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A while back my dad gifted me with the quintessential writing manual, On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King. It was both his way of telling me I could do it and gently nudging me to get back into writing.
It has since traveled everywhere with me, from Lisbon to Ghana to Los Angeles, which means the spine is cracked, the jacket is torn, and the pages have experienced more wear and tear than perhaps any book that I’ve ever owned. I keep the guilt at bay by reminding myself of all the knowledge I’ve gleaned from the part-memoir, part-writing manual. One particular nugget that’s wedged itself into my brain is a quote that I’d heard before:
If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time
(or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
For the last few years, I’ve used Goodreads to keep track of what I’m reading, but this year I am going to make my reading challenge goal. I’m actively working toward becoming a better writer, and what’s easier than reading a whole bunch of really great books to help reach that goal?! (SPOILER ALERT: I’ve read a lot of great books in the last six months.)
What I Read: 2017, pt. 1
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (★★★★☆)
This book was dubbed the new Gone Girl, and since that one held me captive with surprises at every turn, I knew I’d have to read it. Ultimately, I’d have to say that it lived up to expectations. I felt like every detail was perfectly set up to be revealed at the best moment, and I never saw anything coming in a glaring way. Also, the multiple POV was handled nicely, and I felt like I really got to know each of the three women in the story. (The movie isn’t bad either. Emily Blunt is a gem!)
Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J.K. Rowling (★★★★★)
I’m counting this one as a book simply because Goodreads does. Full disclosure: It’s actually the commencement speech that Rowling gave to the Harvard’s graduating class in 2008. Despite being brief, it’s worthwhile read. It’s nice to hear such a successful author talk about failure as a stepping stone to bigger things, and of course she knows about the importance of imagination better than most. Plus Joel Holland’s illustrations are just lovely.
Alpha by Olivie Blake (★★★★☆)
This little graphic novel is absolutely beautiful and the whole dystopian, genetically perfect human concept is intriguing. I came across the illustrator and her (mostly Harry Potter-verse) art on Tumblr, and then I’ve followed the author’s (mostly Harry Potter-verse) fan fiction for a while, so it was nice to see the two come together to create something original and wonderful. Sequel forthcoming!
The Circle by Dave Eggers (★★★☆☆)
Why yes, I did pick up this book because I wanted to see the film starring Emma Watson when it came out in April. I really liked the whole idea of the book, especially considering how prevalent social media and Internet culture is within our society, but it took a bit for me to get into. I will say, however, that if you saw the film and were confused/put off by the ending, read this book. I think it’s all handled much better (and more realistically).
Looking for Alaska by John Green (★★★★☆)
John Green is just fantastic, right? I can only read his books when I feel like being completely transported back to high school because that’s exactly what happens every single time. Looking for Alaska was no different; I identified in some way with each of the misfit characters and soaked up every little detail about their lives. I also really love how time was handled in this novel. You know exactly when the “something big” is going to take place, but it still squeezes your heart when it does.
Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between) by Lauren Graham (★★★★★)
Who doesn’t love Lauren Graham? When I saw she had released a book around the same time as Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life came out, I knew immediately that I needed to read it. I’d devoured Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick the year before and had high hopes for this “funny actress memoir.” I was not disappointed. Graham is hilarious and kind and self-deprecating and confident and wonderful, and it all shines through so beautifully in this book. Do I yet know if there will be more Gilmore Girls in our future? Well no. But it’s still worth the read, I promise!
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (★★★★☆)
This book has been on my to-be-read list ever since the movie with Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley came out in 2010, and I finally made time for it this year. (On a completely unrelated note, someone once told me that Carey Mulligan was my celebrity lookalike, and I still get all blushy and pleased when I think about it.) Though it’s a little slow at times, I loved the narrator, Kathy, and the premise is so unique and surprising. It makes you think about all sorts of things that I won’t list here, in case you haven’t been spoiled about the ending yet.
The Selection by Kiera Cass (★★☆☆☆)
The whole premise of this book is great from the interesting caste society to the Bachelor-style way of having the prince find his future bride, but this book reads very much on the young side of Young Adult. Just so so young. Will I still read the sequel? Probably, but definitely not until I’ve gotten through the sequels to some of the books below.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (★★★★☆)
What a great children’s book! Also, how had I never read this before? And finally, oooh time travel. It’s been on my mind often lately. You’ll want to read this one before the star-studded film adaptation comes out next year!
Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story by K.M. Weiland (★★★★☆)
Just a nice little book on plot structure to help guide my first draft.
The Diviners by Libba Bray (★★★★★)
I love Libba Bray so very much. Her prose is wonderful, and she is amazing at completely immersing her reader in the time and place in which her novels take place. (The Gemma Doyle trilogy is also fantastic.) This novel is based in 1920s New York and features a cast of diverse teenagers who all have special abilities. It’s yet another example of multiple POV done well.
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen (★★★★☆)
I really enjoyed this book, probably a lot more than I expected to considering I found it on a random “books that will be made into movies soon” list. I’m not sure if that’s even in its future anymore, but the book itself is worth it regardless of its silver screen plans. Kelsea is a princess in exile for her own safety until she turns seventeen and returns to take back her kingdom from her murderous uncle. There’s magic, power struggles, and some very strong language for a YA novel, and I loved every minute of it. (Does this even count as YA? I don’t really know.)
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (★★★★★)
From what I’ve seen about writing craft books, this one is always a close second to the book by Stephen King that we discussed in the intro, and they are very similar in their writing style. However, Lamott teaches writing and wrote this book as if you were in one of her classes, which makes the connections between writing and her life a bit more overt. Overall I thought it was a great read, and she has good insight for writers into the importance of writing vs. publishing, where good stories come from, and how to silence the critic living inside your brain.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (★★★★★)
This book absolutely slayed me. Have you ever read something that was so wonderful that it both inspired you to want to write better and also caused you to second guess everything you’d done so far in your first draft? That was this book for me. The characters are brilliant, Bardugo is a master of multiple POV chapters, and the plot kept me engaged throughout. Until last week, I couldn’t tell you when I last found myself staying up way, way past my bedtime to finish a book.
Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo (★★★★★)
Oh hey, more of the same. I read this duology in a 48-hour period, and now I’m kind of stuck wondering what to do with myself. It was that good.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (★★★☆☆)
I loved the short chapters and fun “extras” (IM conversations, doodles, definitions, etc.) that made this book such a short read, and I’ll even admit that there was a twist that I didn’t see coming! Yoon also completely gets the teenage, first romance feelings, which was just a punch of nostalgia to the gut. Overall it was a good read, and I imagine I’ll be dragging Spencer to see the movie soon.
I’ve read 16 of 30 books for the Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge! What have you been reading lately?