Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Writers' Reading Club

 Last year, a writing friend and I began a reading club. Okay, it wasn’t that organized, it was more of a “Hey, let’s try reading the same books at the same time and discussing them by email.”

We’ve been reading a variety of books. We started with Ethan Frome, and we discussed the use of setting to create mood, the narrative frame structure (how Wharton convinces the reader to suspend disbelief—the narrator imagines what happened between characters, yet we believe it’s the truth), etc.

One of the interesting things about reading with another writer is getting into the nitty-gritty of what works for us, what doesn’t, and why. For example, we’re reading The Historian. We are both well into the book (150+ pages), and neither of us has bonded much with the narrator, who I believe will be the main character eventually. And we both have some issues with the structure of the plot. But we’re both compelled to keep going. We have to find out what’s going to happen. And we both think it’s because the author has done a masterful job of creating tension by understatement. Like a burlesque dancer, Kostova shows you just a sneak peak. In this case, it’s a sneak peak of evil. Or to use another metaphor, she leaves you a trail of breadcrumbs through the forest. And who can resist following?

Another aspect of reading together is the stuff we disagree on. For example, I feel like there’s a tremendous sense of doom hanging over the main character, but my friend doesn’t feel that. So, I’ve been thinking about it. What textual reasons do I have for feeling that? I think there are a few. But I also suspect that I’m bringing this foreboding with me to the novel. That these are my hopes, which is interesting to think about in terms of the “writer-reader contract” and whether it’s valid for me to do it.

In spite of thoughts about literary theory, reading together has been popcorn-eating good fun. And I think/hope that we’re growing as writers and readers. Next up on our TBR list is The Weight of Water.

File:2008 reading book 3124785808.jpg
Photo by David Flanders, courtesy of Wikimedia


  1. I've had the Historian on my list of reads for a while now-- thanks for the reminder! I think book/reading clubs are great, too. It's nice to have other people choose the reads--and, also, an excuse to open a bottle of wine! Do you guys meet in person?

  2. Samantha, I wish we could meet in person, but it would be a bit of a drive. Usually we just email thoughts every day or two--since we try to read at the same rate through the book it makes for good in-depth conversation while it's still fresh.