One of the reasons I really want to try to take this blog to the next level (perhaps an average of 3 posts a week?) this coming year is because I love to write. I think the age-old adage that writers should write about what they know is true and what do I know better than my own daily life and atmosphere? By blogging, it forces me to express my ideas of the day and what I personally have experienced. That being said, another key piece of advice when it comes to writing is to read. You can’t be a good writer if you don’t immerse yourself in what others are doing and how they are doing. It expands your knowledge and at least let’s you appreciate the potential that writing can be.
Being a college student, I actually don’t have too much time to read stuff just for pleasure. Or, that’s what I tell myself. After reading 4 hours a day of stuff entitled Vatican II The Essential Texts and The Scholastic Culture of the Middle Ages 1000 – 1300 By Baldwin, the last thing I want to do is read. Don’t get me wrong, I love my major but there’s only so much I can take of times new roman font on an off white page.
So, with that in mind, out of my vast collection of books I’ve read, I have narrowed down the type of books that really have stuck out in my mind and I truly believe have helped me change as a writer in the best way.
The Weird Books
Sometimes I read books and after setting them down, the only thought that comes to my head is, “Wow, that was really weird”. These are the kind of books that are amazing because anything that pushes your conception of normal is a good thing.
Running with Scissors was adapted into a movie and both film and novel are pretty similar but even the premise hints at its strangeness. It’s about a young boy who goes to live at his mother’s therapist’s house and it’s a series of unorthodox practices and occurrences. The boy himself probably needs some therapy. Apparently, it’s based on true events but the family he writes about claims otherwise. The book gets pretty intense but is a gripping read.
Hitchhiking Japan is advertised to be a travel memoir which is what it is. It follows the story of a man who decides to follow the cherry blossoms as they bloom across the island. What the advertisement doesn’t tell you is that this book also chronicles an exploration of a culture that is polite yet suspicious of outsiders and the concept of hitchhiking is basically unheard of. It’s interesting and almost depressing at a certain point but some moments are very beautiful and fascinating. At one point he convinces a business man to go with him but the next morning, indecision keeps him home and another couple he meets study monkeys and ask if he’d like to help with their studies.
Both books share an interesting journey with a real personal, slightly strange, twist that would be impossible to replicate.
The Classic Books
Certain books are acclaimed for a reason though I have to admit that I seriously have never been able to get through a Jane Austen book due to intense boredom. Fahrenheit 451 and The Scarlet Letter were great reads to me though. Fahrenheit 451 challenged the ideas that I hold most dear. I think it’s obvious that I love America, its government, and authoritative figures like soldiers and policemen. Ray Bradbury’s book though is a warning against complete faith in something and a lack of literature and knowledge from different perspectives. It’s an empty life. As a writer, it’s important not to do what you’ve learned. As they say in music, learn all the rules of composition, and then break them for your symphony. The Scarlet Letter wasn’t as obvious in its message but I think it’s similar to what Fahrenheit 451 is. Titles and social status don’t tell the whole story. Plus, it’s a great early romance story involving religion and I’m a sucker for those.
The Memoir Books
Stephen King is one weird dude but his memoir is probably one of the most honest and interesting books I have ever read. It was the first book of this genre that I had ever read and now, memoirs are one of my favorite types of books to read. The book demonstrates how real life experiences can translate into writing smoothly and the sacrifices one has to go through to make their life work – especially as a struggling writer. Stephen King worked hard and had some incredibly funny, yet disturbing, moments in his life and if blogs were a thing back then, I’m sure he would have some honest entries but now, we have books like Carrie.
The Unforgiving Minute is a book I recommend to almost anyone who has an inclination to be an army officer. That doesn’t mean that others might not benefit from it. Craig Mullaney separates the book into different stages of his life: student, solider, veteran. Being a graduate of West Point and a Rhodes Scholar, Mullaney has an incredible education but even armed with all that he discusses how he learns to be a leader through trial and error. One thing I like – and hate – about the military is that every leadership aspect comes into scrutiny and is heightened because no matter how book smart you are, it comes down to getting the mission done without anyone getting hurt and working with people means politics is involved. One of my favorite moments is his discussion about how after a long day in the field after practicing shooting he let his men go to sleep without cleaning the weapons. The next morning, the gun powder had become hard and took twice as long to clean. Basically, there is no easy way out and being able to bring raw and honest experiences to pen is very admirable to me. It’s funny because a lot of my friends that read it think that Mullaney is arrogant. I think that every writer and blogger might be a little arrogant… I think you’ve got to be confident to write, it’s the only reason why you’d think anyone would want to read what you’ve got to say.
That class was truly boring but I hate to admit it – this was and still is one of the most useful required readings I have ever had especially when pertaining to writing. It gives meaning to what writers do. When I took my core required English Composition class at Fordham, I used this book weekly to my personal benefit. We had to compose an analysis of a piece of literature weekly and basically say things like, oh that mountain and those hills symbolize a sex scene. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. Foster’s book got me thinking though. Haven’t you noticed that after every rain storm or river scene, the main character is suddenly different? Well, according to Foster, that’s on purpose – that’s a baptism! For example, just think about Disney’s Mulan. She runs away from home and dresses like a boy during a rainstorm. There are millions of examples and it got me thinking – maybe this isn’t bull? It made me want to add that to my writing as well; a type of depth that I think those who don’t read may lack. This book was actually interesting as well so don’t let its heavy nature scare you.
What are some books your recommend for becoming a better writer?