If you are an author, you ought to be in at least one good reading group or book club. Writers read good writing. You’ve heard that before. You know it’s true. And yet, you’re afraid reading a lot of good books right now might be just one more way to procrastinate the hard work of writing. At least you’re honest. But I want to urge you to read more good writing and participate in a book club.
Personally I belong to two fiction reading groups. One meets every six weeks to share a work of classic fiction that we’d always wanted to read. The last book we read was Jaimy Gordon’s, The Lord of Misrule; and how timely given this past Sunday’s New York Times front page story and other news reports on the tragedies of horse racing. Our next gathering promises a mashup of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. I love this group because True Grit and Brighton Rock as selections came before the movies. We started out three years ago reading Nabokov’s Pnin with an outrageously fun discussion of this novella set in our community of Ithaca. The depth and breadth of classic fiction I’ve enjoyed because of these dear grouplings enriches my writing and editing skills in ways beyond description.
My other fiction group is comprised of women in my rural neighborhood. I joined two years ago, but this is an ongoing club of many years and many women on an expansive mailing list, though a core group of 8-10 meet almost once a month. The list of books this group has already discussed is one including my favorite titles in popular fiction. Looking forward to next week’s discussion of Alexandra Fuller’s new release, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness.
Why did I chose two fiction reading clubs? Because I specialize in non-fiction and memoir, the power of story is what I yearn for. And when I am in a group, the selections are not entirely my own. Opening myself up to new genres, new voices, new stories is part of its sweet therapy to a writer’s soul.
Some writers indulge in mysteries, some in romance. Others like to read memoir, or historical non-fiction. Whatever books you enjoy reading passionately, share that fondness with readers.
Certainly your writing group is important, but don’t overlook the power of a good group of readers. Readers who focus on being good readers are really important friends to a writer. Perhaps they are even more important to a writer in the long run. Readers are who we address in our messages in text. Meeting them face to face and seeing what they like or dislike and why is refreshing to a writer. Listening to readers react to others’ writing gives an author a chance to pause and reflect indirectly on their own work.
Reading good writing is its own reward. Multiply its benefits by writing up your reviews of books you’ve read and join online communities of readers like GoodReads and LibraryThing. This helps you build your audience platform and is a handy reference shelf for future reference. If you’re like me, you lend out the books you’ve already read. Then when I want to make reference to it, it’s slipped through my fingers.
Book clubs and reading groups are community based. Sometimes they are open to the public and sometimes they are within a circle of friends and colleagues; loose associations through personal networks. If you can’t find a reading group at your independent bookstore, public library, local museums, or community centers, then start your own. There is no substitute for face-to-face group interaction about a common text.
Recently in my community of Ithaca I found a good number of friends, neighbors, and clients who, like me, wanted to read memoirs related to the subject of grief. After consulting with other professionals in bereavement, books, and writing as therapy, I organized a Book Discussion Group at my local independent bookstore. Next Sunday at 3 p.m. at Buffalo Street Book, Joan Didion’s Blue Nights will be discussed. This series is organized over four months and we’ve already read and discussed Jill Bialosky’s History of a Suicide, Joshua Cody’s [sic], and in May we’ll read and talk about Matt Logelin’s Two Kisses for Maddy. Some of the participants in this discussion group are writing their own grief memoirs. Good writers read good writing. And successful writers read the competition and the masters.
Reading is the real reason we write. Writers need to read more good writing. How do I know this to be true? As an instructor, editor, reviewer, and most importantly as a writer, the more “crap” I read, the more I require the antidote of fine literature. Whether it’s my own drivel I can’t wade through, or the years I spent correcting others’ bad grammar and spelling, I’ve learned that when I read crap I write crap. Garbage in, garbage out.
This is the magic to reading groups. It’s all good. Even when it’s bad, it’s good to hear what mistakes to avoid as a writer. You find out what you do like, and what doesn’t work for you. You stretch your boundaries as a writer because you are inspired by what you have read and felt and talked about.
For the love of books…..read more, write more.