2011 – an incomplete year in books

I’ve been a very slack writer this year.

You might assume I was talking about my low output and avoidance of working on Arcadia, and that’s a pretty justifiable assumption.

But actually, I mean that I haven’t been reading as much as I should – because the number one skill required for a writer, above grammar and sentence structure and blah blah narrative and all that, is reading. Reading the shit out of other people’s books, working out what makes them work and what doesn’t, and reminding yourself every day that the written word is something you love and want to work with.

Behold the magic of reading! (or possibly porn on an iPad)

And to be honest, I ain’t read shit this year. The main reason for that is because I have a 9-to-5 job (that occasionally encroaches upon my weekends), and it doesn’t leave me a lot of reading time during the week, other than the hour’s bus ride to the office each morning. And, since it’s first thing in the morning and the coffee has only just begun to hit my system, I spend many of those rides reading more immediately accessible texts like graphic novels, RPG sourcebooks or Words With Friends.

As for nights and weekends, those tend to be taken up with other activities – washing dishes, writing blog posts, playing games or getting drunk with friends. Sometimes all at once.

So it’s been a very bad year for reading, and I’ve been feeling abashed about it for a while. Because, seriously, reading is the backbone of writing, and writers that don’t read don’t write anything worth reading. Which worries me, because this is a year when I’m doing more writing (and writing about writing) than ever before.

To get some perspective, I went through my library accounts to see what books (as opposed to DVDs and graphic novels) I had borrowed this year, since that where I get 99% of my reading material. And here’s the list of what I read in 2011 from the start of January to the end of August, sorted by author:

Keith Baker, The Fading Dream

Felix Gilman, Gears of the City

NK Jemisin, The Broken Kingdoms

Stephen King, Full Dark, No Stars

Kelly Link, The Wrong Grave

Tony Martin, Lolly Scramble

Grant Morrison, Supergods

Charles Portis, True Grit

Annie Proulx, Close Range: Wyoming Stories

Annie Proulx, Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2

Annie Proulx, Fine Just the Way it is: Wyoming Stories 3

Greg Rucka, Keeper

Greg Rucka, Finder

Greg Rucka, Smoker

Greg Rucka, Shooting at Midnight

Greg Rucka, Critical Space

Greg Rucka, Patriot Acts

Greg Rucka, Walking Dead

Greg Rucka, A Fistful of Rain

The Sleepers Almanac. No. 6

Peter Temple, The Broken Shore

Peter Temple, Truth

Jennifer Toth, The Mole People

Catherynne M Valente, In the Night Garden

Catherynne M Valente, In the Cities of Coin and Spice

Catherynne M Valente, The Habitation of the Blessed

Chuck Wendig, Irregular Creatures

Walter Jon Williams, Implied Spaces

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind


Okay, I may have been wrong about how little I’ve been reading.

That’s 29 books over eight months, plus any I might have forgotten, and not counting the half-dozen or so books I started reading but then gave up on halfway/partway/three pages through. That’s pretty respectable, I think. And leaves me wondering when the hell I managed to read them in the first place.

Maybe I read at night when I sleep. That would explain a few things.

Anyway, there are conclusions to be drawn from that list, like the fact that I’m not reading enough literary fiction at the moment, and that I hope Greg Rucka’s new thriller comes out soon. But a better conclusion is that sometimes reading becomes like breathing – when you need something to survive, you stop noticing that it’s there. If you’re serious about writing, you read – even if you think you’re not reading. Because words are your air.

That said, I don’t recommend you do what I used to do when I was younger, which is read books while riding a bike. That way likes madness and head injuries.

As an aside, here is my to-read list at the moment, all of which I have to hand or on order:

Steven Erikson, The Crippled God (I got halfway through, had to take it back to the library, and will return to it soon)

Steve Erickson, Zeroville (note: not the same guy as the author of the book above)

Felix Gilman, The Half-made World (started it this week)

Stephen King, Under the Dome

Benjamin Law, The Family Law

Kirstyn McDermott, Madigan Mine

Greg Stolze, SwitchFlipped

Catherynne M Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Daniel Woodrell, Tomato Red

That should take me through to the end of the year and beyond, I would think.

What about you? Anything that you’re desperately immersed in at the moment, pumping life-giving text into your brain?

And speaking of being a very slack writer, I haven’t done any work on Arcadia this week – too many other distractions. Okay, I wrote like a hundred words, but that’s too small to note; I’m throwing it back.

So you can call me a lazy dickhole. I’ll bear that cross once more.

One reply on “2011 – an incomplete year in books”

I’ve read a crazy number of books this year, but looking over my month-by-month reading tally, I’ve noticed that the amount I read is inversely proportional to the amount I write. So in earlier months this year, when we’d just moved overseas and I was knackered and stressed and needing brainfood, I read like a demon – pretty much constantly. (Side note: UK charity shops and their £1 books FTW!) But in the months where I’ve actually had a writing project – most notably August, wherein I wrote 52,000 words of a new novel, because I am sort of insane and don’t have a day job right now – I only read six books. I think it’s like stuffing myself, in this instance: needing inspiration, I’ve gorged on wordage, reached a point of satiety, then started writing madly. But I’m not sure how usual that is for me.

This has been a very weird year.

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