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!!