Over coffee and croissants the other morning at Patisserie in Great Barrington, I chatted with a woman who comes to my drop-in writing classes. We talked about where she might send her work (I had some ideas), if writing contests are worth the entry fee (only sometimes), the helpfulness of having deadlines (key).
Then she said, sipping her coffee, “I think I need to read more. I don’t read enough. You must read a lot. How much do you read?”
I stuffed a bigger-than-necessary piece of croissant into my mouth.
Like most of you, my life is full. I work. I teach. I’m writing a book. I watch my share of TV online — Veep, Broadchurch, Chicago PD. Each day I also find a way to beat my high score on 1010! (the smartphone’s answer to Tetris). For awhile, sadly, reading was coming in last place. Being a writer who doesn’t read is like being a musician who listens only to her own music.
It’s not that I wasn’t reading at all. I read quite a bit online — essays, stories, poems, interviews with writers, columns by writers. I have books on my nightstand. I’ve worked at a bookstore and have my share of “staff picks” on the store shelves, but my reading record, overall, was spotty.
Most often I read a book because a friend whose taste I admire says, “You have to read this.” Once I open a book and start in, a calm washes over me. Time slows down. And, the best part, my mind grows more alert, sharper. I feel nearly bionic, all my senses awake. And I can’t understand how I’ve gone so many days without it.
When you read “A Writer Recommends,” think of me as that friend who says, “You have to read this.” These will be books I love. Maybe I love them because they have helped me in some significant way — as a writer, an artist, a human being. Or because they are so good, I wish I’d written them myself. Some will be recent releases; some will be older books. Some from mainstream publishers and others from lesser-known small presses. I’ll interview some writers and publish those conversations here. I will direct you to timely, just-published work online by writers you may or may not have heard of, and to online magazine and literary hubs rich with new writing.
Through this column, I hope to be a resource, to provide you with reading “leads,” so that when your own busy life hands you a few hours off, you will know where to turn.
My first recommendation coming next Sunday, May 24!