A couple of years ago on a flight from Toronto to London, I was sitting next to an acquisitions editor for a very large publisher, who struck up a conversation with me over the book I was reading at the time, The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis, which she herself had read some thirty years earlier and remembered liking a great deal. And that is really one of the great constants of writing/publishing: most people get there via the love for reading. As Gary Clites just told me:
As a young man interested in writing, I read my way through as much classic American and International lit as I could. I read all of John Steinbeck, and learned the importance of human-sized characters. I read all of Dickens, and learned to be absolutely courageous with plotting (Dickens constantly pushed the edges.) From Gilgamesh to Rabelais to Salinger, we have thousands of years of great writing and all of it offers insight into how to craft your work. How could you not read it?
I probably would never have dreamed up starting Casperian Books if I hadn’t grown up in a household that had thousands of books on its shelves but no television, if my father hadn’t spent at least an hour every night reading to us, if starting at the age of four or five our parents hadn’t taken us to the library on a regular basis to get more books to read. My own house now has more than a thousand books in it, most of them written in German and English, a few, mostly children’s books, in Greek, and once my soon-to-be-husband arrives here next month, we’ll be adding at least a few hundred more, many of them written in French or Greek–we’ll have duplicates then: an English and Greek version of some of Kazantzakis’ books, French and English versions of some of Perez-Reverte’s books, and so on. (Future hubby actually took me on an extended weekend trip to Seville a few years ago because he liked The Seville Communion so much, he wanted to visit the city.)
Before I started Casperian Books (and thus started spending much of my time reading and editing manuscripts and designing books), it wasn’t entirely uncommon for me to have multiple books going at the same time, often in different settings: a volume of short stories or essays at work to read during lunch breaks, a book in my purse to read on public transit (when I lived in cities where I commuted on public transit), and a book on the bedside table to read in the evenings.
Literary references are rife around here: it’s assumed that a reference to Heinlein (”TANSTAAFL!”) will be just as easily understood as a reference to Aristophanes (”Piglets!”), that “Belgium, man, Belgium!” will be just as easily understood as “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.” It’s assumed that a well-rounded education included not only grammar and spelling and exposure to the meat and bones of Aristotle’s Poetics (if not necessarily the text itself), but also the reading of a few books here and there. Our brand-new volunteer project editor’s “job interview” pretty much boiled down to: “Tell me what books you enjoy reading.”
Yet with alarming regularity, we receive queries from prospective authors who say they do not read, which is quite puzzling (not least because we can’t quite work out why anyone who doesn’t read would expect others to).
So I polled the Casperian Books authors and volunteers and asked them to tell me what they’re currently reading. Here are the responses:
Right now, I’m rereading the Bio of a Space Tyrant series by Piers Anthony. I’m on 4 and I started on Saturday evening. They are terrible, awful, cliched, every -ist in the proverbial book, wooden Space Opera with an extremely unsexy soft-core pornish substory. The B-movies of SF. Oh, how far we have come in a quarter century! And yet I love them with a mad passion. The books propel me right back into high school, when it all seemed very risque and novel. Before I knew what a trope was, basically.
Before that, I read Nightshift NYC by Russell and Cheryl Sharman; Things That Make Us (Sic) by Martha Brockenbrough; a fat wad of poetry, mostly Billy Collins and Ellen Bass; and I’ve been reading President Kennedy:Profile of Power by Richard Reeves in small bites for several weeks.
You caught me at a good moment for that! Currently reading: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch and The Truth (With Jokes) by Al Franken. Before that, I read Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase (which is REALLY UTTERLY AWESOME, and you should read it, as should everyone else in the world), Screen Burn by Charlie Brooker, and Sharpe’s Eagle by Bernard Cornwell.
At the moment I’m doing my summer reading–Version: In Memoriam. David Eddings passed away just before summer, so I’m making my way through The Belgariad series and The Mallorean series, books I adored and re-read over and over through middle school, high school, and my undergraduate years. Also on the go is the collection Steampunk by Anne and Jeff Vandermeer, and Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. I’m listening to the Harry Potter series (yet again) while I sit at my weaving loom, and I go to sleep listening to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy BBC radio plays. I know not everyone considers audiobooks as ‘reading’, and I suppose it’s not, strictly speaking, but I do think that exposure to expressed narrative is not the same as television being on in the background.
