Anyway, clearly I'm not going to talk about fleshing the plot skeleton today, no matter what I said last week (although, that is a great title for a future post.) Nope, instead, I'm going to talk about books. As in, other people's books.
Now, I know this may seem odd, because this blog is about getting a look into the process of writing a novel, but believe it or not, reading other people's books is a huge part of this process. In fact, most writers and teachers of writers and books for writers and writers on writers and all-people-even-remotely-writerly will tell you (over and over again, in fact) that you must read if you want to write. For essential lessons, experience, inspiration, and so on.
Well, luckily for me, I'm a huge nerd. I'm not sure if this is because of some inherent genetic make-up, or because my parents fed me books before they gave me solid food, but whatever the reason, I've been a big bookworm my whole life. Which means that I've read a lot of books, of course, but it also means that I've read a lot of books more than once. And I've been spending a lot of time this week thinking about those books. You know, the ones you can't put down; the ones that changed your life; the ones that you revisit, year after year, like old friends. The ones that somehow shaped who you are. I think it's fair to say that I wouldn't be the writer I am, and maybe wouldn't have written Cloudland at all, if I hadn't read these books.
By the way, this isn't my only list of favorite books. I also have lists of Favorite Childhood Books, Books That Got Me Through Puberty Without Committing Heinous Bodily Harm To Myself or Others, Books That Changed The Way I Write, and so on. There's crossover from list to list, of course. But this particular list is of My All-Time Favorite Books, which you might also call The Reasons I'm A Writer.
At any rate, here's my list, in no particular order:
- The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis (I like the whole series, but for this list, specifically The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)
- Animal Dreams and Prodigal Summer, both by Barbara Kingsolver
- The Hours, by Michael Cunningham
- Written on the Body and Gut Symmetries, both by Jeanette Winterson
- The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula Le Guin (I think the whole Earthsea series is wonderful, but this is the book I keep rereading, the one that touches something in me)
- The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
- The Lost Prince and A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Angels in America, by Tony Kushner (yes, not technically a book, but so wholly life-changing for me that I can't leave it off of this list)
So, yep, there are quite a few Young Adult books in there, and there's a whole lot of sci-fi and fantasy on that list. And I will never apologize for that, although there's a large faction of people in the writing world (let's call them big old snobs) who look down on so-called genre books. Of course, if you just happen to not like these genres, I have no problem with that (my wife, sadly, doesn't like them, and clearly I still think she's OK.) We all have personal preferences. It's the people who sneer at them as being not real literature who I have issues with.
In fact, although I mostly write what I would call literary fiction (with smaller or larger dollops touches of magical realism, depending on the piece), I would say that science fiction and fantasy might be my favorite genres to read (I did say that I'm a huge nerd.) When they're really well done, they illuminate something for us about what it means to be human on this planet - which really is what good art does, in general. But I think that sci-fi and fantasy can often do it more clearly, with more painful accuracy, because they don't take place on this planet. They're removed enough that they allow us to read the painful truth, or look at the awful reality, without denying it or turning away from it, or collapsing under the weight of it. They give us mental and emotional space. Or at least, they do for me.
I don't always specifically invite comments, 'cause, well, what if no one comments?! Then I'll feel like the kid who threw a big birthday party that no one came to. But this time, I'm going for it. I'm taking the plunge: what are your all-time favorite books? Which ones do you either reread many times, or find yourself often thinking about?