Tag Archives: reading

My Life as a Reader

31 Jan

I remember my mother telling me when I was about seven, “You can read any book in this house.”

The books in our house were my dad’s history and science related books from Book of the Month Club, and my mom’s books about having and raising children and lives of saints and other holy people.

I read them all. I remember reading in one of the child related books about missing periods when a woman was pregnant, and wondering what the heck that meant, but I didn’t ask. On my dad’s side, I read Kon-Tiki and studied the descriptions of plants and animals in a nature encyclopedia.

An incident in second grade illustrates my devotion to reading. There was a small library in the back of the classroom. I had found a book that contained a story of a trio of girls who had a treehouse. I loved the story so much, I continued to read it during music class, holding the book beneath my desk. And of course my teacher, Sister Mary Siena, caught me and took the book away. Busted. In front of the entire class. But I wanted to read the book! A treehouse! Think about it! At the end of the school day, I took the book from the shelf again and brazenly approached the teacher. “May I check this book out and take it home to read?” She replied, “Do you think I should let you?” The book! The book! “Yes,” I answered. I checked it out. It was all worth it. I still love treehouses. And books.

Fast forward many years later, as a parent and a teacher. “Read what you want to read. Just read. Think.”

It’s all worth it.

Newest generation picking out a book.

Browsing for a good book.


Who Loves Lady MacBeth?

23 Jun


Writers often create characters who are not likeable, to serve as foils or antagonists for the main characters. These antagonists exhibit qualities in opposition to the main characters in order to create conflict. Readers love an evil character. Think of the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. We love to have someone to cheer against and hope for a demise appropriate to their state of badness.

As a writer, it is fun to create a “bad” character. There is a kind of evil “bitchiness” that comes out in characters who do and say things that I would never do. I have heard the same said by actors who enjoy playing evil roles like Lady MacBeth. There is something very satisfying in the complexity of a negative character. Few people are truly evil, and the “good” people and characters have a little of the dark side hidden away,too.

Then there are some books whose characters are not likeable at all, but that still convey an important theme or idea. The Great Gatsby is one that springs to mind. None of the characters is a nice person, except maybe for Nick Carroway, the narrator, who may have gone on in life to be a good person, but the book contains an important message about materialism and selfishness.

All in all, writers want their readers to either love or hate their characters enough to care about what what happens to them, whether they survive and succeed, die a horrible death, or something in between. That is what makes a story. And even then, sometimes, the “good” don’t come out on top, and the “bad” are not punished enough for our liking. That’s life.

In my latest book, Hotel Saint Clare, I loved writing the character Crystal. While she is not 100% evil, she is a character I loved to hate.

Can you read a book in which the main character is unlikeable? Have you put a book down because you just didn’t like the characters?

The Importance of Reading Fiction

24 Nov

I read an interesting article in the New York Times yesterday entitled “What Should Children Read?” I am providing the link so you can read it for yourself.

Whatever the “experts” who have written these national standards might think, reading fiction has a value far more than just time-filling entertainment that has no practical use and cannot help in the job market.

We have become obsessed with thinking of education as a road to employment, and have forgotten that education is a road to life. If you do not have the tools to think critically and examine your own life, your potential in any career will be minimal.

Reading fiction allows us to learn about other lives and other times and apply them to our own. It allows us to compare our experiences with the experiences of characters who have been created by writers to make a point. Reading fiction allows us to learn to appreciate the beauty of the language, and to be articulate speakers and writers. And reading fiction is often just plain fun.

To cite just one example, the generation that has grown up reading the Harry Potter books has learned more than just a story about a school for magicians. They have learned about friendship, the struggle between good and evil, bravery, sorrow, disappointment and many other human emotions and circumstances. All of these factors are important for grown-ups as well as children. And they have learned all of this while enjoying that great story of the school for magicians, which I think makes it more meaningful.

For some reason, the English classes in the high school I attended did not assign novels to read as a class. My parents brought me up with weekly visits to the library, so I read anyway. Later as an English teacher, I taught many of the classics, but also encouraged students to read for fun. Instead of cutting back on the reading of fiction, we should encourage students to read more.

Some of my favorites are To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, A Tale of Two Cities, Of Mice and Men, Slaughterhouse Five. There are many more, of course, and they teach timeless truths that are so much more meaningful because they are fiction.

