Sparked by Words

 

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Writers must read. It’s where we get the idea that we can do that too – write books. Don’t copy. Duplicity is the realm of cheaters and frauds. Anyone can plagiarize. Anyone can steal. Only I can write. Maybe you as well. But before you put your pen to the page, read. A lot. All kinds of books.

Start with the works of William Shakespeare, because you can’t go wrong with anything he wrote. Yes, he wrote plays and sonnets, but the man was a master of everything story – character, plot and subplot, historical reference, humor, drama, story arc, metaphor, symbolism. Find a poetic or suggestive title in the bookstore? It may have originated from a line Shakespeare first wrote. Consider these famous books whose titles are sourced from the plays of the Bard. The newer books are all the richer if you also know the inspiration.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, from The Tempest, Miranda’s line, “O, brave new world That has such people in’t.”  A monster might be no more cruel than ordinary souls full of wrath, and the storm within is as threatening as the one on the shore.

John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent, from Richard III, King Richard’s line, “Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” History as warning to rulers that justice will ultimately prevail. Do they ever learn?

Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked this Way Comes, from Macbeth, the Second Witch’s line, “By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes.” Curses and the urge for power go a very long way to inciting ruin.

William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, also from Macbeth, Macbeth’s line, “It is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury.” Madness reigns and evil lurks when morals are bankrupt.

The Bible is another pinnacle of inspiration. I have no interest in converting you to my religion or even encouraging you to join any religion at all, and I won’t label you as anything but poorly read if you have no idea what might be found in the book. If you want to know something about life in all its complex permutations and messy consequences, if you might be intrigued by true awesomeness, the Bible is an exceptional beginning. Here is a smattering of books whose titles and story provocations are taken from the Bible, a book already so plumbed for ideas that even if you’ve never read it, it will sound familiar when you do. You can read any version to find the references.

Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon, from the eponymous Song of Solomon, sometimes called the Song of Songs, one of the Five Scrolls of the Hebrew Bible, or Tanahk. This is a love poem and a festival of passion worthy of a blush or two.

William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!, from 2 Samuel, chapter 19, King David mourns, “O my son , Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died.” It’s hard to find any passage exposing a man more bereft.

John Steinbeck, East of Eden, from Genesis, chapter 4, “and Cain went out from this presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.” Banishment to the farthest corner of the world for the worst of sins.

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises, from Ecclesiastes, chapter 1, “The sun also ariseth and the sun goeth down.” Ecclesiastes questions everything considered of value and demands attention to probing one’s own place in the world according to their personal virtue or lack of.

John Grisham, A Time to Kill, also from Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven…a time to kill and a time to heal.” Even murder has its foundation in the Bible, juxtaposed with living.

This portion of Ecclesiastes is so popular that you can find a book penned by someone inspired by nearly every line. It’s a list of daily attributions of life, and just about everything except bug collecting made it. My third book is written in 24 chapters, and originally I assigned each one a title taken from chapter 3. I eventually changed the chapter titles to a simpler format, but it wouldn’t take much of a sleuth to figure out which season’s time fits each section. I may yet be persuaded to return to the words of Ecclesiastes.

Turn to literary classics for other great reads, including books by: Louisa May Alcott, Isabel Allende, Maya Angelou, Jane Austin, Saul Bellow, Emily Bronte, Willa Cather, Joseph Conrad, Anton Chekhov, Charles Dickens, E. L. Doctorow, Fyodor Dostoevski, Emily Dickenson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Hardy, Homer, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Harper Lee, Gabriel Macias Marquez, Haruki Murakami, Vladimir Nabokov, Pablo Neruda, Flannery O’Conner, Ann Patchett, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe, Marcel Proust, J. D. Salinger, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, John Updike, Elie Wiesel, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, and William Butler Yeats.

You’ve noticed that some are poets, some are playwrights, many are novelists, and perhaps some haven’t been dead long enough, or at all, to be considered classic in your mind. It’s a mighty long list and it would be much longer were I to list everyone who should be on the roster.  Many of my favorite novelists are not, though their works are in my library. Haven’t read any or many of these writers? Time to pull up the easy chair and turn off the TV and the computer. Reading is your course of study if you want to be a writer. These works will show you how it’s done, how to improve your work, the goal toward which you should be heading.

Add your own favorite authors, especially those who write in your chosen genres. Give every book a chance but don’t tarry over any tome that makes your brain ache or gets you snoozing. If an author excites or touches you, go for the body of their work, spot the constancy or independence of their voice, their inventiveness, the return of favorite characters and repeated themes. Pay attention as you read, taking note of the craftsmanship, style, and literary elements.

