Step inside my office and you might know I’m a writer. You might know I dabble in painting and charcoal. But you’d definitely know I’m a reader. Besides my six foot bookcase double stacked with things ranging from Madame Bovary to Neverwhere to the complete works of Shakespeare, my desk is littered with well-worn tomes, odd books stick out from behind knick-knacks. In fact, there is a volume of Greek Tragedies sticking out from under my desk.
I’ve noticed that recently I’ve been reading a lot less. Unless you count critiquing on critiquecircle or following the odd story here and there on Wattpad. Which for the purposes of absorbing good writing through good reading, I can’t really count. Some of those stories are wonderful of course, some of those writers may be the next Steven King, or Neil Gaiman…who knows. But what I’m reading is their works in progress not their polished masterpieces.
Having made this observation I decided I was going to pick up some of those books that make the genres I write in what they are. First I plucked an old copy of Ursula K LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness.
Now this novel won awards and sold some gratuitous number of copies that make wanna-bes like me salivate. I remember reading it years ago but picking it up couldn’t recollect a thing about it. I remember finding it interesting.
I’ve read very little by Ms. LeGuin, and I wondered to myself looking at the book if I wouldn’t have enjoyed it more if I’d ever gotten past the fact that alphabetically her books always sat next to Tannith Lee’s. And there is nothing more heartbreaking to a young reader in a used book store then knowing you’ve found the right spot on the shelf (see there is Ursula K LeGuin) and not seeing the books you really want. So I’ve always had an unfair distaste for Ms. LeGuin.
I thought for sure if I went back and reread I would love Left Hand of Darkness. Not so much. It has a wonderful idea, beautifully rendered characters and a control of the language I envy. But I found myself skimming over paragraphs that almost exclusively covered at least half a page each. I spent the first three chapters believing Estravan and Agravan were the same person because their names were so similar. Finally I through the book down about a fourth of the way through, frustrated because I didn’t see how I could learn a thing from this (other than how to have a wonderful idea but since I can’t rip hers off…)
Don’t get me wrong, I would recommend this book to most sci-fi readers I know…but if you are a writer trying to master the craft this probably isn’t the direction for you.
Next, I picked up Carrie by Steven King. This choice was made because I have seen the movie (the old one not the new one) more than twice and I feel like an awful reader that I never actually read the book.
I finished at midnight last night having read the entire book in twelve hours. I probably can’t say anything about that book that hasn’t been said what I will say is, I was brought back into the days I read for fun and fun alone. Did Carrie break the rules…hell yes… but in a way I could follow and felt intentional. And it worked.
Then I lay in bed thinking, both of these master writers break the rules (selectively of course) and found great success. It makes me question my own ability to judge, leaving me in a no-man’s land right when I thought I was beginning to get it. But maybe I don’t have to…maybe what I need to be learning is that not everything is about a lesson. Some things are about looking at the clock at 11:10, seeing you have 20% left on your book and forging ahead anyhow.
If you haven’t read Carrie…do.