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A short post on why I like to read what I like to read

February 15, 2012

This year I’ve endeavored to read more books that are outside the rather genre-specific comfort zone I’ve built up for myself. It’s a sage piece of advice for writers, really. And I’m glad I’ve taken it, as I’ve found I’m learning a lot about what I do and don’t like and, perhaps more importantly, why.

The kind of books I like to read and, by extension, the kind of things I like to write are generally rather linear. There are points A, B, C, etc., and things happen in between these points that drive the story forward and help it to make logical sense. This is not to say that every story I read or even like to write is linear along a specific time line – or that points A, B, and C need to follow one after another in perfect order. Flashbacks and sidetracks are fair game in any good story, and when done right they can add a great deal. But the underlying idea is that they all do, in some way, fit together logically.

There is, however, another kind of story on the other end of the literary spectrum. It’s the kind of story where lots of “stuff” happens, but there is no apparent reason for it happening that is visible to the reader. One might call this “stream of consciousness” writing, and I fully admit that I don’t usually enjoy it. Not because it isn’t well written – in the hands of a skilled craftsman it can be superbly done – but rather because it’s non-linear nature doesn’t allow me to explore it as fully as my logical mind can explore more linear stories. I like to explore, and it makes me uncomfortable when I can’t predict and test what will happen next in a story.

To put it another way, I like stories that show me the “why” in the end as opposed to stories that force me to create a “why” on my own with little guidance. I like finite puzzles, not infinite puzzles; and I see the world not as a random collection of sometimes overlapping stories but a specific set of reasoned (not always well-reasoned) responses to things that happen in our lives. It makes me comfortable to know that everything has a real explanation, even if we don’t always see it.

This post was prompted by my current reading of a book by Paul Harding called Tinkers. It is very much in the vein of the second kind of story I’ve discussed, and though it is exquisitely written – I’m not fully enjoying it. But that’s all right, because reading it is helping me to understand just why that is. And doing that can only help me to further put together that puzzle we call writing.

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