I decided to keep a record of the books I read in 2011, and frankly, I’m shocked I actually did it. Usually, I begin such a list and along about springtime, forget about it. But with the publication of my first book,Mama’s Shoes,in October, my life centered on books this year (more than usual).
Every author knows, that to be a better writer you must be an avid reader. It’s important to read what others are writing in your genre, but don’t restrict yourself to that genre. Read a wide variety of genres and authors, and don’t forget the classics. Those novels you found so boring in high school get more interesting as you get older – well, most of the time.
To be a better writer, you must read like a writer. Silas House, author of many brilliant works such as his young adult novel, Eli the Good says, “Read like an animal.” Think about it! An animal makes use of its senses at all times. It sees, hears, smells, and feels what we can’t. We should use all of our senses to get the most out of the words on the page. The better reader we are the better writer we become.
Here is my 2011 list of books I read or reread.
Bloodroot by Amy Greene
The Condition by Jennifer Haigh
This Rock by Robert Morgan
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The Girl who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult
Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Eventide by Kent Haruf
The Quickening by Michelle Hoover
Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy
This Much is True by Wally Lamb
Chinaberry by James Still
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larrson
Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
Black Mountain Breakdown by Lee Smith
The Day the Dogbushes Bloomed by Lee Smith
On Writing by Stephen King
The Scarlet Thread by Doris Betts
Christy by Catherine Marshall
The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gilmore
All the Living by C.E. Morgan
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Unusual Children by Ransom Riggs
The Typist by Michael Knight
Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman
Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
Cataloochee by Wayne Caldwell
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Night Woods by Charles Frazier
Return to Cold Sassy by Olive Ann Burns
Hunger Games II Catching Fire
Hunger Games III The Mockingjay
Rescue by Anita Shreve
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
If I was pressed to pick my favorite book from this list, it would be Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, simply because I loved it on a myriad of levels. After I saw the movie, I read it again to make sure I got every ounce of energy from it. The only other book I can put in that category was The Typist by Michael Knight. The characters in that book were so complex and their conflict was riveting. Room by Emma Donoghue was, by far, the most emotionally wrenching book I read, second only to Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. I couldn’t read Room before going to bed because I couldn’t sleep for worrying about what was going to happen to the mother and her son.
Even though I don’t usually read science fiction, I read the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins and loved every word. I know that part of the reason is that I adored the strong female protagonist, who was beautiful, smart, and brave. I also enjoyed Miss Peregrine’s Home for Unusual Children by Ransom Riggs. It created a wonderful fantasy world, and I was happy to spend time there. I also enjoyed the Stieg Larrson thrillers; here again I relished a strong female protagonist.
I can’t stop without mentioning how much I loved Plainsong and Eventide by Kent Haruf. Even though his were Midwest tales, they struck the same cord with me as the books about Appalachia from this list that are so dear to my heart. It was an incredible thrill to read Chinaberry by James Still, a genuine gift from Still via Silas House, ten years after Still’s death.
Each book I read enriched my writing in some way. And don't forget the audio book! I have Amy Greene's Bloodroot and Stephen Kings', On Writing, on CD and listen to them over and over. I’ve already started my 2012 list by rereading Lee Smith’s classic Fair and Tender Ladies. I can’t think of a better way to kick off my new list.