READING + LEARNING = FUN
by Natalie Aguirre
by Natalie Aguirre
Thanks so much for inviting me Martina!
I’ve always been a voracious reader since I learned to read. I even read audio books when I walk so I can read more. Since I joined Casey McCormick as her blog partner at Literary Rambles, I’ve been interviewing a lot of authors and reading their books in preparation for their interviews. It’s really become my passion as a blogger to promote books and authors, especially debut and middle grade authors. So I read a lot.
Martina asked me to do a post on what I’ve learned from reading. Before I start, I’ll let you know that I tend to race through the books I’m reading, trying to consume them and find out what’s going to happen next. So I don’t analyze the story while I’m reading. I really encourage you to read Martina’s fantastic posts on the craft of writing where she shows what a grasp she has on the craft and what she learns from reading.
So here’re some things I’ve learned from my reading.
1. The fifty page rule. Last year my daughter’s 9th grade teacher shared a piece of advice she gives her students. Read to page 50 and if the book doesn’t grab you, stop reading it and start something new. Before I started blogging, I didn’t follow this rule. I usually slogged through the book and at some point I’d like the story.
But now I have such a huge stack of books to read. Thankfully, I haven’t had to put down any books I’m featuring on my blog. But there are other books I’ve started that just haven’t grabbed me. And I’ve put the book down because I don’t have time to read a book I don’t enjoy.
And it brings to mind how important it is to grab the reader quickly. Kids, especially in middle school and high school, are incredibly busy and don’t have that much time to read. If you can’t grab their attention by the first 50 pages, they probably aren’t going to finish your book.
So how do you grab your reader? You must present sympathetic characters we want to learn about, let us know what your story is about, and move the plot along in the first 50 pages. This is only five to seven chapters depending on how long your chapters are.
2. Explore new genres. My favorite genres are fantasy, dystopian, and some paranormal. That’s what I mostly read. I’ve learned from interviewing authors that it’s good to expand my horizons sometimes and read in other genres.
For example, I had never read a book in verse until I interviewed Stasia Ward Kehoe about her debut book AUDITION, a contemporary story about a girl following her dream to become a dancer, and Caroline Starr Rose about her debut middle grade novel MAY B, a historical novel about a girl in 1870 Kansas. I’ll share a secret. I don’t like poetry much and was scared before I read Stacia’s book that I wouldn’t be able to finish it. But these books were incredibly fast, enjoyable reads. So now I wouldn’t hesitate to read a book in verse that interests me.
Contemporary is another genre I rarely read. And when I pick up a book for an author interview, I always worry I won’t like it. But then I read Jenny Lundquist’s SEEING CINDERELLA, a contemporary novel about middle grade friendships and boyfriend issues with a touch of magical realism in the use of magical glasses. I could so relate to Callie’s experiences in middle school and loved reading how she resolved her problems.
Debut author Tracey Bilen’s WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND was another book that reminded me that contemporary stories are good. This is a YA thriller about an abusive family. Tracey really nailed the voice of Sarah, the main character, who has to deal with her abusive dad and is terribly worried about her mom. And she keeps the tension up so you have to turn the page.
I couldn’t put down either of these books and read them both in two days or less.
3. Go back and start the book over if you find you haven’t gotten some of the plot. There’re a lot of new characters, setting, and plot to learn about when you start a book. Sometimes when I start a book at night (when I usually read) and I’m tired (sadly often), I miss a bit when I start a book. If I find I can’t remember things as I’m moving through the first 50 pages, I’ve been making myself go back and start the book again. I find I enjoy the story more and get all the important details.
4. Learn about the craft of writing from your reading. If you’re having problems with some aspect of your manuscript, read one of your favorite authors in the genre you’re writing in and it’ll probably help you figure out what your problem is. Whenever I’m struggling with something, like character development, how to show internal thoughts, description, etc., I’ll look for how the authors I’m reading handle the problem. It always helps me figure out what I need to do. And so many published authors do it masterfully.
Here are some of my favorite books I’ve read this year and something I think the author did well.
In THE FALSE PRINCE, Jennifer Nielson does an incredible job nailing the voice of Sage, a totally self-assured guy who’s resourceful, sarcastic, funny, and never afraid to speak his mind or to not cooperate in the plot to put a false prince on the throne. I’m in love with this book. It’s fantastic!
And in UNDER THE NEVER SKY, Veronica Rossi develops such a fascinating dystopian world where Aria, who had lived mostly in a virtual world, has to cope with living in Perry's Outsider world that has no technology. And watching how their relationship developed, definitely antagonistic at the start, felt like a natural progression, which I loved.
In UNRAVELLING, Elizabeth Norris is the master of twisting a plot. It starts out as a mystery where Janelle tries to solve the mystery of why someone would try to hit her with their car, how Ben brought her back to life, and then the mystery of a death of someone close to her. But suddenly the plot completely twists and you see the story is about so much more. All I could say when I read it was WOW!
And in SHADOW AND BONE, Leigh Bardugo does a fantastic job with the world building, drawing from Tsarist Russia in the early 1800’s, in creating the court and the Grisha, the magical elite world, that Alina is whisked into.
In WHAT’S LEFT OF ME, Kat Zhang creates an intriguing world where two souls share a body until one disappears before the teen years. Only fifteen-year old Eva doesn’t disappear. It’s fascinating watching her try to survive and be able to use their body to be herself. Since she’s the recessive soul, Kat must mostly show her through her thoughts and dialogue.
And in SURRENDER (Possession #2), Elana Johnson introduces us to Raine, incredibly smart and brave in defying her father, and Gunner, such a nice, dependable guy you can’t help falling in love with, and takes us more into the everyday life of Freedom. Then she weaves it all back into Vi and Jag’s story. It’s a brilliant second book in a series.
Finally in THE CROWN OF EMBERS (book #2), Rae Carson takes the story in a new direction as Elisa, who is still insecure and slightly overweight, struggles in her new role as queen in a country she’s never lived in. And Rae does a fantastic job showing us a beautiful, naturally developing relationship between Elisa and Hector, her guard. I’m doing a giveaway of my ARC right now, so stop by my blog if you want to enter the contest.
I could go n and on because I’ve read so many fabulous books. But I’ll stop here.
So what great books have you read and what have you learned from them?
Natalie Aguirre is an attorney by day and an aspiring MG and YA fantasy author. She blogs at Literary Rambles (http://literaryrambles.com) on Mondays and some Wednesdays where she interviews authors and discusses books, almost always with a book giveaway.