My Month of Reading Vonnegut (and Cronin)

If you remember the advice from the authors who’ve been featured here on Women’s Fiction Writers, most of them say, “READ.”  More specifically they say, “READ WIDELY.”

So about a month ago I took a personal reading retrospective to see how I was doing with that.

As a child I remember reading a lot of Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary and Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I read Little Women several times.  In my teens I read Seventeen Magazine and avoided reading what was assigned in my high school English classes. (I always got an A in English anyway, which, as an adult, makes me question how exactly that happened.)  In college I read textbooks.  In my twenties I went back to basics and read classics. You know, all the books I avoided reading in high school, plus. I read Austen and the Bronte sisters, Kurt Vonnegut, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Irving, Willa Cather.  I discovered Margaret Atwood and Harriet Beecher Stowe.  I also read Tom Clancy novels.  I’m sure I’m leaving some out but you get the idea.  In my late twenties and thirties I read Eric Carle, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Ronald Dahl and the backs of a gazillion Pokemon cards.  Later, when my kids started reading on their own, so did I again.  I read chick-lit and lit fic and women’s fiction.  I read memoir and narrative non-fiction.  I read a few self-help books but never found them very helpful.  I read a lot of cookbooks and magazines and backs of many, many cereal boxes.

In the past seven or eight years (you see how the age references are becoming vague, don’t you?) I’ve read lots of best-sellers.  In the past four years or so I’d say I focused on reading women’s fiction and literary fiction.  I also enjoy smart humorous books (have you read How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely? You should.) I’ve read an inordinate amount of writing books and spend a lot of time reading my Flip Dictionary.

But what I hadn’t done is gone back to the beginning.  And I don’t mean Beverly Cleary, although it’s tempting.  When a friend of mine mentioned Kurt Vonnegut and we email volleyed about our favorite Vonnegut books, I realized I had not read Kurt Vonnegut in over twenty years. Over twenty years!  It was the beginning of September and I told myself I was going to spend September reading Kurt Vonnegut. The next day I picked up Mother Night at the library. When I finished Mother Night I read a short story called 2 B R 0 2 B.  When I finished 2 B R 0 2 B, I read a collection of Vonnegut’s essays entitled, Fates Worse Than Death.  September had passed and I had only read Vonnegut. Success!

I must say, I was pleased.  Pleased to be accidentally reintroduced to an author I love and pleased to reintroduce myself to the idea that I don’t have to read something shiny and new.  Sometimes tried and true works wonders.  Vonnegut reminded me of the power of intricate stories and the pleasure of deep (often unusual) thought woven with accessible words.  I’m not going to write science fiction or political satire any time soon, but the fact that I remember how much I like it is really a wonderful gift.

Another wonderful gift was receiving Keith Cronin’s book Me Again in the mail from Keith.  My month of reading Vonnegut had ended. It was September 30th and I started Keith’s book.  Between Friday and Saturday I read seventy pages.  My Sunday morning indulgence is to make a pot of coffee, pour a cup (or two) and get back into bed with my coffee and whatever book I’m reading.  It’s still dark out, the book light is on, the coffee is hot…and often by nine in the morning I’ve been reading for three or more hours.  And that’s what happened with Keith’s book.  I finished it.  Me Again is heartwarming and real life, laugh-out-loud funny and it’s also don’t-cry-in-the-coffee, get-up-and-get-a-tissue sad.

What also struck me about Keith’s book is that while I so often focus on women’s fiction of all sorts, Keith’s POV character is a thirty-two year old man. And yes, I can totally see how it’s women’s fiction.  But I will say that because the main character is a guy — I think this book would appeal to men. Reading Me Again reminded me to try some books that don’t have a female protagonist — because well, men are good characters too.

And I think that will also contribute to my drive to read widely.

The great part about reading widely — or reading everything — is that I get to determine the width of my boundaries, the level of my experimentation — and you get to determine yours.

Another great part is that it simply means — go read!!

 

 

14 thoughts on “My Month of Reading Vonnegut (and Cronin)

  1. What a wonderful reminder that we need to read all genres. When I look at my towering stack of TBR books, I realize that I have quite a potpourri of genres: some YA, some memoir and then mostly literary fiction and women’s literary fiction … But I have been feeling the urge to get back to the classics, too. If I pull them out of storage and add them to my stack, it will undoubtedly topple. But that’s not a bad thing, is it? I can’t wait to read Keith’s novel – especially after your rave review.

    And your comments are reminding me that it really WOULD be nice to take a month-long ‘reading sabbatical.’

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    • Melissa,

      It really was fun to immerse myself for a month. I might pick another author and do the same thing — maybe in December over the tumult of the holidays. Then I wouldn’t have to think so much about what to read “next.” Maybe I’ll go back to Jane Austen. The originals – LOL – not all the contemporary, based-on-Jane, novels. Any suggestions for a “sabbatical month” are welcome too!

      Amy

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  2. Great post. I’ve recently been re-reading Vonnegut, too! He spoke to my teen-angsty self so clearly, but so many heroes of my young life don’t hold up (Kerouac, Herman Hesse, Kesey) but Vonnegut can still take my breath away. Mostly I read women writers now, but Vonnegut transcends gender as he transcends time. And I love that he was fierce up to the end.

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  3. Good advice! The problem I run in to is not having enough time to read because I’m busy writing, or if I am reading, my own character starts sounding suspiciosly like the character in the book I’m reading! Right now I am reading Fannie Flagg’s latest.

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    • Karoline,

      I’ve found over the past years that I have to be reading something – always. I need something to pick up at the end of a long day even if it’s just for ten minutes. My problem is that pages to me are like potato chips…I can’t read just one. Usually when I start I end up reading for hours. That’s one reason I’ve figured out how to read during part of my workout on the elliptical — it’s a set time — and then I close the book.

      Amy

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  4. Now I really can’t wait to read Keith’s book! (already was on my list!) I haven’t read Vonnegut in a while — now you make me think I should! — but I recently also started rereading some books I love, including Judy Blume’s books for kids! My book interests tend to be wide — from nonfiction to womens fiction and everything in between — so I have a lot I want to read, and it’s so much more interesting to read from a wide variety.

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  5. First of all, let me gasp out a stunned OMG! at seeing my name mentioned on the same page – much less the same sentence – as Vonnegut. Wow – THANK YOU! And I’m so glad you enjoyed my book.

    But for me this brings up an interesting realization, and I wondered if any of you have experienced the same thing: Many of my favorite authors are people whose books I read BEFORE I decided to become a writer. So I was reading their work simply as a reader – as part of their audience. Now that I’m an “official” writer (still waiting for them to send me one of the matching jackets I assumed they all wear), I definitely have a different experience as a reader, with a far more critical eye. And with that change has unfortunately come the loss of some of the wide-eyed wonder and suspension of disbelief I maintained back when I was just a reader.

    Have any of you gone back to a favorite book AFTER becoming a writer? And if so, have any of your impressions changed when you read the book through “writerly” eyes?

    Thanks again, Amy – both for the shout-out and for this fascinating topic!

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  6. Dear Amy,
    Thank you for this post. I do re-read books all the time but, as Keith noted, with a critical eye that is oft times irritating to me because I can’t just “read” as I had in the “olden days” – before I started writing my own books. I’ve put down more books in the last two years than I ever have in my entire life! I’ve been meaning to buy Keith’s book and now I’m outta here to purchase it.
    Patti

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  7. Pingback: Friday Favorite … another word! | Linda Leschak

  8. Pingback: Author Keith Cronin Shares His Publishing Journey From Hard Cover To E-Book « women's fiction writers

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