What Are You Reading?

a little night reading
[photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian]
Writers are readers. We get our ideas for stories, characters, complications and solutions from reading. We pick up new words and new ways to use old words. We absorb cadence, rhythm, pulse.

Any mystery-lover who reads A Long, Hard Look will see the influence of, not just Chandler, but Christie, Francis, Stout, and Asimov; perhaps even a twist of Richard Halliburton. The homage to Chandler is intentional, and Phil Brennan owes as much to Archie Goodwin as to Philip Marlowe.

There’s a cooking competition show called Chopped where chefs are given some surprise ingredients and told to prepare a dish. One factor in the judging is “transformation” — did they dump the raw cashews on the top, or did they use them to make the white bean hummus creamier?

Just as you might see my father in me sometimes, other times you’ll see the dozen other men and women who have, by osmosis or design, made me who I am.

My books are the same result of absorption and transformation.

So are yours.

Tell us about your “to be read” pile. List up to 10 books.

26 thoughts on “What Are You Reading?

  1. Once again, I’ll go first. Not in any particular order:

    “Shoulda Been There” by Jude Southerland Kessler (already started this; part 1 of an 8,000 page bio of John Lennon; magnificent)

    “Story Physics” by Larry Brooks

    “Bait and Switch” by Larry Brooks

    “Road to Hell” by James R. Preston

    “Pennies for Her Eyes” by James R. Preston

    “Spirit of Steamboat” by Craig Johnson

    “Solitary” by Giora Romm

    “One in the Chamber” by Cheryl Campbell

    “EDGY Conversations” by Dan Waldschmidt

    “PrairyErth” by William Least Heat-Moon

    Brooks and Preston will begin weaving themselves into my writing psyche; Johnson, too, I suspect.

  2. Okay, it’s early morning kinda (PST), so I’ll go next.

    1. “Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Tahir Shah (actually nonfiction)

    2. “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” Jared Diamond (after “Guns, Germs & Steel”)

    3. “David and Goliath,” Malcolm Gladwell (after all his others, obviously, including “Outliers”)

    4.”Fooled by Randomness,” Nassim Nicholas Taleb (after “Black Swan”)

    5. Morphic Resonance & the Presence of the Past: The Memory of Nature,” Rupert Sheldrake (just started)

    6. “Der Steppenwolf,” Hermann Hesse (in German, with my dictionary…)

    Then articles in The New Yorker, just as good as any book, including the cartoons.

    That’s pretty much it for now. Slow moving.

    Fun, Joel. Good post.

  3. Tell me about Steppenwolf when you’re done. I’ve wanted to dig into some Hesse (in English; my German is far too rusty) and I need a nudge.

    I love Gladwell. Black Swan: I kept looking for some suggestion, recommendation, a way to think differently, and the message seemed to be “you can’t know this.”

  4. Yes, certainly I’ll give a comment after Hesse (outside of Henry James, who obviously stands apart in the English world) Hesse is my all-time favorite author.

    I don’t actually understand what you’re saying re Black Swan. Can you rephrase, Joel? Would like to understand what you mean here (sorry!).

  5. Taleb’s point is that we can’t foresee black swans. I get that.

    So, do we stumble on as we are, or do we take some action? Change, or say “how interesting” and do what we’re doing?

    He seems to say that we can’t prepare for what we can’t predict, other than to say “and at any point during this plan, something we can’t foresee might happen.”

    And I don’t see how that helps, other than the awareness, which I don’t think required a 300-page book to bring to the fore.

  6. I’m reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace,….backwards….while sitting upside down in Russian.

    Okay…that’s not true…I’m reading Treasure of the Templars…kinda silly…but semi-clean…

  7. 1. “The Remarkable Record of Job” by Henry L. Morris, NF, started.

    On Deck:
    2. “Waiting for Joe” by Sandra Birdsell

    3. “Black Wave” by John & Jean Silverwood NF

    4. Mulberry Park by Judy Duarte (I’ve read several others in this series — now it’s time to read the first.)

    5. “Remembering Christmas” by Dan Walsh. (Read his first two — found them excellent!)