Nathan (our brand-new volunteer editor):
Sorry that it took me a few days to respond…still in San Francisco/Sacramento for my annual pre-semester vacation. But while in San Fran, I had the amazing opportunity to stop by City Lights Bookstore. Definitely renewed my faith in many small press publishers, and was probably the coolest bookstore I’ve ever visited. I bought some books there, which I’ve started to enjoy in my off-time. I started Couch by Benjamin Parzybok, a strange maybe-magical-realist tale about slackers who become attached to their apartment’s hand-me-down couch (bizarre, but very imaginative). I just finished Bar Stories, an anthology from Bottom Dog Press edited by Nan Byrne, and I’m itching to start Bad Habits: A Love Story by Cristy C. Road, which appears to be a comic-novel hybrid about a punk rocker. Also am finishing Rabbit Redux by John Updike, which I didn’t think I’d enjoy, but absolutely love. That’s my “mainstream novel” of the month, I guess. Also bought Angry Black White Boy by Adam Mansbach, which wins “Best Title” for the books I saw at City Lights. There’s something exciting about going to a store stocked with titles that you wouldn’t see in Borders or Barnes & Nobles, titles that don’t seem to be so concerned about pleasing the mainstream reader. I’m a bit of a nerd for getting so excited, but…well…whatever.
Lordy, NOT including the reading I do related to my classes (Asian American lit, novel writing, etc.), I’m reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker and End Credits by A.F. Rützy. Before that I read: Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, and Shimmer by Eric Barnes.
As a thriller writer, I’ve been trying to expand my knowledge of the genre by power-reading James Patterson, arguably the king of the commercial thriller right now. So, the last four books I’ve read were Along Came a Spider, The Big Bad Wolf, Run for Your Life, and Judge & Jury. I’ve also recently read books by Michael Connelly and Janet Evanovich for the same reason. I don’t want to critique them, but I will say that I have been learning about the genre.
- The editor of the Administration Series is currently reading The Perfect Recipe by Pam Anderson, and recently finished Dress to Express by Tracy McWilliams, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Fibroids by Scott Goodwin, and The Great Influenza by John M. Barry.
- Paul G. Bens is currently reading Remastering Jerna by Ann Somerville, and recently finished Honolulu by Alan Brennert, Teot’s War by Heather Gladney, and Honor Killing: Race, Rape and Clarence Darrow’s Spectacular Last Case by David E. Stannard.
- William Walsh is currently reading The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein. Before that, he read One of These Things is Not Like the Other by Stephanie Johnson, Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme by Tracy Daugherty, and Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry by B.S. Johnson.
- Ian Woollen is currently reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman, The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough, Poems Seven by Alan Dugan, The Collected Stories by Reynolds Price, What Is the What by Dave Eggers, and Maps of Narrative Practice by Michael White. He recently finished The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Five Skies by Ron Carlson, and Tribute to Freud by H.D.
- Terence Hawkins is currently reading How It Ended by Jay McInerney and Black Easter by James Blish. Before that, he read Lush Life by Richard Price, Love, etc. by Julian Barnes and I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosby.
- Paul Elwork is currently reading Landscape with Fragmented Figures by Jeff Vande Zande, and recently finished The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, and A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter.
- Jack Ballard is currently reading Executive Orders by Tom Clancy, and recently finished Poland by James A Michener, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (père), and Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller.
- Jimmy Gleacher is currently reading Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson, after recently finishing The Quiet Girl by Peter Hoeg, The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford, and Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien.
- Peter Ohren is currently reading The Working Poor by David Shipler, and has recently finished Cat Chaser by Elmore Leonard, The Flaming Corsage by William Kennedy, and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.
- Curt Smith is currently reading Oh Baby by Kim Chinquee, and has recently finished The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and The Best American Essays.
As for myself, I’m currently reading The Tower by Valerio Massimo Manfredi. Before that, I read The Servants by Michael Marshall Smith (which I liked so much, I finished it in one go), Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer, and Nation by Terry Pratchett. And while I can’t officially poll Casper because he’s at work right now, I did just look at his bedside table, and it looks like he’s (re)reading Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. I am very sad to report that all efforts to teach Soup to read have failed so far, though she has been known to eat the odd book or two.