Monday, July 29, 2013

In Which Reading Can Be Hard

I have to read 40 books off my 120 book list for my MFA before I start in January.
Now, keep in mind, of those 120 books, at least half of them are picture books and easy readers and chapter books. They're not all novels. So it's not as herculean a task as it seems.

Still, I'd like to get through as many of the novels up front, so if I'm stressed or busy later when the MFA has started, then I only have to get through some PBs or something.

Anyway, so we have to read these books, then make a annotated bibliography of the books we've read with a 3-4 sentence discussion about an aspect of craft that we liked or found interesting in the book. This is to help us learn to be critical readers. Which I really want to do because right now I kind of suck at it.

Wait, correction. I'm pretty good about being a critical reader when reading a book I'm not enjoying. It's much easier for me to say "Why don't I like this book? What isn't working for me?" Than it is to say "Why am I loving this book?" when I'm reading something badass, you know?

And even harder, are those sleeper books. The books that are just fine, but maybe you don't luuuurve them.

So, the first couple of books on my bibliography were easy. Those ones had obvious huge strengths in something. Like voice. I read one (True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff) where the voice just slammed you in the face with it's awesomeness. So, no problem.

But man, most of the time I find myself just slipping into reading for enjoyment, and only when I'm half way through, or further, do I stop and swear and realize I was supposed to be paying attention to craft! Not just reading for fun.

Sigh.

It's much harder work than I thought it would be. It's hard to break a habit.

How about you? Do you have any troubles reading critically?

12 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I would find it a challenge. Unless a book is awful, I just read to enjoy and don't notice the good or bad points.

Southpaw said...

Yes! It happened when I was reading my CP MS's. I'd end up just reading because the story took off, then I'd have to go back and reread it. I found I had to go super slow.

Maria Zannini said...

I read more critically now than before I was a writer.

I'd much rather read for enjoyment than dissection.

Lola Sharp said...

I always read critically. I blame a certain college professor I had years ago. Sometimes it makes enjoying a book cumbersome. (it helps to read something you love, twice. Once for pleasure, once to break it down.)
But I will agree, it is hardest to articulate what isn't 'wowing' us in what you call 'sleeper books'. Books that have a strong grasp on craft and control of their prose, and even a solid story and layered characters. Smart people whom I respect like it, or even love it. But I'm just, meh. Maybe I can't even finish it.
Usually, for me, it will come down to either I'm not connecting to the MC/voice for whatever reason, or the subject matter/storyline is boring to me. I can respect the writing, but it just isn't enough to keep me reading, for my own subjective reasons.

Like white chocolate. I know people love white chocolate, and I can respect that. It's not like it tastes like poopy. But, there's real chocolate, and better yet, there's dark chocolate in the world...why waste my time on white chocolate? I don't. But there's nothing wrong with white chocolate, per se. It's just a matter of taste. (obviously this analogy assumes we are talking about quality candy made with quality ingredients)

I'm super excited for you!

Kristin Rae said...

Oh man that sounds like some work! And you're right. Sometimes it really is hard to pinpoint what's working about a book. Sometimes we just love it!
I think whether or not I read critically depends on my mood. I've been known to enjoy books a CP hated, and vice versa ... we were probably in a diff mindset when we read it.

Crystal Collier said...

Nope. My subconscious never stops. (Even in sleep. *sigh*) I'm always noticing the things done well or not done well, from plot to language to characterization to voice and world building. Granted, I speed through some books because they're AWESOME, but then I always look back and question exactly what it is that makes them that way. I think some of us are just preprogrammed that way. I'm envious of your program, btw.

Matthew MacNish said...

If I have an actual book in my hands, it's impossible for me to to get wrapped up in the story. If I have a manuscript open in Word ...

Catherine Stine said...

Sure, it's hard to get started, but once you're on a roll, it gets easier. Good luck.

Teebore said...

I'm terrible at reading critically, especially if its stuff I'm enjoying. Even the back issues I'm reading for my blog, specifically for the intent of critical analysis, suck me in and I have to stop and remind myself to read them more closely.

Rena said...

I'm the nitpicky person. I can enjoy a book, but as soon as I'm done, I'm tearing it to shreds. What I can't seem to figure out is why I'll enjoy something that isn't good. There are books that are completely panned by the critics and I lap them up. Then there are books that should be awesome and it's a snore fest.

Telling exactly what is wrong... yeah, I have some guesses, but I doubt I've nailed that.

Leah (aka Mary_not_Martha) said...

Time for some critical literacy strategies.......
Text to Self- how does it relate to your experiences?
Text to Text- how does it relate to other books?
Text to world- any links to current events? Past?

Author's message?

Just some food for thought.....

Jamie Gibbs said...

I try to play the devils advocate with every book I read - every good book has a bad point and every bad book as a good point (the really, truely bad books don't get past the lemon law stage).

It's tough to get the hang of, and I'm learning all the time with the best ways to go about it - I think you'll be fine :)

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