“As a reader, I want a book to kidnap me into its world. Its world must make my so-called real world seem flimsy. Its world must lure me to return. When I close the book, I should feel bereft.” — Erica Jong
My writing goal for 2012 is to complete a draft of my novel — and at my snail’s pace, I’ll need the whole year to do it! I’ve been thinking more and more that the reading I do needs to support my writing as much as possible. In other words, as Francine Prose so succinctly puts it, I need to read like a writer. That means reading the best books with an eye to not only enjoying the story, but also looking at the ways different authors practice the craft to high effect.
And while it might be a bit early for New Year’s Resolutions, I recently stumbled on something that got me thinking about my writing and reading plans for the coming new year. Sarah Reads Too Much is hosting a Back to the Classics Reading Challenge which I have decided to participate in. This wouldn’t ordinarily be something I’d choose to do. However, my time is at a premium and I can’t afford to waste it. After looking at Sarah’s categories for the Challenge, I decided to throw my hand in and give it a shot. I pasted a list of her categories below, along with my book choices, but do please visit her site directly for all the particulars.
Having a focused reading list to work through for the year seemed to be a practical thing to do, almost as though I were taking a class on the art of fiction. In college, we were given our book list at the beginning of a semester and each book was chosen with care by a master teacher. I’ve decided to approach the Challenge in the same spirit: I’ll be an apprentice to the masters of literature for the year. If it is true that you should write what you know, then gaining knowledge through a careful examination the writer’s craft through the lens of great books should help me write more effectively. And in the meantime, I’ll be enjoying some really good reads that will provide the requisite “escape” all great literature promises.
The Back to the Classics Challenge Categories
- Any 19th Century Classic: What Maisie Knew, by Henry James
- Any 20th Century Classic: The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Reread a classic of your choice: Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot
- A Classic Play: Murder In the Cathedral, by T.S. Eliot (I’ll also be reading King Lear and Antigone with my high school students)
- Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction: Dracula, by Bram Stoker
- Classic Romance: Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
- Classic Translation: Ida Elizabeth, by Sigrid Undsett
- Classic Award Winner: One of Ours, by Willa Cather (Pulitzer 1923)
- Read a Classic set in a Country that you (realistically speaking) will not visit during your lifetime: The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Doestoevsky and Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis
If you decide to sign up for the Challenge — or have already done so — I’d love to know what your list is. Here’s to a year of happy reading and writing!
“Writers striving to write novels that last, in addition to reading contemporary novels of quality, should continue to read or reread novels that have survived. I remind them of what Mark Twain said. ‘The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.'” — Sol Stein
In addition to reading the best of literature in fiction for 2012, I have also compiled a “professional” reading list related to writing: titles exploring the art and craft of writing, as well as creating and living a literary life. I chose 9 books — some are new and some are to read again — to partner with the 9 classics I chose for the Challenge. Do you have a professional list for the coming year? Please do share!
This Year You Write Your Novel, by Walter Mosley
Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within, by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature, by C.S. Lewis
If You Want To Write, by Barbara Ueland
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose
Mystery and Manners, by Flannery O’Connor
On Writing, by Stephen King
Great Writers on Writing: From Mark Twain to Joyce Carol Oates, Edited by James Daley