Friday, October 03, 2008

Reading to Write and Listmania

A common refrain in my writing seminars is this: “Read. Reading good writing precedes writing well. Good writers are good readers.”

I recommend the usual standards of quality journalistic writing, such as The New York Times and The New Yorker, and The Nation, or The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard and National Review, depending on your political leanings. I direct people to the usual best-seller lists, encouraging nonfiction as well as fiction reading, especially these days, when fact is stranger than fiction. I urge them to read whatever they like, whether it’s politics, education, history, culture, business, the performing or visual arts, sports, home design, culinary arts, travel, or whatever, since this approach will inspire longer and deeper reading spells. Most importantly, they need to learn how to read like writers, aiming to capture not just the author’s content but the author’s style, studying how one might vary sentence length and beginnings, how key ideas sometimes start a paragraph to arrest attention and other times do not appear until the very end to create suspense.

A sure way to keep a steady reading regimen well beyond your retirement years, regardless of your age, is to seize a well-considered list of must-read books and pick off one volume at a time until you’re ready for the next in a series of never-ending lists. Popular reading lists will be my topic for the next several posts on this blog.