As the title says: I hate not finishing books. Up until the last couple of years it was rare that I would put down any book before finishing it. It wasn’t that I felt obligated to finish the books, I genuinely wanted to know how they ended.
Since I’ve started taking writing more seriously (and my reading time has become extremely limited) I’ve learned to be more particular about what I choose to read and complete.
Reading with Purpose
Currently I’m reading a book called DIY MFA by Gabriela Pereira. In this awesome book Gabriela helped me to refine my reading habits even more. She recommends to be sure that all your reading serve a purpose.
To accomplish the books in your reading list should fit one or more of four categories:
Competitive books are those that you think have the same target audience as your own writing. This meaning that people who like these books should like yours as well.
Contextual books are ones you read for research. Some of my work is set in the Olympic Peninsula, and I read everything I can find that relates to that location in some way. This includes non-fiction and fiction set in the region.
Contemporary books are those published within the last three years. It is important to read these in order to stay knowledgeable in current trends in your target market.
Finally, classics are stories within a genre that have proven themselves over time. There is a reason Hemingway and Shakespeare are still read today, and, as a writer, you need to know why these have stood the test of time. Classics can also include more current books. For instance, in my current reading list I’m working through I have Harlan Ellison’s collection, Deathbird Stories, in the classics slot.
A Hard Truth
Taking all of this into consideration, you have to face a hard truth. You will not have enough time to read every book you find interesting before you die. This means any time spent reading a book that you are not learning from is wasted reading. It is perfectly fine to read for pleasure, but even then you can learn something about story structure, dialogue, trends in the genre, and so on.
Recently I had to give up on a book that I was truly enjoying. I gave up on it because it did not fit any of the four categories above. Also, in my opinion, it was poorly written. The text is overly laden with adjectives and adverbs.
The saving grace of the book is the story itself (even though it is a bit derivative). I wanted to know what would happen next at every step. But I was not learning anything that would apply to my own writing. The book is considered a classic, and I’ve heard that the sequels are much better, but I could not rightly spend more of my precious reading time on it.
In a recent Lit Reactor article, The ‘Narrow Your Horizons’ Reading Challenge, Peter Derk says:
If you’re living life the right way, you’re quitting more books than you finish.
… if you’re not loving a book enough that you carry it around with you, if you don’t look forward to reading it on your lunch break, on the toilet, whenever you get a spare minute, it’s probably not good enough… try something else.
My Current Reading List
Gabriela Pereira suggests for about every twelve books you read there should be at least one book in each of the four categories. Here is my current reading list:
- Be Cool by Elmore Leonard (for dialogue study)
- The Secret Commonwealth (folklore study)
- The Mountaineers: 1959 containing a collection of articles on the Olympic Peninsula
- My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
- The Best Horror of the Year: Volume 9 edited by Ellen Datlow
- Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors edited by Christopher Golden
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
- Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison
- American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps, edited by Peter Straub