I’ve been reading Francine Prose’s What to Read and Why, a dictatorial-sounding title, true, but a great book to explore the craft of reading. (I’m late to this one, published in 2018, as I am late to most things.)

Wait a minute, you say. Reading’s a craft now? Can’t I just read what I love? Of course, I say, and I’m sure Francine would agree. But if we’re reading for sport–that is reading to improve our writing or even ourselves–she is here for us. That is, this book–a compilation of essays responding to various works of literature–is a tool to employ to help us on our writing journeys. I especially enjoyed Prose’s essay in response to Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, her essay on Jane Austen (I, embarrassingly, only recently read Pride and Prejudice for the first time), and her essay titled “Lolita, Just the Dirty Parts: On the Erotic and Pornographic,” (in case you like your Valentine’s Day reading on the saucy side.)

From that last essay on a novel I loved (for all kinds of writerly reasons–like fun play with an unreliable narrator) I especially liked her discussion on what’s been lost in how we think about “Eros and erotic, words that have always included the sexual but have also suggested the mysterious…connection between sex and life, between sex and pleasure, between the origin of life and the celebration of life…”

My guess is Lolita is a contender for the top spot in the latest rash of books to be banned and even burned…maybe partly due to limited understanding of Eros. I’m also guessing that many who would wish to rid the world of Lolita haven’t read it–“a work of art” that functions not to arouse the reader but to “deepen our well of compassion and sympathy.”

My quick take: I read what I love and leave the books I don’t love for others to consider. And in reading what I love I absorb the best of it as lessons to write well.

One delightful effect of my being between revisions of my WIP is that I have ample time to read. Add to that the fact that I’m not yet querying agents for my WIP, which means my reading time isn’t eaten up by searching for comps (comparative titles), and I am really reading what I love.

My TBR keeps climbing to the ceiling, but in addition to Prose’s craft book, I’m also reading Kirstin Valdez Quade’s The Five Wounds, based on her short story by the same name. (I highly recommend her collection if you are a short story fan.)

In nonfiction, I’m currently reading Final Bow for Yellowface: Dancing Between Intention and Impact by Phil Chan with Michelle Chase, about Asian representation in classical ballet. I heard Chan speak on a West Virginia University webinar, and this former dancer (me) was enthralled.

So, tell me, what are your Valentine’s Day reads? Are you knocking on Eros’s door for the holiday? Reading short stories or a novel? What’s the best nonfiction book you’ve picked up lately? Any of my current reads appeal to you?

Hankering for my latest Rust Belt interviews, book reviews, and more? Check out my categories above. I hope you’ll follow me here, if you don’t already, so you never miss a (quite infrequent) post or more unsolicited advice. Thanks for reading, and Happy Valentine’s Day! ~Rebecca

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26 thoughts on “Read what you love … and other writing advice

  1. I never considered that reading could be a craft too! I’m glad you’re having a lot of time to read. If I didn’t read so much, I’d have more time to write, but I always have to be reading every day or I get withdrawal!

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    1. I definitely know what you mean about withdrawal! I always have at least a few going at the same time, but when I’m writing a lot I’m often “reading around” what I’m writing. It’s just so pleasurable to pick up a book for no other reason than “this looks good!” Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I shared your Valentine’s Day post today–such fun!

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      1. I just can’t understand how there are people who never read at all, and I know some who have stopped reading books since they have become absorbed in their phones! You’re welcome, and for sharing my post.

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      2. There are so many distractions and other forms of entertainment. But I’m with you–can’t imagine not reading on the daily. I’ve also trained my kids: you always bring a book. Never know when there might be a line at the post office and you have five minutes to spare!

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  2. I just tried to read Prose’s book. I have to read the classics for teaching, and I’m trying to stick with recently pubbed books right now in my genre, so I put it aside. Did you read Blue Angel? I also started that one and liked it but put the library snatched it back from my kindle. Grrrr… It’s like I’m not meant to read her right now. Your post will keep her in the back of my mind though. Haha. I did get to the Lolita book. Also in the back of my mind. 😉

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    1. Somehow I don’t think I’ve ever read Prose before! And she has about a million titles under her belt! Ooo, I might try Blue Angel. I was thinking that What to Read and Why could make an amazing class (I’m sure I’m not the first to think that)–she chimes in on so many texts, many of them classics. Ahh, Lolita is always a polarizing discussion starter. But that can be fun! Hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day, my friend!

