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I recently came across an article about keeping a reading journal by Kelsi Turner Tjernagel in the Nov/Dec 2010 SCBWI Bulletin. Kelsi advocates the use of a reading journal to formalize reading habits and to improve writing skills – “a self-apprenticeship that helped me get serious about what I’m reading.”


I spend hours and hours reading but other than, I loved that book, or I didn’t like that book, I don’t spend much time analyzing what I’ve read.


Because I find it hard to articulate my feelings and impressions. I’m sure it’s because I’m reading as a reader and need to develop better skills at reading as a writer. Or maybe it’s that I’m reluctant to spend the time evaluating and deconstructing the book. It feels too much like work. Okay, yes – I’m lazy.


I have tons of books I’d like to read but don’t seem to get around to them because I’m reading something else, so Kelsi’s suggestion of a reading journal with a list in the back of the books you want to read, sounds like excellent advice to me. That way, I can give myself a reading assignment along with my leisure reading. I also like the idea of logging the titles as I read them so that at the end of the year, I can look back and feel impressed at how many books I’ve read. There’s no way I’d remember them all off the top of my head.


In her article, Kelsi suggests using your reading journal to analyze each book after you’ve read it. It doesn’t have to be in-depth, it could just be a couple of lines on what the book offered you as a writer. Follow the “I loved this book” or “I couldn’t connect with this book” with a couple of reasons why. Now that I’ve started my own reading journal, I find myself stopping every now and then to scribble down something that made an impression on me. I use sticky notes and leave them in the book until I’m ready to do the analysis once I’ve finished reading it.


I’ve only just started my reading journal but I’m sure the more that I do this, the easier the process of articulating what appealed to me will become. So far I’ve copied lines and bits of dialogue that resonated with me and mentioned a couple of pointers on the main characters and themes that I noticed. Nothing long-winded, just a couple of notes. I’m still finding my legs.


I’d like to close with a sampling of the books that I read in January and that I enjoyed so much that I feel confident in recommending them.

Alice Hoffman’s The Story Sisters and Here On Earth. I’m a big fan of Alice Hoffman’s writing style, her magical realism juxtaposed with stark reality. She has a special way with setting descriptions that makes me feel like I’m there. Her stories and characters stay with me.

Five Flavors of Dumb

While reading Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John and Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (both Kelly Fineman picks) I found myself channeling my inner teenager. Both books were perfect for snowy Saturdays on the sofa in the living room and I loved both the humor and drama in both.

Anna and the French Kiss

Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight, the fourth installment in the Tiffany Aching and Nac Mac Feegles (the wee free men) saga did not disappoint. I found it as rip-roaringly funny as the three preceding adventures. I’ve been a fan of Terry Pratchett’s word play, humor and imagination for many years, starting way back when I read The Color of Magic, and although I have read and loved most of his works, I must say that the Tiffany Aching stories are my favorite. His books are entertaining, insightfully amusing, often poignant peeks into human nature and his ability to weave a good tale is surpassed by none.

Sugar and Ice

Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner. A story about fitting in but also about finding your own way, discovering who you are and what you really want. Claire Boucher is a main character readers can identify with. Just like Claire, my head often gets in the way of my game. I psyche myself out and forget to have fun. The story is strong, the pace good and I loved the bits in the story about maple syrup farming, beekeeping and the Fibonacci sequence. As a writer, I found this to be an excellent example of great middle-grade fiction with universal themes and character growth.

And I love that Kate used the Eleanor Roosevelt quote:

  “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”



On Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association.

The masters of horror have united to teach you the secrets of success in the scariest genre of all!”

This was the perfect craft book for my new year, given that I’d like to devote more time to writing on the darker side. The book has essays and tips from 58 well known horror writers, including Jack Ketchum, Ramsey Campbell and Mort Castle. The book covered all aspects of horror writing from classic horror to literary horror (yes, there is such a thing!), as well as the different forms and subgenres and screenplays. One of the essays suggests studying the horror classics as well as contemporary horror to get a feel for what has already been done and how it was done. For writers wandering down the dark path, I’d certainly recommend this book.


What did you read in January?


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 7th, 2011 08:39 pm (UTC)
I provided you with 4/5 of your reading? *pats self on back*

I'd love to have a peek at your reading journal to figure out exactly what you're doing with it. It sounds like a brilliant thing, to me - far better than my spreadsheet of "books read in 2011", in fact.

Love that Eleanor Roosevelt quote, too - I heard it recently in the first Princess Diaries movie, in fact.
Feb. 8th, 2011 06:58 pm (UTC)
Yes, you're great at knowing what books I'm going to really enjoy. Happy to let you peek in my journal.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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