Fiction may not be true, but it is the truth.

What novels have meant the most to you?

It’s Always in the Details

17 Jul

Someone said that “life is in the details.” I take that to mean that we really only see the big picture of life when we look at the past or the future. In the present moment, we only see the details. I see the computer screen, I feel my fingers typing, I see my orange cat sleeping on the desk. I know I am hungry for lunch and need to take a shower and go out and run some errands this afternoon. I live in the details.

It is the same with writing. A novelist wants her readers to appreciate and enjoy the totality of her novel, but she writes it chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, word by word. And an error can trip up the reader and cause her to lose the flow of the story. A reader can be caught by a detail that makes her stop and think –” I’ve noticed a mistake in this writer’s work. What other mistakes has she made that I have not noticed?”

In a novel I read recently, the author described the French press in the kitchen whistling away to tell them the coffee was ready. Anyone familiar with a French press knows that it doesn’t whistle at all — it simply sits there until someone pushes the plunger and pours the coffee. This small error caught me up short. Another error of language that I noticed recently in a novel was simply a mistake in terminology in different parts of the country. I know that in southern California, people use “the” before the number of a highway, as in “the 5.” I drive up and down I-95 between Pennsylvania and North Carolina quite often, and I can assure you it is never referred to as “the 95,” as this author did.

While these are small errors, they always make me pause and wonder if the author just didn’t do his or her research, or was in a hurry, or thought it just didn’t matter. Of course, it also speaks to the importance of an editor.

I also do some freelance editing, and I am always on the lookout for small mistakes that can hurt the credibility of an author.

How important do you think these small errors are, either as a writer or as a reader? As a reader, do they catch you up short and interrupt the flow of the story?

How much do writers read?

14 Apr

I was a guest author on a mystery panel at a local library last week, and we were asked the question: How much do you read while you are writing a book,and do you worry that what you are reading will influence your writing?

I read constantly. I read before I go to sleep, while I eat lunch, in doctors’ waiting rooms, while I brush my teeth (yes, I really do), and other odd moments throughout the day. And with the things that happen in my life, I have quite a few really odd moments.

But I don’t worry that what I read will influence what I write in more than the most subtle ways. I learn from my reading, and am constantly motivated to write better because of what I read.

I don’t understand people who say they don’t have time to read. For me, reading is like breathing. Would I not have time to breathe? If I didn’t read, how would I know how to write?

A Beautiful Sight — A Child Reading a Book

28 Nov

As a teacher and a life-long reader, I have come up with ten ways to encourage your child to enjoy reading. Even if you are not a habitual reader yourself — Are you saying you don’t have time? — these are simple ways to instill the habit of reading in your child. She will do better in school and develop a lifetime habit that will stimulate her mind and provide hours of entertainment, imaginative play and learning.

  1. Read yourself. Always have a book going, even if it takes you months to finish it. Let your child see you reading.
  2. Visit the library. Even a pre-schooler can pick out book that appeal to her or him. And it’s free!
  3. Limit TV and computer time. Do NOT use them as babysitters. Any kind of technology is a merely a tool. Supervise these activities closely to see if it is really what you want for your child.
  4. Make learning to read play, not a chore – find sight words when you are out. Words are all over our environment. A beginning reader can have fun finding sight words on a trip to a store or driving  down a highway.
  5. Talk about books – his and yours.”What is happening in your book?” “Are there things you don’t understand?” “What do you think about . . .?”
  6. Have books in your home. As popular as e-books are now, there is something special about picking up a book and leafing through the pages. Stock your shelves with reference books and old favorites. Explore used book shops and the bargain shelves at large book stores it you need to add to your collection.
  7. Reread old favorites from your childhood. Remember Where the Wild Things AreThe Wind in the WillowsCharlotte’s Web?
  8. Go to plays – not always movies. The actors can make more of a connection since they are clearly “regular people” playing parts.
  9. Read the books that your child’s favorite movies are based upon. It’s helps them be aware that in many cases, the book was written first.
  10. Talk about ideas. Ask your child what he thinks? Listen to what he says and offer a neutral comment. If he asks you what you think, tell him. But add that it is your opinion, and everyone has a different opinion. Respect your child’s thoughts.