Thursday, November 02, 2006
Writing takes a lot of building blocks. You start with one, and build on it. Last night I tried to place another block in the building, and realized that I've been building on a solid foundation of reading good writing from the early days in school. Listening to Chip MacGregor talk about the business of writing in Dr. Dennis E. Hensley's Taylor University Writing program had me thinking long after the lecture was over. What was I reading to build up my own writing?
You need to be a reader to write. Stephen King says in his book, On Writing: "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot."
Then he goes on to say that he's a slow reader, but still manages to read 70-80 books a year!
I spent my first five years of school in a Christian school with very strict rules about what I was allowed to read. It was pretty tough on me because if I could've, I would read everything I could get my hands on--and did, when I could. But in sixth grade I went to a public school and had a Jewish man as my teacher. He loved books and read to us everyday. But what really opened my world of reading was when he read to us the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. I never got over that. My heart pounded and I had to have more. His voice was rich and the words pulled me into the story. I couldn't stop thinking about it. It was something I had never experienced before.
We were able to buy books through Scholastic Reading Club, and my mom and I would scan the papers and she'd buy me a couple books each time. I remember it was in sixth grade that I bought a paperback version of one of my all-time favorite books--My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber. I read that book over and over. It still makes me laugh.
Then, the summer of magic happened. The summer before I entered 7th grade, my mom decided I could finally read Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. She actually owned this book, and I still have this book. I read it nearly around the clock for almost four days. I barely ate, and only stopped for necessary breaks (oh, I probably took it with me...) I was so fearful that she would change her mind and take it back, so I read it as fast as I could. It was so good, I read it again, this time savoring the scenes and characters.
Then, that same summer, mom gave to me To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. They say there are books that change your life. That change you for having read them. Now, I can list many books since that affected the way I thought, but that book startled me. I ended up reading that book over and over. I read it just to read certain parts. I read it through completely 21 times. I wrote my own stories and they sounded like To Kill a Mockingbird.
Because I had been so protected as a child in reading books, it wasn't until I was in seventh grade that I read all of the Nancy Drew books. I could read one a day. I had never heard of Nancy Drew. Then, I read Mark Twain. I fell totally and completely in love with Mark Twain. I did reports on him, thought about wearing white suits and longed to see the Mississippi River.
In high school I had the best English teachers and I took every single English course my high school offered. I won the English department award and was even an assistant to one of the English teachers who had me teaching reading to students (mostly boys) who had trouble with reading. One time we read aloud, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. For my own enjoyment, since I worked in the high school library, I read almost every book we had. I found the likes of Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck--but I also went back to pick up all the childhood books I should've already read, like Little Women.
It wasn't until I was studying to be an elementary teacher that I discovered Roald Dahl. One of my all time favorites that he wrote was Matilda. I felt like Matilda. The very first chapter is titled, "The Reader of Books." I understood Matilda. Roald Dahl was a genius in my book. When I became a sixth grade teacher, I read to my students The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Since my students could barely read themselves, were kids that were kicked around and "outsiders" themselves, they related to that book above all of the books I read to them that year. It changed them.
So, recently I was told to make a list of books I loved and felt passionate about to help me focus my own writing. I had to give up in frustration. Reading books is a joy, and I love to discover a new book. I love books. I have published around 500 book reviews and have books stacked to the ceiling. But of all the current books I've read, A Girl Called Zippy by Haven Kimmel is my favorite. I finally realized that this book is at the top of my list. Something Is Drooling Under the Bed by Bill Watterson is probably up there close to the top, too. (In case you don't know, this is a Calvin and Hobbes book.)
Anyway, here are a few books. I'm sure it will change soon.
1. A Girl Called Zippy by Haven Kimmel
2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
3. On Writing by Stephen King
4. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
6. My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber
7. A Heart for God by Sinclair Ferguson
8. On the Anvil by Max Lucado
9. Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Burns
10. Jan Karon’s Mitford Series
11. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
12. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
13. Centennial by James Michener
14. Matilda by Roald Dahl
15. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
16. Columns by Will Rogers
17. Chosen by Ginger Garrett
18. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
19. Lighthouse series (3) by Eugenia Price
20. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
21. All Things series by James Herriot
22. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
23. Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
24. Lake Woebeggon by Garrison Keillor
25. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
26. A Bride Most Begrudging by Deanne Gist
27. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
28. O’Malley series by Dee Henderson
29. Brenda Kinsel (all of them)
30. The Last Jihad by Joel C. Rosenberg
31. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
32. Just about anything Lisa Samson
33. Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
34. Savannah from Savannah by Denise Hildreth
35. Chateau of Echoes by Siri Mitchell
36. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
Ok, I have to stop there for now. What are a couple of your favorite books?