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On Book Towers and Reading as Writers

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

I recently came across an image like this one on Twitter with the caption “If you have a book tower, you’re probably a writer.” A few weeks later I watched Maria Semple interview Lauren Groff about her reading and writing

habits. When Maria asked Lauren if she read more than one book at a time, Lauren answered, “oh yes definitely.” Both of these online encounters made me feel a) less ashamed about the book towers that crowd by my home, and b) that I need to read even more. We know that as writers we need to read widely, but the more serious you get about your writing, the more frustrating reading can become. It's no longer an escape, a form of entertainment. Now it’s an extension of your writing, your commitment to learning the craft. Sure you can still read for pleasure, but try, it’s hard to unsee, to not wonder how that writer did that.

In the first workshop of my Beginner Fiction workshop, I always ask the writers what they’re reading. I love new recommendations, but I also want it to be a constant backdrop of our time together, and one that they’ll carry forward when they leave the workshop. Lauren Groff also shared that when she’s having a bad writing day, she’ll spend eight hours reading. There’s no part of me that thinks that’s strange. How about you? Actually, when you’re feeling stuck or frustrated, opening a book for distraction can often lead to inspiration. How do they do it? I also love to borrow favorite lines or passages as prompts. In Grace Paley’s story, “In the Time that Made Monkeys of Us All,” the first line reads: “No doubt that’s…. “ all of my students know that this is one of my first prompts. Begin a freewrite with “No doubt that’s…"

So reading is crucial to writers for all of the obvious reasons: for inspiration, exploration, and instruction, but also it IS a part of your writing. What's in your book tower?

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Unknown member
Mar 05, 2021

Here's mine right now: Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader-Vivian Gornick; The Violence Inside Us: Chris Murphy; Hamnet: Maggie O'Farrell; Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath - Heather Clark; The Liar's Dictionary- Eley Williams; Ravenna: Capital of Europe, Crucible of Culture: Judith Herrin; The Power of Adrienne Rich: A Biography - Hilary Holladay; A Promised Land- Barack Obama; Sybille Bedford - Selina Hastings. Ron Pinciaro

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