I began writing down the books I read in my late youth in college, about fifteen years ago. I was, at the time, obsessed with Virginia Woolf, in part because I was writing a thesis about her. In addition to her novels, I read all of her diaries and letters, as well as several biographies about her. She kept a private diary, but she also keep a reading diary. Unlike her personal diary, which she wrote in very frequently, the reading diary is clearly incomplete, and looks like it was something of a burden to keep up. She would list book she was reading and comment on it, and it appears that she often grew tired of keeping up with it.
My paternal grandmother also has a version of this. She writes down every book she reads, and has done so most of her adult life. It's fascinating. Cynic that she is, she finds the whole thing mundane. She keeps it only so she won't repeat the books she reads, as she thinks life is too short to read a book more than once. She can't understand why I'd be interested in her diary, but I've loved looking at it every time she's let me see it. Like Woolf's diary, it is a record of the hours and a snapshot into her life.
My own diary is much like my grandmother's--simply a list. When I first started, I tried to keep up with a review of each book, of sorts, but, as Woolf clearly found, the reviews quickly became tedious. So, instead, my reading journal is simply a list, with the author's name and the title and the month I read it.
Unlike my grandmother I frequently re-read books. One of my go-to, come back and re-read authors is Stephen King. I've read many of his novels multiple times, and most at least twice.
I also tend to get on a "kick" with an author. If he or she has multiple books, whether a series or not, I'll often read all or most of his or her books the same year.
The following the full list for 2016. I don't tend to include the works I teach or study in my journal, for some reason, so this list is partial.
The Passion of Alice, by Stephanie Grant
Collected Calvin & Hobbes, by Bill Waterson
The Sinner, by Tess Gerritson
Still Midnight, by Denise Mina
City of the Dead, by Sara Gran
Depraved Heart, by Patricia Cornwell
You’re Not Weird… by Felicia Day
Deja Dead, by Kathy Reichs
Body Double, by Tess Gerritson
You, by Caroline Kepnes
Vanish, by Tess Gerritson
Mephisto Club, by Tess Gerritson
Sun Storm, by Åsa Larsson
Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith
Death du Jour, by Kathy Reichs
The Keepsake, by Tess Gerritson
Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes
Run, by Blake Crouch
Hitler’s Furies, by Wendy Lower
The Whites, by Richard Price
Furiously Happy, by Jennifer Lawson
Last Salute, by Tracey Richardson
Weeping Walls, by Gerri Hill
Ghosts of Winter, by Rebecca S. Buck
Grave Talent, by Laurie King
Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb
My Heart and Other Black Holes, by Jasmine Warge
Ice Cold, by Tess Gerritson
Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
Landing, by Emma Donoghue
More Happy Than Not, by Adam Silvera
Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
Descent, by Tim Johnston
Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor, by Robert Kirkman & Jay Bonansinga
In the Unlikely Event, by Judy Blume
Vanessa & Her Sister, by Priya Parmar
Slow Regard, by Patrick Rothfuss
Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Flu, by Wayne Simmons
Deadly Decisions, by Kathy Reichs
Big Book of Pulps, edited by Otto Penzler
Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank
Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin
When Women Were Warriors I,II,III, by Catherine Wilson
The Dinner, by Herman Koch
Horrorstör, by Grady Hendrix
Silent Girl, by Tess Gerritson
Trust No One, by Paul Cleave
End of Watch, by Stephen King
Little Girl Lost, by Richard Aleas
Last to Die, by Tess Gerritson
Murder at Mullings, by Dorothy Cannell
Dolores Claiborne, by Stephen King
Earth Abides, by George Stewart
The Assistants, by Camille Perri
Apt Pupil, by Stephen King
Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub
Fatal Voyage, by Kathy Reichs
In the Woods, by Tana French
True Story, by Michael Finkel
Firestarter, by Stephen King
Death at Dovecote Hatch, Dorothy Cannell
The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz
One Second After, by William Forstchen
Slade House, David Mitchell
Rose Madder, Stephen King
The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
Time of the Twins, War of the Twins, Test of the Twins, by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman
Dragons of Spring Dawning, by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman
Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch
War of the Twins, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Totally Worth It, by Maggie Cummings
The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
Courting the Countess, by Jenny Frame
Serious Potential, by Maggie Cummings
Basic Training of the Heart, by Jaycie Morrison
Miss Match, by Fiona Riley
First Position, by Melissa Brayden
Just Enough Light, by AJ Quinn
Fragile Wings, by Rebecca S. Buck
Garden District Gothic, by Greg Herren
The Shewstone, by Jane Fletcher
After the Fire, by Emily Smith
Built to Last, by Aurora Rey
Love on Tap, by Karis Walsh
Whiskey Sunrise, by Missouri Vaun
Wasted, by Marya Hornbacher
Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander
Broken Sword, by Poul Anderson
Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling
“Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.” –Stephen King
“Knowing you have something good to read before bed is among the most pleasurable of sensations.”