    6. “The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Wallis

    7. “Catherine’s Gift” by John Little NF (Describes the work of Dr Catherine Hamlin)

    Just finished:
    8. “The Long Way Home by Robin Pilcher

    Recent read, major impact:
    9. “Life on the Refrigerator Door” by Alice Kuipers. Her unique way of telling a poignant story blew me away! In this day and age of poor reading skills and so little time, I think she’s really onto something.

  8. Alice Kuipers may have a crazy way of telling her tale, but it had me in tears at the end. She wins the prize for condensing a page to its essence! I really learned something and want to make adjustments in my own writing.

  9. Well. (Sigh.) Stumbling on “as we are” is itself taking action. Just that it’s always based on our preconceptions, old habits and such. Right, Joel?…

    As most heavy academics do, Taleb spends half the book going every direction possible, espousing his vast knowledge to pinpoint and support one sincerely main premise. In the middle of the book, he says that if you have gotten the point, you’re done — do nothing, you got it. (Of course he continues on, though…)

    One comment made about the book by a reviewer is that “there is more courage and heroism in defying the human impulse, in taking the purposeful and painful steps to prepare for the unimaginable.” That was Gladwell.

    However: When you read “Fooled by Randomness,” you find out there are a couple different types of ‘actors.’ You also find out that he feels randomness is the hallmark of the human world; and thus yes, you might as well “stumble on” as you are, but Not Blindly. Be very aware that you really have no control in the long run. It’s a Don Juan “tie your shoes well” type of thing.

    My take, anyway…

  10. 1. Treasure of the Mayan King – in progress, only just getting started
    2. The Big Sleep – in progress but stalled out a bit. I’ll circle back around to it eventually
    3. The second in Craig Johnson’s Longmire series. Recently introduced to that series.
    4. The Best Way to Sell Books – downloaded but not started.
    5. I’d like to read Story Physics, but I should probably finish Story Engineering first.
    I’m all over the place with stuff I read so I don’t have a “to read” list beyond a few at a time.

  11. Ha! Exact opposite of Christine’s list: I’ve read every one (except The Best Way to Sell Books which I’d like to hear about.)

    Surprised you’re having a hard time getting into Chandler. Perhaps you’re trying to solve the mystery instead of just absorbing the crazy people and the ambience.

    Newest Longmire shipped today. Yeehaw.

  12. You know, Joel, come to think of it (always a day later…), I think you understand the whole thing just fine already.

    The 300-page question is Always the question. Maybe that’s why some people really like haiku and such?

  13. At the very end of the Platt/Truant “Write, Publish, Repeat,” which as you’ve said yourself, is a fine, informative work.

    In the middle of “Moon Sisters” by Therese Walsh, literary fiction of troubled sisters on a not-mutually-agreed-upon quest.

    “Spontaneous Happiness” by Dr. Andrew Weil, because I’m hoping to spontaneously combust with happiness.

    Just put by my bedside to jump into: “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” by Anthony Marra (highly recommended) and Joshua Foer’s “Moonwalking with Einstein,” also said to be delightful.

  14. “Moon Sisters” sounds luscious and difficult. And luscious. “Moonwalking with Einstein” could be fun. Don’t remember where I first heard of it.

    “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” seems to be one of those books which I know I’d be better for reading, but which I don’t think I’ll be able to take the plunge.

  15. Currently reading:
    1.Black House, by Stephen King and Peter Straub
    2.The Ship who Sang, by Anne McCaffrey
    3.Tintin, Objectif Lune, by Hergé

    To be read after this:
    4.Alarm Clock Dawn, by Eric Vance Walton
    5.It, by Stephen King
    6.The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
    7.The 3 last book in the Harry Potter serie, which I should have read like 10 years ago…
    8.A million other books hiding in my bookshelves, waiting for my attention!

  16. Joel, you will laugh…but I still haven’t come up with a satisfactory answer, to your very practical question, that actually has meaning for me. Well, how silly, but here’s my best shot: I’m reading in-between my eyes.

    How’s that? 😉

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