Thursday, December 18, 2008

Essential Reading

Pretty much every day starts the same for me. I wake up, log on and read the Washington Post's front page. I like to know what kind of day I'm looking at. From there, it's a quick stroll through the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Slate, the Politico, and then onto a few blogs. Then I go make breakfast.

At night, it's novel time. I read pretty much every night. I've been working my way through Bleak House lately, but it's been interrupted by Lao Tzu, The Hunger Games, and even some Roald Dahl. 

As a reader, this is my essential reading. As a writer, I'm always wondering how people pick their essential reading. This is an important question, especially in an age when certain kinds of reading (novels, mainly) have been losing cultural relevance. This kind of sucks for those of us who write novels--no matter how we publish them, if at all--but there is an opportunity buried in this challenge somewhere. The writer who can figure out how to become essential reading is woven into the moment. 

Obviously, there's no answer to this. It can't be planned. But what do you think? What makes a novelist essential?



Jude Hardin said...

I think it has to do with uniquely capturing the essence of a certain time period, exploring the human condition in new and interesting ways, and a command of language that rises to the level of art.

Or maybe it's just luck.

LurkerMonkey said...

I'm voting for option #1.

Option #2 would just be too depressing.

Erica Orloff said...

Really interesting question. I think timelessness. The idea that the themes resonate so deeply and profoundly that it's a book that people are changed somehow by reading, coupled with some lyrical writing.


Zoe Winters said...

I read a few blogs. I should read PW but I don't. But I could subscribe to it and write it off as a business expense. I may actually do that. Now I'm feeling motivated to do that actually.

I dont' read the regular news, it's too depressing.

Nighttime is my novel reading time too. I'm really going to finish this novel I'm on soon. I've been dealing with the onset of winter blahs and ordered some full spectrum light. Hopefully it will help.

spyscribbler said...

I like Jude's capturing the essence of a time period, writing a novel that resonates with people. And combining that with timelessness, LOL.

I also like really strong, confident, aggressive voices, but I'm not sure that's essential. I like complex plots, lots of layers, emotional, gut-grabbing...

Wow, should I just describe the dream novel in my head? The "perfect" novel I keep hoping to find?

Mark Terry said...

I think it's unique to the individual. Which makes all those academics that list essential novels, well... nonessential.

LurkerMonkey said...


Winter blahs suck. I moved out of Michigan in part because I couldn't stand spending six months a year fish-belly white and depressed. Good luck with the lights ...

LurkerMonkey said...


You and me are totally on the same page. I love, love, love a well-plotted book, where all the loose ends tie up and the little bits turn out to be big bits. It's a joy for me to discover such a book; if you find it, please share!

LurkerMonkey said...


That's funny about the academics, but ... the same isn't true for Oprah, right? I mean, her books really ARE essential, right?

(Please don't burst my bubble. It's warm in here.)

Mark Terry said...


And just FYI, so far today I've shoveled parts of my driveway twice. Last time I dragged my kids out and there was about 3 inches of snow on the drive and my neighbor was out with his snow blower. He said, "I blew out your drive an hour or so ago. Look at it now."

I'm thinking, "You're kidding, right?" But he wasn't. My office is in the basement so I didn't hear it and it's snowing and blowing so hard we're getting about 2 inches an hour at the moment. He blew it out again. This guy's getting brownies or something from us soon.