One of my New Year’s resolutions was to read all of the John Steinbeck novels. I’ve done pretty well so far, having read East of Eden, Cannery Row, The Red Pony, The Long Valley, The Pearl and even Travels with Charley, which isn’t a novel. I’ve just started The Grapes of Wrath.
Last year I decided to read all of Jane Austen’s books. It was a wonderful experience. I find if you read one book after another, fairly close together, it’s a lot like watching a season of a television series in a marathon manner. Where there is repetitiveness you recognize it and as a writer that’s fantastic. It leads to a better understanding of how a great author thinks. Deep immersion in Austen caused me to become frustrated with the horrible restrictions on women of her time and truly appreciate my own freedoms.
Since I published my first novel, Red Mojo Mama, I have spent a great deal of time doing obligatory reading as I’m sure many of you have. That is to say, I have owed it to a number of my compadres to read their works. While this has been enjoyable and informative, I miss reading an author I already know I love and especially reading enough of that writer to really appreciate their genius.
I watched a PBS/Ken Burns special on Mark Twain recently and it has inspired me to read those of his books I haven’t already read and re-read those I have. I already know I love Twain, but now I want to study his use of dialog, how he captured the voice of his times.
After reading Austen and Steinbeck, I think they had that trait in common with Twain, and that perhaps that is what makes an author magnificent – the ability to play back to the reader what a people and era sounded like. The authenticity of that speech and thought pattern captures the reader and won’t let go.
So, while I will definitely continue to read the works of my brother and sister writers, I’m going to continue to make a point of structuring some “intentional reading” for myself periodically. It’s great for my inner scribe.