideas, images, genres... Totally crazy. Ever read the Gunslinger? I loved Drawing of the Three. (Following you now.)

Nicki Elson | December 17, 2010 at 8:56 AM

Love how you structured this to show what specifically you learned from these books. What I also like about it is that rather than be intimidated by these other writers' skills (as I hear so many others lament) you're inspired---it pulls your writing up, rather than stifling it.

I read lots and lots for editing, which is looking at it from a critical perspective, but I also examine what it is these authors do very well.

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