Sunday, 13 December 2009

Writing is for Readers: Reading is for Writers

OK, you know what my feelings are on the first of these - I believe so strongly that writing is for readers it's the tag-line of the Year Zero website.

But the converse is also true. OK, tired point. Old point. But nonetheless an important one - and, of course, timely as the end of the year approaches. I've not read as much as I should this year -I've been so busy with SO many things. Or rather what I have been reading is some wonderful stuff, but contemporary stuff - bang on contemporary, as in works in progress. The highlights, for me, having last year discovered Glimpses of a Floating World and Benny Platonov, in terms of novels were undoubtedly Brown Trash, Sabina England's brutal breath-taking masterpiece of suburban dystopia; and Daisy Anne Gree's Babylon, a bone-chilling modern morality tale.

In 2010 though, I want to spend more time reading some older books. I know my writing needs it.

Why is reading important for writers? Well, it's part of mastering your craft for one - how can you synthesise what's gone before and build onit if you don't KNOW what's gone before; it's inspiring - it gives you ideas, shows you technical tricks you hadn't thought of (my discovery of 2008 was the way Murakami uses dialogue tags and metaphor/simile instead of adjectives; of 2009 was as simple - but devastatingly effective - as the way Brett Easton Ellis uses the word "and"); third, and most of all - reading is just great.

Here's a list of what's on my definite TBR pile in 2010 - literally - there's no clever order to this - I have them physically lined up in front of me:

Inez - Carlos Fuetes
Brick Lane - Monica Ali
On the Road - Jack Kerouac
Generation X - Doug Coupland (giving him a second chance after hating Girlfriend in a Coma)
37.2 le matin - Philippe Djiann
The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
What I Loved - Siri Hutstvedt
A Million Little Pieces - james Frey
Atmospheric Disturbances - Rivka Galchen
2666 - Roberto Bolano
All of Proust

and not yet on my physical shelf:
Sin - Josephine Hart (can't find it anywhere!)
the new Martell and Mitchell
Journals of Anais Nin
100 Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The rest of my plans for 2010 will follow later but, I'm sure you can guess, they'll be centred around raising the profile of Year Zero to the point where we start getting noticed in the mainstream media, mainly through devoting myself to making the 13 Shadows tour a blinding triumph. But this is the bones of my reading list. There will be more - anyone care to add?

Most important, what are the ten books you feel you HAVE to read in 2010?


  1. The only one on your list that I've read is Brick Lane, and I have to say I found it quite powerful (particularly because I am half-Indian).

    Interesting rest of the list you have. I haven't actually sat down and thought about what I want or need to read next year; perhaps I shall steal your idea and write up a blog post. Somehow writing a list makes me actually get things done more often than not!

  2. Yes, that's exactly why I did it - it makes for a terribly boring blog post BUT now it's there, in public, and that means theer's half a chance I might get my act together and read at least half of them :)

  3. I've read four of the books you've listed. You are correct, writers have to be good readers...if they want to be good writers.

    Nothing better than a cup of coffee/tea and a book or an evening with a glass of wine and a book. Though the last one usually has been wanting to Zzzz before too long.

    I'm rereading Francine Prose's: "Reading Like a Writer." She has said she learned to write "by writing and, by example, by reading books."

    So she takes readers on a guided tour of what makes great fiction through personal narrative and examples.

    Here's to hoping that all your goals for 2010 are reached easily and with lots of enjoyment!

  4. Thank you - that reminds me I also have Susan Hill's Howard's End is On the Landing on the TBR pile, a great-sounding tour through her own reading life,

  5. The Bolano is the only 1 on my list and that should squeeze in over Xmas ie still 2009.

    New Delilo and I'd agree with you Mitchell & Martell.


    Faber - Crimson Petal & The White
    Saramago - Death At Intervals
    Bulgakov - Master & Margarita
    Baker - Human Smoke & his last novel if comes out in paperback
    Eggers - What Is What
    Cleave - The Other Hand
    Stapledon - Last & First Men
    Ugresic - Ministry of Pain
    Sean O'Brien - Afterlife
    Steve Tolz - A Fraction Of The Whole (sold to me off a Tube Station billboard)
    And to discover Nobel Laureate Herta Muller who is the only one of the above not yet in my possession.


  6. RE: Ondaatje - I liked Skin of a Lion more than The English Patient, and agree about Generation X over Girlfrience in a Coma, though I enjoyed Microserfs also.

    I actually try and read something by Nick Hornby on a yearly basis, because he always seems to write without trying, and I like his characters. I think his books are all written to star Hugh Grant now, but they still come off well, which I find intriguing.

    One thing that MCM mentioned in a guest post somewhere I think, which he could elaborate, is that he feels like a sponge, and can't read while he is writing because he absorbs too much of someone else's style and phrasing.

    For instance, there is a danger ofwriting like DFW if you read Proust. It's not a bad thing, it's just a thing.

    This year I would like to read more by Italo Calvino and Doris Lessing, who epitomize how I would like to write. Though I didn't like Mara and Dann as much as I had hoped.

  7. Marc - the ugresic is brilliant. I must add the Bulgakov, Saramango and especially Mueller to my list. Thank you

    Piers - I can see MCM's point - it's a good idea, if that's the case, to read something utterly away from one's chosen genre - so I'll often read thrillers when I'm actually writing - on the other hand, I can feel my style beginning to crystallise and I don't think that's a good thing - I want to keep it fluid until I've read a lot lot more - I've already accepted nothingI write in the next couple of years will be more than an interesting experiment, so that gives me the freedom to make mistakes. Calvino - yes, must add some Calvino - you see now why I kept the list short - it's already doubled!!

  8. I did not like Siri Hutstvedt's book - I just had to say that.

    I like to read in a sort of random flow, one book leading to another and then branching off to one over there and all over the place depending on what interests me at the time.

    However I do want to read more short stories and have Somerset Maughm and Flannery O'Conner by my bed as I type. I am also finding F. Scott Fitzgerald calling to me from a distance.

  9. '100 Years of Solitude' is brilliant (review, as always...). I will get around to Proust one day - the problem is that I won't let myself do it in English (what else is a modern languages degree for?), so it may take a while. A looong while...

  10. My best man did Modern Languages, Tony - sadly not enough of it rubbed off for me to attempt Proust in anything other than English. I'll be interested to see what I make of 100 years of Solitude - I was hugely disappointed by Love in the Time of Cholera.

    Phillipa - I've started the Hustvedt and I must say I'm not bowled over by it (if I were it would no longer be languishing in my TBR pile) - I want to persist though, because I do like the art aspect. The problem with going with the flow is that my book-buying is often like this but I need then to have some structure to make sure those randomly bought books actually get read.