Friends often wonder how I have time to read all of the books I do. I rarely know how to answer that. I read whenever I have five or ten minutes to do so – on the bus, in the bathroom (like you really needed to know that), at night before I fall asleep – and always carry either a book or an e-reader with me. Sometimes I’ll read aloud to the dogs, if they’re hanging out with me in the evenings and I’m tired of surfing the internet. They don’t care what I’m saying…they just enjoy the interaction. That, and I get to practice my different voices with them and laugh at their reactions.
I was a reader long before I knew I would make a career of writing books like those I’d devoured as a child. Nothing was safe from me. I often raided my mother’s bookshelves, she of the Peyton Place, Jackie and Joan Collins, Sidney Sheldon, and other racy adult-themed novels. I thought Sidney Sheldon wrote some of the greatest novels ever…kind of like the fast-food of novels. That was until I discovered Stephen King. Then, I was like a modern day crack addict, needing to read his work as fast as it was published. Thank goodness for libraries.
A good* book is still one of my favorite things. I find I have little patience with writers who do not take the time to hone their craft, tell a good story in an interesting way, and do it with few literary devices or plot tricks to keep me interested. There are hundreds of writers who continue to push the boundaries and still manage to produce amazing writing.
One of these books, The Famished Road, written by Nigerian author Ben Okri, is one of those books that seems to defy description. In an effort to classify it as something, many reviewers placed it under the rather narrow banner of magic-realism, which I suppose it is. To an extent. It’s also an engaging piece of literature (it won the 1991 Booker Prize for best original novel) written with an incredibly engaging voice and steeped in the mythology and lore of the author’s childhood.
Someone once told me that as writers, we rarely know where ideas will come from next. And while I’ve never experienced a shortage of ideas (if anything, the opposite is true), my current novel project, Throwing Rocks at God, has truly challenged me in making it interesting and engaging. For I hold my own writing to the same standards I hold others’ writing. I want to respect those who will eventually read it, and I want to keep myself learning and growing as a writer.
So while reading The Famished Road, I was struck by so many ideas, I had to continue reading it with a notepad at hand. It was as if the novel was a sort of magical key that unlocked all these doors inside my creative mind that it became a veritable avalanche of awesomeness.
I uncovered answers to questions that had been plaguing me for several months…and once one answer was complete, it was as if the entire novel fell into place just. like. that.
It’s not the first time that I found information I was seeking, but this is the first time a novel provided the source. Many times it’s music, a program on television (I tend to watch the geek-oriented shows on TLC or Discovery), or overhearing a conversation out in public. Yes, I eavesdrop. Often.
But books provide the motivation for me to be the best writer I possibly can. Every book speaks to us as individuals in unique ways that cannot be foretold or predicted. That’s why writers should read as much as they can. You never know when inspiration is waiting for you on page 122.
*“good” is subjective to the reader’s personal tastes and many other variables that you should not expect to find necessarily when reading a book someone else recommends. Trust your intuition when it comes to choosing reading material that suits you best.