Picking the Next Book

Reading is something all writers have to aspire to.  The more writers read, the more they’ll understand about how the publishing game has worked in the past, what structures work, what plots do nothing.  Reading gives writers the audience perspective, something that’s of great importance when starting or editing any project.

For someone with as varied tastes as myself, it’s not easy picking out what to read.  Unlike many people, I’ll stop reading a book if it doesn’t appeal to me or if I’m just not in the mood.  A great example of this is Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books; every time I try to read The Devil You Know, I find myself in the wrong mood and unable to get out of the first chapter.  That doesn’t mean I won’t read it, that just means I’ve been trying to read it at the wrong times.To get a better idea of how I pick things, I should give you a little background.  I’ve always had stories in my mind.  I got sick in Kindergarten and had to go home early.  At home, I transcribed a story to my Mom, complete with pictures.  When I was seven, I found the “You As A GI Joe” offer with one of my toys and that set off my imagination in a way I’ll never get over.

By the time I hit high school, I was reading novels a lot of the time.  With very few exceptions, everything I read was either from Stephen King or John Grisham.  In college, I experimented with other novels, trying to get a handle on these notions of science fiction and fantasy.  That’s right, before I was eighteen, I didn’t read science fiction or fantasy, unless you count The Talisman.

In early 2000, after wanting to see it for fifteen years, I saw the movie Dune.  Of course, this led me to run out and buy a copy of the book a few months later.  In the spring and summer of that year, I immersed myself in the Dune mythos going from one book to the next, drowning myself in sand, spice, and supernormal powers.

By the time I read Chapterhouse: Dune, I was drained.  I’d spent too much time on Arrakis, then as much time on Rakis.  I was tired of science fiction, at least in Herbert’s sense.  I needed something else.

I don’t know if that’s when I came up with the idea or not, but it was one of the formative events.  Now, when I finish reading a science fiction novel, I tell myself “no sci-fi” when I’m picking the next thing I’ll read.  With the structure of urban fantasy throwing in so much first person narrative, I’ve forced myself to limit myself on that front as well, especially since I’m a third person writer.

Here’s an example of how I pick what I read now:

I’ve just finished reading House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds.  Fine book, solid piece of science fiction.  It’s got elements of cloning, space travel, and robotics.  It also has two first person narrators.  It took me just over a month to read it, though I was distracted for a couple of those weeks, not to mention having to deal with Christmas.  House of Suns is also upward of 500 pages, though that’s rarely something that affects my selection.

The next book I’m going to read is The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.  I’ve had it for a little more than a month, so it’s actually a newer addition to my library.  It’s not all that long compared to House of Suns.  It’s a fantasy written in third person and it’s supposed to be a great book.  The edition I have is the latest version, which includes high praise from Patrick Rothfuss on the cover.  Since I just finished House of Suns, I’ll hold off on reading The Last Unicorn until tomorrow morning.

Now that you know a little of how I pick out books to read, what makes you pick the books you read?


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