Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Megan: Summer Reading for Writers

Summer reading.

For some of you, just the words make you shudder as you recall a slog through teacher-approved books that seemed intent on teaching you that life was a bummer and always would be. Others know that in the right hands, summer reading can be a gateway to unknown worlds. Summer reading can mean sunny afternoons spent swinging in a hammock, or rainy days on the couch. I think a successful summer reading list relies on choice, not only in book titles, but also in what the reader hopes to get out of it. It is in that spirit I offer this highly subjective list of summer reading books for writers.

A Classic:
The Chocolate War and Beyond the Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
A case could be made that Cormier started the current trend of YA literature. He was one of the first to write specifically for teens and many of us who came of age reading his books are now writers ourselves. The Chocolate War is a quintessential story of standing your ground amidst abuses from classmates and teachers. It’s sequel, Beyond the Chocolate War, achieves the trick of making you feel sympathy for the villain of the original novel.
Alternate Choices: Are You there, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Craft Book:
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Personally, I’m not much for craft books, but I love this one, perhaps because it is a craft book tied up in a memoir. King can spin a good yarn, and also offers concrete, nuts and bolts writing advice from avoiding adverbs to keeping rejections out in public.
Alternate Choice: Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott, The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood

A Beach Read:
Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
A beach read should be light, funny, with a bit of romance, and this book has that, especially the funny. Beware of reading in public: you will be laughing out loud.
Alternate Choice: The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour (less laugh-out-loud funny, more wry-funny)

An Adult Book:
Pocketful of Names by Joseph Coomer
There are adults who say they only read YA and MG books because those books are better/more interesting/what have you. (See Roger Sutton for the counterpoint). I think it’s a false dichotomy. Adult books and kids books are necessarily different. A couple of summers ago I read Pocketful of Names. It begins with a dog overboard, struggling to swim to an island. For pages. And pages. Whereas a YA novel would have jumped right in, Coomer took his time. Reading for this difference can teach you as much about writing for children as reading an all kidlit-diet, not to mention the simple pleasure in revelling in the language and the more languid pace.
Alternate choices: The adult books in my pile are Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, though I think I may be the last person on earth to read it, which brings me to . . .

A Buzzed-About Book:
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd, illustrated by Jim Kay.
When I found out that Jim Kay was going to be doing the cover and interior illustrations for The Water Castle (Walker 2013), this title moved to the top of my TBR pile. It is, quite simply, stunning, and I’m not surprised it won both the Carnegie and the Greenaway awards.
Alternate titles: It never hurts to read the latest big award winners: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (Newbery Medal), Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (Printz), Inside Out and Back Again by Thannha Lai (National Book Award), No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Boston Globe-Horn Book).

This list is undeniably contemporary realistic fiction heavy, which reflects my bias. I would love to get a more complete list going in the comments. So, what are your summer reading suggestions?


  1. Actually, you're the second-to-last person left on Earth who hasn't read Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. It's one of many languishing on my Kindle :(

    Thank you for the list, Megan! Somehow, Librarians always know how to pick the best books. I wonder why that is... :)

  2. Thanks for the suggestions! I just finished On Writing by Stephen King myself and was very inspired. I haven't compiled a list of books to read this summer yet. Instead I think I'm going to tackle the many, many unread books I've purchased this year that are sitting on my bookshelves. First off are going to probably be some of the series I've purchased for my son and daughter since I love to read MG and YA books.

  3. I agree with your comment about reading both adult and kidlit. A varied literary diet is important for any writer! Great list!