We read to be entertained and elucidated, to learn about the world we aren’t part of, or moments hundreds of years past, or cultures entirely unlike our own, or circumstances too bizarre to fathom. We writers must also read to discover the skill of the masters, to spot the insight that marks great writing, to understand the mechanics of story structure. Submit to the knowledge that some – many – writers are much better than you, and use that as a model for your admiration and enlightenment. Consider how fortunate we are: the biggest whale, the most gorgeous flower, the shiniest gold nugget cannot read. Only people can.

Be wise and engage in intentional reading. But most of all, read.

Books image, blogs.lt.vt.edu, Google, public domain

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Comments on: "R is for Read, Just Read!" (18)

  1. Great post. I can’t tell you how many times I have read the Bible and come up with a story idea (sometimes totally unrelated to what I am reading). Odd, isn’t it. Reading is a must for all writers. They go hand in hand.

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    • Isn’t is amazing how the Bible is rich enough to inspire thousands and thousands of stories beyond the thousands that are there? I took several Bible as literature classes in college and many years later taught religious school. Want to share what else you’re reading right now? I just finished Kent Haruf’s Plainsong, ready to start his Eventide, then will read Benediction and then Our Souls at Night, the last book he wrote and that was published shortly after he died about a year and a half ago. He’s a terrific writer and my style is completely unlike his so he has much to teach me. Much to teach anyone, plus his stories are an absolute pleasure to read. They kind of seep into you.

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      • Yes it is. Since I still have my blurred vision I’m not reading books yet. Hard enough keeping up with blogs. But I expect to start reading novels very soon. Paul Coelho is on my list. First, I will read a book I have read 3 or 4 times already “The Secret.” Want to make sure I have my heart & mind pointed in the direction of positivity. Law of attraction. Be well. Nice post.

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      • That’s a wonderful idea – to read something uplifting for the purpose of framing a positive outlook. I sometimes forget I should read for that reason alone. Great suggestion, Andrew – gonna follow you along that path. Coelho is just that kind of inspiration.

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      • When I start this querying process, I want only positive thoughts flowing through my head. (Sometimes that includes reading some of the Bible as well).

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      • Such a good idea!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. jumping Jehosaphat!!!!!!! Shari, you need to teach! How you can remember all those references (or even if you don’t remember – how you can come up with all of them in one post) is beyond me. You need to teach classes!

    P.S. I almost didn’t get beyond the second paragraph with your advice to start with Shakespeare – I started uncontrollably twitching remembering my college Shakespeare class and how I could NOT stay awake reading the bard. I had to go to the library and listen to records of the plays (yes, RECORDS – the round black kind) to stay awake.

    P.P.S. Did I remember to tell you that you need to teach?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m laughing, Judy, and so appreciate starting the day with laughter, so thank you for that. And thank you for your kind comments. I was an English/creative writing major in college, and many of these titles I read as part of the curriculum. Found something wonderful in each (I rarely if ever recommend or even mention a book or author I don’t like.)

      I love Shakespeare but one of my very worst classes ever was “taught” by a tenured charlatan posing as a professor. He assigned us every Shakespeare tragedy and history, and that first class was his only class until the day of the final exam. Nope, no teaching involved at all. His lousy anti-teaching and the university’s decision to fire three other professors, exceptional teachers all, instead of firing this lazy lout, was the incident that inspired me to participate in a rather famous 1968 UC Irvine student protest. Still, I loved the Bard and read every word. Barely passed the lout’s class, but that was his intent.

      My French class found me in the listening lab, listening to Edith Piaf instead of the boring boring boring assignments. Let me tell you how great my French is today. No muy bueno.

      I’m teaching a series of mini art lessons to my granddaughter’s Brownie troop so the kids can earn their art activity badge. So much fun, the first lesson. Looking forward to about three more.

      Thank you for your sweet comments, my friend.

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  3. I didn’t see any humor, or thrillers in your list. Hmm…

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    • You’re right, Jacqui, none in fact. Most of this list is composed of the books I first read (and some I only read) in college. Would love for you to make your best suggestions.

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  4. I was a literature major so Shakespeare turned up all over the place during my education. The line I want to use as the title for my novel is the famous stage direction from The Winter’s Tale: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” Now all I have to do is think of a couple of hundred of pages of fiction to go with it.

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    • That’s a wonderful line, Bun. I’d want to read a book with that title though I confess I didn’t usually read the stage directions even if I was acting in a play, which I did a bit in high school. The director would give her own directions, often trumping Shakespeare – can you believe anyone with the audacity to trump Shakespeare? (We never performed Winter’s Tale.)

      So, you have your title, you have a bear, and you have the essence of Winter’s Tale – a wife cast aside, a jealous king enraged, a child lost, and love the final redemptive bond. Now all you need is paper. Get writing!

      Liked by 1 person

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