Good Book, Bad Book

I read a lot.Owl read

Advice from a best-selling author:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” -Stephen King

Okay, I’m not so good about writing a lot. My inner editor and perfectionistic streak get in the way, and I make excuses to myself why I don’t have time to write, or why I should organize my pens or do my laundry instead.

But by golly do I read a lot. Not enough, I feel. I don’t think I’ll ever read enough to satisfy myself. I have a big list of books to read, and those are just the ones I know the titles of. Thousands more await me, full of characters I haven’t yet met, full of facts I haven’t yet learned, full of stories and words that will make me shiver in delight.

It’s a funny thing, when you’re a writer. Suddenly, a book I might have enjoyed five years ago bothers me so much I put it down and can’t pick it up again. (If it’s really bad, I have the urge to chuck it across the room. I rarely give in to the urge.) The story is too illogical, full of plot holes, or the characters are all the same, just wearing different cliches. The descriptions are mundane, the vocabulary boring–I find myself thinking, “I could write that. I’d do it much better.”

And then there are the books that I whiz through, inhaling with every page turn, taking a quick gasp at the bottom of the page, and repeating for 300 or more pages. These books haunt my dreams, because I long to write with as much skill as these authors. When I reach the end, I put the book down and spend a long moment revelling in the quiet, replaying the most gorgeous bits in my mind. Then the despair tries to grip me, as I stare at my own notebook full of words and wonder why I bother, because I will never rise to the excellence of these authors.

Well, I may never write a book that lands in the classics section of the library in one hundred years or so, but I can still learn from reading books both good and bad.

From the bad books, I learn how not to write. If I didn’t know already, I discover that certain characters are overused, certain plots are far from original, and cliches are never ever an option. They’re also confidence boosters, because if this terrible writing is published, there’s hope for me.

From the good books, I absorb how to create a character arc and weave main plots and subplots together without dropping any threads. The vocabulary and phrasing and uniqueness of these books sink into my brain, and presumably influence me for the better. We shall see how well I learn from those who go before me.

Because I am a writer, I can never read books the same way I once did. (Well, I do have an English degree, so that did me in too.)

I don’t think I want to.


I See My World In Books’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. I’ve read more books than I can count, but some stand out because I love them so much.

When I finally got my own library card, my parents gave me a big rolling backpack for Christmas, so that I could fit all my library books in one bag. The librarians smiled when they saw me coming with my 30+ books to check out. I’m a very fast reader, so I always had to check out lots of books to survive from one library trip to another. In the summer reading programs the library put on, I challenged myself to read a hundred books one year, one hundred twenty-five the next. Of course, this was before I had a job, so I had lots of time for reading.

When I was little, my mom read me the entire Little House on the Prairie series, as well as a series of missionary books. I still remember reading ahead in one of the missionary books and then feeling guilty when my mom realized what I’d done. She wasn’t disappointed that I’d disobeyed or lied to her; she was disappointed that I had read ahead without her, that I had created a dissonance in our reading time together.

My memories of books are often tied to what I was eating, or doing, or feeling when I read them for the first time. I remember reading the entire Jedi Apprentice series, consisting of about twenty 100-page books, on one long car ride down to Tennessee. I read a huge amount of Lurlene McDaniel books on Tennessee car rides, and later, dozens of Star Trek books on other Tennessee journeys.

The first time I read Eye of the World, the first Wheel of Time book, I was sitting in my car on my lunch break at work, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I later read the rest of the series in my dorm room at school that fall, except for book four, which I read mostly during several days of a camping trip that August, and finished it at breakfast one day.

The Scarlet Pimpernel was on my list of classics to read, and I started it at a horse show one summer, but I was so tired that the words were swimming on the page in front of me, so I finished it in my car during a lunch break, over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches once again. I read a lot of books during lunch breaks. One book I did read at a horse show and stayed wide awake for was Matthew Stover’s novelization of The Revenge of the Sith, the third Star Wars movie.

I read Ender’s Game one summer day over lunch, and I meant to put it down and save the rest for that evening, as I was planning to go to the barn, but I could not stop until I had finished it. It was that intense. I remember reading Inheritance in bed one Saturday. I’d been waiting several years for that book, as it was the last in a series. I did not put it down until I had finished it, and that book is at least 700 pages long. (And utterly underwhelming.)

I love the books by Jim Kjelgaard: old style tales of dogs and men and other animals in the wild, fighting for their lives and relationships with each other. Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang were also staples of my childhood, which I still adore. The book by Joanna Campbell, Battlecry Forever, still makes me cry at the end. To this day, The Black Stallion is one of my favorite books of all time, and I credit that book with fueling my childhood desire for a black stallion of my own.

National VelvetBlack Beauty, and the Phantom Stallion series fed my horse obsession. The Han Solo Trilogy fed my Star Wars obsession. The Warriors and Redwall series convinced me that animals are just like people, only with a different perspective. Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain made me fall in love with wolves and falcons, and now I have the (probably unhealthy) desire to be lost in the wilderness for a few months. Nancy Drew, however, did not interest me in being a detective.

My speed-reading abilities enable me to avoid putting a book down until I have finished it. I will confess that I have very carefully read books in the shower when I was so enamored that I could not bear to part from them for even a few minutes. So many of my nights have lasted far beyond my bedtime, and I’ve perfected the art of tucking a flashlight between my neck and the pillow as I stay awake for just one more chapter, only to discover that the book is finished and it’s three in the morning. I have avoided countless assignments by reading. When I was little, my mom had to search the bathroom every night to find the books I thought I had hidden, in order to prevent me from disappearing into the bathroom for hours on end.

My bookshelves are crammed, and I have become very creative in shelving them. If you stack the smaller ones this way and adjust this shelf to this height, you can fit three more in this space! It’s not easy to pull books off the shelves because they are jammed so tightly. I can never have too many books.

I have lived dozens of lives through books, explored this world and many others, and had my heart ripped out by fictional characters both animal and human.

I am a bibliophile and book addict. I’d never want to be anything else.