READING AS A WRITER
by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro
"Books that I would have gone through in a blink, I now stared at for hours, trying to learn just how the author created his magic."|
As a kid, I carried home such an armload of books from the library that I could barely see over the pile. A crossing guard once reported me to my mother.
“Your daughter will be run over if she keeps reading those many books.”
It was more like I was overrun by books, but quite willingly. Books were life to me. They were so much more interesting that anything anyone around me had to say, including my teachers.
Throughout my adulthood, I read voraciously. At all times I kept a pocketbook in my pocket in case I had to stand on a line or get on a bus or do anything else that might open a window of time to reading. I read and ate. I read and took a bath. Sometimes, depending on whom I was speaking to, I read and talked on the phone at the same time.
But in my thirties when I began to write, the pace of my reading screeched to only a few pages an hour. Books that I would have gone through in a blink, I now stared at for hours, trying to learn just how the author created his magic. I’d look for certain specific things, and when I found them, I’d really take note. I’d underline, highlight, write comments in the margins, and fill up all the blank space between chapters with copying whole passages from the book. A book became a lesson plan for me, my teachers, my guides.
"From her feet the ground sloped sharply into view; and violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts"
Here are some of the things I write down in a notebook and, when I’m ambitious, copy into my hard drive.:
"All this in a novel that takes place in one night!"|
"Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Raab is a series of short stories, many of which had been published separately"|
"Gesture—The physical actions characters take to show how they are feeling. "|
"Once you begin reading as a writer, you’ll find your own list . . ."|
Once you begin reading as a writer, you’ll find your own list, often based on what your weaknesses are, what you need to learn.
One of the assets is that you will never have to lend your books again. No one would want them.
And don’t forget what Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous stripper said. “Anything worth doing well is worth doing slowly.”
Rochelle Jewel Shapiro
|Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s novel, Miriam the Medium, was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award. She’s published essays in NYT (Lives) and Newsweek-My Turn, and in many anthologies such as It’s a Boy (Seal Press, 2005), The Imperfect Mom (Broadway Books, 2006) About What Was Lost (Plume Books, 2007.) Her poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in many literary magazines such as The Iowa Review, Negative Capability, Moment, and in many anthologies such as Father (Pocket Books, 2000). The short story from that collection, "The Wild Russian," will be reprinted for educational testing purposes nationwide. She currently teaches "Writing the Personal Essay" at UCLA on-line and is a book critic for Kirkus. She can be reached at http://www.miriamthemedium.com/|