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  3. I always get such great ideas, recommendations from reading your posts, Rebecca — so thank you! I have Prose’s book on my shelves, and I really must pull it down and read it now. The short story collection you mention sounds intriguing. I’m sort of in one of my “dipping” moods here lately; I read a few pages, put the book down, and dip into another. LOL 😆 Right now, my two go-to’s are: Jerome Stern’s MAKING SHAPELY FICTION and Alexander McCall Smith’s PIANO AND FLOWERS. Recently finished Bernardine Evaristo’s MANIFESTO, which was very good (I gobbled it up in less than 24 hours, a new record for me).

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    1. Ahhh, now I must dip into that Stern book–sounds wonderful, as does the Evaristo. Why haven’t I read her yet? Oh yeah, just too much good stuff out there. I go in waves–reading a ton and then writing a ton. I’m about to switch, as two beta readers have gotten me feedback on my novel-in-progress. So, it’s time for a deep dive into the writing again. Thank you so much for reading my posts and commenting. I always get as much from your comment as you do from a whole post of mine–believe me.

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      1. Yes, Stern is good, in a very basic way (but sometimes I need to get back to simplicity), and Evaristo’s memoir was very good (I started her novel that won the Booker, and while it’s good, I’ve kind of gotten away from it). How exciting that your beta readers have given you feedback and now you’re ready to plunge back into your novel! I think it’s great that you took some time, reading time, away from it so you can be refreshed as you return to it and see it with new eyes. And yes, so, so, so much out there to read! 😊

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  4. I’m actually having a sick day from work, so I don’t trust myself to intelligently reply! Overall, I’d say that I’m reading slowly this month. In January, I felt like a reading machine and now, there’s just too much going on for me to get lost in a good book. Boooo.

    But glad to hear that you’ve found some gems. The BEST. xo

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  5. No need to be embarrassed about Pride and Prejudice. I know it’s popular and I’ve enjoyed movies based on it, but the book did not hold my interest. I’m trying to rectify my classics-anemia, too. Recently read Beloved. On deck is Jane Eyre.

    For book club, just finished “Caste: The origins of our discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson. Quite an eye opener!

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    1. You book list there sounds great, Eilene! The thing about the classics is that they are so often slow-going. Also, I’m not a novel of manners type, I don’t think. I kept thinking that what Pride and Prejudice needed was a tornado to rip through. Typical Midwestern writer–haha.

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  6. Happy belated Valentine’s Day to you. My reading as a craft on the treadmill or right before falling asleep at night doesn’t allow for as much craft exploration. LOL! I enjoy hearing about the books you read though. Your book reviews are so intriguing. I must confess my only fiction book recently read is Calvin and Hobbs It’s A Magical World. It is a good balance to the non-fiction American Muckraker – like it/him or not, James does a great job citing resources, providing examples, and capturing the history of Journalism. Happy reading (and writing) to you!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it is quite the pairing. Thanks for checking out the Valentines post. The washing machine is humming along well. LOL – yes, a hubby who comes to the rescue is a very romantic one in my book. Your hubby sounds like he knows what is best to charm you too – enjoy your writing month ahead!

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  7. I love the idea of reading being just as much as craft as writing! I’ve been working through Just Write by James Scott Bell lately and I’m very familiar with this type of nonfiction–the how-to or self-help nonfiction. I did, however, recently pick up The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer from the library and, although I’ve never known myself to like memoirs much, I’m really enjoying it.

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    1. The Tender Bar sounds fascinating. Enjoy! I just picked up Blind Man’s Bluff: A Memoir by James Tate Hill (who I follow on Twitter and is very funny). I don’t know if it’s an age thing, but I don’t think I ever picked up a memoir until about 5 years ago. Now, memoir is my most-read genre in the nonfiction realm.

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  8. My craft is reading I told the ladies on my first night at the quilt making get together. All of them have been making quilts for years and this is my first one. But, again, I am not one to craft with my hand except to turn the pages of a good book. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, thank you for reading. And you’ve definitely come to the right place! I wish I was crafty or handy, but it seems my 2 hands and 10 digits are just made for books! Best of luck with your first quilt–I’m sure it will be beautiful!

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