Refining My Reading

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I’ve been putting a lot more books in my Did Not Finish pile on GoodReads lately, and to be honest, I’m not feeling too worried about it.  It’s not that the books are bad (though there have been a few), it’s more that they’re just not my thing.

I’ve found that for me, one of the most common reasons for not finishing a novel is that trying to get through it is a chore.  They’re either far too verbose, far too infodumpy, or just in a really irritating style.  There are also the Everything/Everyone Is Horrible novels that I really don’t have time for in my life right now.

When I was a teenager it used to irritate me that I would lose interest in a book.  Granted, a good handful of the assigned reading when I was in high school was dry as a bone (George Eliot’s Silas Marner remains one of my least favorite books for its desert-level dryness); others were Written to Make a Point (like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which dropped metaphors on you like Acme™ anvils).  Both are my least favorite styles of writing.  It actually put me off reading for entertainment for quite some time.

Yes, this, coming from a writer, right?  This is why I focused more on storytelling in different mediums, like comics, movies and television.  It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I figured it was time to actually read novels for entertainment again.  Once I got back into the swing of it, my personal library expanded exponentially.

Thing is, I found that I was trying to read everything, whether it was enjoyable or not.  There were very few books that I wrote off as DNF; I kept a hold of them for years, trying to read them again at a later time.

Nowadays I go by my book ownership rules:

  1. If I just bought it new, it needs to be read within the year.
  2. If I’ve bought it but haven’t started reading it in over a year, I push it to the top of my To Be Read queue.  If I don’t think I’ll get to it anytime soon, however, it goes to the donation pile.
  3. If I’ve owned it for ages and enjoyed it in the past but don’t think I’ll be reading it again, it goes in the donation pile.
  4. If I’ve gotten a quarter of the way in and it’s just not doing anything for me, or if it’s more irritating than enjoyable, it’s not worth finishing. [Note: This is not to say I toss books at the slightest irritation.  It takes a lot for me to give up on a book, so I give it a serious go before giving up.]

I donate the books to the Friends of the SF Public Library at their book store over in Fort Mason.  I’m totally fine with not making any money back, because these end up getting sold at their store or at their Big Honkin’ Book Sale they have a few times a year.  I might not have liked the book, but hey, someone else might!

I’ve found that sticking to these four rules works out really well, as it helps me get through my towering To Be Read pile quickly. Time’s too short to force myself through novels that are more of a chore than a joy.  Plus it leaves me more time to check out new writers!

#atozchallenge: I is for Inspiration

The inspiration behind the stories, ideas, settings and characters of the Mendaihu Universe have come from all kinds of places over the years.  I’ve talked about quite a few of them on various blogs as well.  I’ve mentioned the albums I listened to, the movies and the books and the TV shows and and and…  There’s been a lot that I’ve read and enjoyed that inspired me to write these stories.  I made a semi-official list sometime around around late 2002 that included all of these.  Maybe one of these days I’ll update it and paste it here on the blog, just for fun.

So where does this inspiration come from, anyway?  Well, my first rule of being inspired by something has always been if it causes me to drop everything and run to the computer to start typing.  If I finish reading a book or watching a TV show or a film and my first reaction is a creative excitement, if it’s made me notice the writing and the production in a good way…then it’s done its job, and done it well.

[Good recent examples: the always level-headed Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War, no matter what mood he may be in; the deliberate pacing of the movie adaptation of The Martian, the one-person cast of driving ninety percent of Gravity; the movements of a large cast in Kate Elliott’s Black Wolves.]

I always cite music as  an inspiration, though that tends to be more on a molecular level, as it were.  Certain songs will inspire the mood of a specific scene; some albums will be my go-to’s for writing sessions (one recent release getting heavy rotation here is Shearwater’s Jet Plane and Oxbow).  I may occasionally hear a song and imagine a scene not yet written; with those I’ll either make brief notes or I’ll listen to the song a few more times and think about whether it’ll fit in the project I’m working on.

I like to keep my eyes and ears open for these sorts of things.  I’m not one to read or see something and think I want to write THAT!  Mainly because I know by the time I finish it, it’ll no longer be in season.  It’s more on a creative level; if I’m amazed by the writer’s dexterity in weaving a complicated plot, or their ability to look at a well-used storyline from a completely different angle, that’s what will inspire me to take the same route.

I suppose it all boils down to: how did the creator get his or her creation stuck in my mind?  It has to be more than flashbangs and shock-and-awe and disturbing scenery; there’s a time and place for all of that, but it’s nothing I can or should completely rely on.  It has to be the whole as well as its elements; the artistry as well as the work.

That’s what inspires my own.