I am a member of the Harlem Writers Guild. I used to be an avid reader. I readily admit that my relationship with books changed the moment I decided to become a writer. Before I read books the way I watched television, purely for enjoyment. Now, I read to study style, voice, and syntax.
In my hands, even a Zane book will become unsexy. Once I'm done with it, I
would have marked up the entire copy, in red no doubt. Notes would fill the
margins with all my suggestions for improvement. This passage would've been more effective had it been placed on such
and such page. That outcome is forced and inorganic. The copy editor missed
this glaring error. That whole section is didactic and completely out of voice.
Literary, grammatically correct erotica. How unsexy is that?
Because I'm a writer, everything I read I study. What I look for is substance,
and my attention span is short. My first love is my own writing and trust me
when I say it competes for my attention. With that being the case, to all the
writers whose books I have read completely from beginning to end, I say,
"Kudos!" Few authors engage me and far less engage me more than once.
But I must admit: I'll remain loyal, so long as I'm not experiencing "more
of the same thing."
Here are my suggestions for writers to read and for readers who hope to someday
write. I'll share them with Harlem World from time to time. The following books
have substance. I refer to them again and again, in hopes to improve my own
writing. Reader-writers get ready to take notes.
Graceland by Chris Abani. Since the
invention of ink, we writers have been advised, "Show don't tell."
The "how" is never fully explained until a book like Graceland comes
along. The cast of characters and depiction of Lagos is craft and technique at
its best. The prose is exquisite, gritty and sometimes very disturbing.
Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid. Get it. Read
it. This is what characterization should feel like. Anything less is
ineffective. The voice of Lucy is bold, defiant and will reel you in.
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy
Allison. Yes, this is a Lifetime movie, but if you haven't seen the movie,
don't watch it until you have read the book. I was pulled out of the writing
and immersed in this tragedy. It reads like memoir. Allison did such a
brilliant job crafting this that I forgot it was fiction. I fell in love with
the main character, Bone, and her clan of misfit rebels.
This piece was origionally published on Harlem World Magazine's Blog site on October 31, 2011.