When I was in high school, I had a real dilemma: I loved the books the teachers assigned us, and as a result, the teachers loved me. Naturally, that meant some of the other students hated me.
Now, I should clarify this by saying that I didn’t always love what I was assigned. Prior to high school, teachers gave young people some pretty boring books to read. But in high school (and possibly even junior high), we got some classics. To Kill A Mockingbird. Huck Finn. Those types of classics.
And in my high school, the teachers exposed us to a variety of great stuff. I’m talking everything from The Sound and the Fury to Slaugherhouse-Five! My teenage mind was already overstimulated with wonderful music, and in school, they overstimulated my mind with wonderful books.
Like most writers who aspire to create classics of their own, I was a reader before I could become a writer. And, like most writers of the obsessive type, I had to have more. This is a behavior that follows me even to this day: I can’t just have one John Coltrane album. I have to hear it all! I approached reading classic literature in much the same way.
But What About Genres?
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not into genre fiction. But that doesn’t mean I’m constantly looking down my nose at Michael Crichton or J.K. Rowling. I get it: lots of folks love to read accessible, fun, page-turner fiction.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Plenty of writers aspire to be the next [Fill-In-The-Blank] in a genre they love.
But that’s not the kind of writing I love the best. What I love are the books that take me into a different type of experience – not one exactly like my own, but one that’s relatable for me. I can’t relate to vampires or spacemen. I can relate to 18th-century girls or 20th-century mob bosses, but not to non-human entities. That’s just how I roll.
So I have always had to be a reader. For me, that meant going beyond even the Master’s in English and checking out all sorts of books they didn’t ever get around to assigning me. Balzac. Camus. Gardner. You name it, I probably read it.
And I’m still reading today.
What about you? What’s on your TBR list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.