“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad.” –William Faulkner
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” –Eudora Welty.
I think I came to reading a little later than some of the other people in my family. The love affair didn’t start until I was eleven or twelve. My parents and my sister were always voracious readers, but it took me a little longer. I read what I had to for school, and I had some favorite (mainly children’s) books that I checked out at the library over and over again. I also loved comic strips and comics, particularly Batman, Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, and Peanuts. I had subscriptions to children’s magazines that I devoured over and over again between issues, but again, particularly in comparison to my parents and my sister, I wasn’t exactly what one would call a reader until the end of elementary school.
I can remember the actual day things changed. I’d started to become bored with my comic books and children’s stories, even though I still loved them (and do). It was Friday afternoon. Our class was at the school library for a weekly visit, and the librarian saw me moping around. She was a short, squat woman with curly, steel-gray hair and frumpy clothes. She did our weekly story hour and she had an endless mountain of patience for loud children in quiet spaces. She was also observant, and she knew that something was bothering me. When I told her I couldn’t find something to read, she did an interview right on the spot.
“What’s your favorite movie?” she asked.
I didn’t hesitate, though I had trouble naming just one. “I love The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth, and Willow,” I told her.
“So you like swords and sorcery?” she asked.
Having never heard the term, I agreed with her based on the makeup of the phrase, and she led me to the first book series I ever loved: Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series. I read the series in a week, reading it at school and at home, and all weekend. She gave me C.S. Lewis next, and then J.R.R. Tolkien. By the end of the school year, I was reading a book nearly every day, and, with the help of the school and the public librarian, eating up my small town’s collection of science fiction and fantasy novels. I started saving up all of my money to buy used copies of books at the local seller, and begged my parents to help me get a library card in a nearby town with a bigger selection. I don’t doubt that my librarian changed my life that day, as I now make my living teaching others to love books.
Reading is major part of my life, which is why I have a difficult time relating to people who don’t like to read. I simply can’t comprehend it, particularly from an educated adult. What I can comprehend, and what I always try to keep in mind as a professor of literature and writing, is that most people who “don’t like to read” probably haven’t found the books or stories they would like to read. My non-reader students approach a lot of literature with something akin to suspicion and always with great reluctance. I can relate. You need only give me certain types of books and my enthusiasm dries up like a desert. I’ve managed to train myself over years and years of schooling to get through and sometimes appreciate reading I don’t particularly enjoy, but for some of my students, there is no motivation to get through it, and as they’ve never had pleasure reading before, they assume that everything they read will be the same.
They’re also surprised when I tell them that there is a connection between reading and writing, something I’ve always known intuitively. If I don’t read, I don’t have the actual words to write. Reading fills up my fingers and my heart with words. The two activities are, for me, basically the same.
So when students ask me how to write better and get better grades on their papers, they’re always surprised to hear me tell them that the best writers are also readers.
The excuse is always the same: “But I don’t have time to read!”
I tell them that in addition to working a full-time job, I also watch television and movies, play videogames, see friends, and I read on average two or three books a week—more when I’m teaching or when I’m writing an academic article. They’re floored. They look at me like I’m speaking tongues.
But it’s true. Writing and reading are, to me, inseparable—two sides of the same coin. Whether you’re talking about writing fiction or writing essays, you cannot be a writer without also being a reader. I wouldn’t presume to suggest to the average nineteen-year-old that he or she needs to read as much as I do to become a good writer, but even reading four books a year is beating the national average, and quite easy to fit into a daily schedule. Ten or twenty pages a day will do it. Quantity and topic (what some might snobbishly call “quality”) don’t matter. Read books about anything and you’ll become a better writer.
But most importantly, make a habit of reading and you’ll fall in love with books—a love story that never ends.