ACW

ACW

Saturday, 13 June 2015

"Writers, Read!" by Amy Boucher Pye

An oft-repeated piece of advice for writers is short and sweet: “Read.” As writers we need to immerse ourselves in words, and usually this has been our bent from birth. We are those who as children got told off for reading with our friends on a playdate (yes that was me), or for not engaging with the family on car journeys because we had our nose in a book (me again, before I starting suffering from travel sickness). We read the back of a cereal box as we eat or scan the junk mail when we’re waiting for the microwave to finish. Reading often comes to writers as second nature.

Why read? As we lose ourselves in a book, we chew and swallow and digest the writing, which imparts richness to our writing. Although all of this reading might mean that our early attempts to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard sound like we’re parroting our favorite authors, for we haven’t yet developed our voice. But as the words get inside us, and as we continue to hone our writing, the writings of others help us to find our voice.

We also gain in the mechanics of writing when we step back to analyze what we’re reading. For example, with fiction, we notice where the plot worked or didn’t, or how the characters were developed, or how the author set the scenes. With non-fiction, we see the strength of the argument or the winsomeness of the writing. We learn new words and become more confident of our own style.

And when we just can’t get on with a book, we also learn. When the editor in me starts to comment internally when I’m reading, I sigh and realize that I won’t long be engaging with the book I’m reading. I promise you, I mentally turn off AmyEditor when I pick up a book, but if the prose is purple, the characters wooden or unbelievable, the arguments lacking, she pipes up and makes herself known.  

What should we read? Yes, obviously, lots in our own category, whether it’s crime fiction or devotionals or fantasy. But we should push ourselves to read more widely, including the popular novels of the day (book clubs are good for encouraging this), leading Christian thinkers, TED-talk thinkers, and a good dose of the classics. And a cereal box or two won’t hurt either.

This year I’ve finally made good on my resolution to keep a list of the books I’ve read over the year. As I look back over the first 5 months, I see that I’ve read equally between fiction and non-fiction – not that I planned this. Mostly books by Christian publishers – only 25 percent by general publishers – but I’m not surprised by that because of my work as a book reviewer for the Woman Alive book club and more sporadically with Christianity magazine. As I flick down the list, I see gems such as Hidden in Christ that I will read again and some works I’ll soon forget.


How does your writing inform your reading? What are you reading now? Do you keep a list of books you read?


Amy Boucher Pye loves running the Woman Alive book club, including the lively Facebook group. She’s finally seeing her own first book published this autumn by Authentic Media: FindingMyself in Britain: Our Search for Faith, Home & True Identity. She lives in a vicarage in North London with books, books, and more books (and her lovely family). She blogs at amyboucherpye.com and tweets at @AmyBoucherPye.

12 comments:

  1. I like the idea of keeping a list. I'm currently reading "leading in love" for growth and research and "The Olive Farm" series ao I can switch off and dream myself into the idyllic living of southern France.
    When reading a novel I need something to capture my imagination and non fiction needs to capture my soul and engage my brain.

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    1. The Olive Farm - haven't heard of that one. Similar to A Year in Provence?

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  2. Great idea to keep a list, Amy. Though, as you know, I always add a discussion summary to my blog on every book my book club reads. Your childhod sounds just like mine, escaping into a book.

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    1. :) I should be better about putting up a summary on my blog after my local book club. Do you get much discussion on your blog Mel?

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  3. I think you must be my long-lost twin, Amy - glad I'm not the only one who reads the back of cereal packets!

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  4. We writers are a strange lot, huh? :)

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  5. Yes, yes and yes! I could have written every word, right down to the travel sickness blighting my glorious summers of reading in the car (it was a camper van, actually, and we used to travel all the way down the length of France and back every summer. We were only allowed to pack eight books and two toys each. I used to get eight new books from the library and I had often finished half of them by the time we'd got to the cross channel ferry. One summer, I famously read Lois Lowry's 'The Woods at the End of Autumn Street' fourteen times, getting to the last page and turning straight back to the beginning.)

    I've been keeping a list since January, too. I'm intending to compare it to the list my mother kept the year I was seven. I don't get nearly so much time for reading these days, though!

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  6. Oh how we could have done with e-readers back then, huh? I love how you read your book 14 times. I used to love library days - oh the joys of being able to stock up on new books to read during the long summer days.
    We list-keepers should compare at the end of the year!

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  7. Ha, ha! Cereal boxes. As a child I complained, when Mum cleared the boxes away, "You've taken my reading away!"
    Oh, and I've been keeping lists of what I read for the past few years. I was fed up with starting a library book and thinking, that I'd read it before. Sue

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    1. Isn't it interesting how we forget what we've read? I think, "Of course I'll remember," and then I don't...

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  8. My current reading is Tony Horsfall's 'Rhythms of Grace' (BRF). A lovely book on learning to be still and entering God's rest: written in a simple, accessible style, it's designed to introduce evangelicals to the depths of contemplative prayer.

    I am currently trying to read all the really good Christian books I've been meaning to read for ages ... that is my project for the summer!

    I'm aware of the need to read widely if one wants to write. I used to read a lot of contemporary fiction but have been disappointed by many novels recently - the resolution often seems contrived, with a lack of satisfying closure, unlike many of the great classics of the past. A recent exception, however, was The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng - best novel I've read for ages, a very moving and thoughtful read, with believable characters and a convincing story, and beautifully written.

    I also enjoy genre fiction. I particularly like Elizabeth Chadwick's historical novels, often set in 12th century England and exploring the power struggles and chivalric culture of that time - she often writes compelling female characters trying to survive in a patriarchal culture.

    I'm also a big fan of Pen Wilcock's Hawk & Dove novels. Wonderful mixture of the historical and the spiritual.

    - Philippa x

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