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A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Reading for Pleasure and Then Some


Ahhh, childhood.

Those were the days when I read for pure pleasure. Of course, at times my reading was assigned but I don’t recall distinguishing between that kind of enforced reading and any other kind of reading.

Except, perhaps, for the finding of the books when school was not in session. In the summertime, I rode my bike a couple miles to my small-town library on Main Street (a beautiful old Tudor style building in a town of only 4,000) and was allowed to browse in the stacks—any stacks at all—to my heart’s content and borrow as many books as I liked—books for children and books for adults that—in some places—have since been banned. I was only limited by the number of books the basket on my bike would hold. And time was no issue at all. During the school year, I didn’t have the leisure, but I’m not sure I really noticed that either.

Later, as a lit major, I had a recommended reading list. One I never finished. I felt pressured by that, and still do. Still, reading was not a labor for me with the exception of my early forays into Shakespeare and Beowulf that didn’t allow me to scurry pell-mell along with the thrust of the story.

And today? Well, today I must sandwich my reading between my times writing and a whole lot of other stuff—some nearly as wild and wonderful as the reading and some . . .well . . .not so. So I very carefully choose books that I need to read and books that I want to read. But they all must fit within a certain parameter. That is, they must inform my writing career in some way.

And I’m never more careful with that selection process than when I’m actually writing. Because what we read gets absorbed into our subconscious and often comes out on the end of our pens (or typing fingers). There can be a danger in that. It’s called plagiarism at the worst, but there is also a danger it can influence our voices too much. I choose to be on guard against that, but not to let it discourage me from reading books that will inform what I make my living at.

I do, however, only select authors with the best voices, the finest techniques. If I’m going to sop up some of the skills of another author, I want it to be best nourishment available.

I was not disappointed with Wally Lamb’s new We Are Water. Because I am a Vine reviewer for Amazon, I was able to snag an early review copy just as I was finishing a final draft of my new novel This Land Divided. I was delighted to be reminded of a few techniques for transitions that I hadn’t used and, at the same time felt again like a child who was reading for pure pleasure. For fun. For the story.

I speak to that experience a little in my Amazon review. While you’re there, do read some of the other Vine reviews. I believe Wally’s book can be preordered. We are right on the cusp of its being released. How lucky can we readers (and writers) be!

Tips and Tidbits

(Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a Tidbit that will help authors write or promote better. She will also include a Tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.)

A Tip for Writers: :

Peter Boweran has updated his The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. I highly recommend it for writers who are thinking about self-publishing and writers who have published any old way but find their books languishing.

A Tip for Readers' Tip:

La Bella Mafia by Morgan St. James and a foreword by Ali MacGraw is hot off the press. The story of a child of the mafia and shelters, it’s a memoir with everything a reader hopes for in a memoir—pathos, celebrity, humanity.



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