Sunday, November 21, 2010

The stack of books beside my bed

There's a stack of books beside my bed. There's always a stack of books beside my bed. I suspect most writers have one, even if it has moved to their e-readers.

My stack consists of books I'm reading, books I've recently read but haven't shelved yet, books I want to read, and books I started reading a while ago but--for whatever reason--haven't picked up in some time. Library books, ARCs of friends, old favorites that I'm rereading, new books I'm excited about: these populate my current stack.

I always read several books at once, and my selections are governed by mood as well as taste. Sometimes, only a comfort read will do. Other times, I crave the excitement of something new. Sometimes I buy a book and don't read it for months or years, until the mood for it hits me. Sometimes I can read a densely written, thousand-page tome that requires heavy thinking on my part. Sometimes I want action and thrills.

I read books to study them, also. I recently reread a book to see how the author built a suspenseful situation, and I plan to study the structure of that book more actively when I'm able to take a break from my current work in progress. Sometimes I read poetry to remind myself to pay attention to every single word.

Natalie Whipple (Between Fact and Fiction) has been blogging lately about the importance of reading in a writer's education, and it reminds me that the first thing I always advise any class when I teach a writing workshop is this: Read. Read a lot. (The second thing I tell them is to write. Write a lot.) It's why I imagine that the stack of books beside my bed is not unique, but rather a feature many writers will recognize instantly from their own bedrooms, offices, dens, and living rooms.

What's in your stack?

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