The Importance of Reading Carefully

all the lightI goofed on Friday Fun when I didn’t read the question carefully, seeing only the headline, What One Book Would You Recommend? I didn’t see the fine print: it was supposed to be one book about writing.

I can heartily endorse Bird By Bird and If You Want To Write, recommended by my colleagues Diana and Jamie. I’m not familiar with Outwitting Writer’s Block and Other Problems of the Pen, Lisa’s recommendation, which I’ve added to my Must Read list.


Diana’s recommendation

But I’m also going to stand by my recommendation, this year’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It’s important for writers to read widely, and it’s especially important to read in the genre in which you write.

Reading others’ work helps you recognize what you like and don’t like, what you think works and what doesn’t.


Lisa’s recommendation

Long ago, I heard a radio commentary I didn’t like. I thought, I can do better than that! So I tried. I’ve been a commentator for Vermont Public Radio ever since.

I’d like to think that people listen to what I have to say on the radio. While I hope that my commentaries initiate thoughtfulness about the issues I raise, I know that some listeners will not only disagree, but be inspired to write an even better commentary. Power to them!

Positive motivation is even better, which is why I’m inspired when I read a brilliant book.

Ueland cover

Jamie’s Recommendation

All The Light We Cannot See is such a book. I read it with awe and uninterrupted concentration in a single day. I remember being swept into the story by a riptide of language. (I’d give you an example if I had the book in front of me, but I returned it to the library.)

The story is set during the bombing of St. Malo in August of 1944. The details of the events are all so particular and so credible, I googled the event to see if it really happened. It did.

But the story also goes backward in time to the childhoods of the two main characters, one a German orphan destined to be a miner, and the other a blind French girl cared for by her loving father, a master locksmith at the Museum of Natural History. The chapters alternate between the boy and the girl, and between the past and the days of the bombing.

There are two through lines as well: one is how the characters are connected by radio, and the other is how they are caught by a curse of a prized jewel.

Believe me, it all works.

As a writer of literary fiction, I found myself reading the book both for its story and to see exactly how Doerr ties these disparate lines together with such deft. It’s a book I’ll read again, just to study craft.

So in the end, I think my answer to Friday’s question is a good one: Any piece of writing that you loathe or love is worth inspecting and tearing apart to discover exactly what makes for exasperation or excellence.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-winning love story, Into the Wilderness.

23 thoughts on “The Importance of Reading Carefully

  1. Loved the book, though I thought the end was rushed. Such build up and immersion throughout the story, and then it just…ended. It was good, but too quick for me. By the way, nice recovery on tying this back to the prompt of a writing book. 🙂

  2. Very useful, thank you. For me it would have to be, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Her recurring theme of; “if you want to write just start writing”, was the kick start I needed. Her less encouraging tagline was, course most of what you write will be pretty awful. The trick seemed to be in the panning for the nuggets of gold.

    • I love Natalie Goldberg’s book and advice. And I start my day with Morning Pages (Julie Cameron, The Artist’s Way). Yes, there’s lots of chaff, but also precious and surprising kernels of grain to be discovered this way.

    • This is a wise move on your part. The book is so absorbing that trying to read it without planning uninterrupted time could easily lead to gross negligence of other duties!

  3. I just finished a book that could have swept me away. Filled with quirky characters and a magical premise, it fell down in plot weaknesses and silly word choices. But I’m so glad I read it. When I think my book is ready, I’ll hire an editor. Now I’m going out for All the Light We Cannot See. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • You’re welcome. And a professional editor is a great idea.
      Would love to know what you think of All the Light. . . when you’re finished.

  4. Thank you. I have just finished the book Hidden Tunnels and while it is a trendy and gripping story with a genuine historical edge the constant ‘movement’ action etc left me feeling drained. Personally I am inspired by a well written story that grips the imagination, inspires the mind but does not move at such a furious pace that at the end I’m just glad everything works out ok. Thanks for your thoughts

  5. Thanks. I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction lately and, other than reading a book by someone whose blog I follow, I have very little in queue.

    • You’re welcome. Like you, I’ve been reading some terrific non-fiction lately, so it was a real treat to pick up Doerr’s novel. Great read. Would love to know what you think – and what non-fiction you’d recommend?

      • Pardon the late response. I didn’t know where to look for them. I recommend The Genogram Journey: Reconnecting with Your Family. It was recommended to me.

  6. Hi,
    Two thought here :
    1/ I’m french and a part of my family live in Saint-Malo. My aunt and uncle have read the book and told me the facts are very accurate, the description of the city is stunning. I’ve tried to read it myself but the french translations does it very little justice so I’ll wait till I receive the original edition.
    2/ I absolutely do what you recommend : dissect the books that awe me in order to understand how their magic works. Than I try to integrate what I understood into my daily dose of writing and, with time and practice, I see results.

  7. One of the things I most adore about “being” a writer is that it is so easy to justify reading excessively. Great post! (And, another writing book I love – for what it’s worth – is “On Writing” by Stephen King.)

    • Yes, I very much liked King’s book ON WRITING. And I agree: reading is an occupational excuse to spend the day on the couch, reading. Not a bad life!

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