To start curating the list for the “40 in 40” project, I turned to a fresh page in my notebook and started dumping onto the page all the books I’d either been meaning to read for a long time or have read before and might want to re-read for this project because of the impact they’ve had on me.
Then I sat back and noticed some interesting trends.
This Is Not a “TBR” Project
When it came to the books I’d been meaning to read for a long time, I noticed that I’d started to veer into an assumption that this project could help me get caught up on my long-time reading list—all the books everyone had been touting as “must reads” that I’d not gotten a chance to read yet.
I quickly realized this was misdirected motivation. That couldn’t be the reason those books made the list. This wasn’t a project for getting caught up on my “to be read” list. It was a project for figuring out what kind of writer I’m being invited to become in this next decade of my life.
Those books I’ve been meaning to read? They are going to have to wait a bit longer to receive my attention.
Let go of being culturally in the know, I had to tell myself. This project is about you and your discernment.
Categorize It Up
Here’s another trend I noticed: the books were all over the map. They fell into all kinds of categories.
On that page in my notebook, I listed books that were:
adult literary fiction
adult commercial fiction
children’s and young adult fiction
. . . and more
I noticed this and then thought, Well, here’s my heart on the page.
Because the truth is, I care about all of these kinds of books. At some point in time, I’ve tried writing in most of these genres. I wonder which one is home base for me. And that’s the whole point of this project: to figure out which one is home base for me.
So I decided to own the categories. I curated the list with intention, choosing books in each of these sub-genres. I’m going to read them with a mind for finding my home base as a writer.
Re-Reads for Revelation
In curating the list, I also included many books I’ve read before.
Primarily, I did this with books that profoundly impacted me in some way (a sampling of which is included in the photo above!). I knew I wanted to re-read some impactful books so I could figure out how the author went about creating the experience he or she did.
For instance: How did the author make me love this character so immediately? How did he move me to weeping through just one scene? What mastery with his craft had enabled him to do these things—and did I want to learn how to do that too?
Speaking of Craft
At Bookwifery, I teach the craft of writing and publishing books in the general nonfiction category, my shorthand definition of which is “books that help people.” But I’m clear that a wholly different level and kind of craft is required to write and publish fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and short story.
Many years ago, I took creative writing courses that helped me learn the craft of these other genres, and I experimented with and worked on projects in these genres for several years. But that was a long time ago. It’s been years since I made these genres a point of focus in my writing.
Do I want to return to them? I don’t yet know. I included books on the list within these genres to re-expose myself with intention to them. I also added a category of books devoted to the craft of writing in these genres so I could reintroduce myself to the principles and rules and realities of each. I’m looking forward to this!
A Final Word on An Obvious Omission
When curating the list, I felt aware I was leaving off titles written by people of color. This was not a subconscious oversight. Rather, it was (I hope) an honoring choice.
This project is meant to help me learn what kind of writer I am being invited to become. I know I will never write from the experience of a person of color, as that is not my experience. I want to read books by people of color in order to learn about and listen to their truths, not to co-opt what they’ve brought to their pages for my own purposes.
I hope that makes sense to those who read this and follow along with the project.
I hope, too, I have not made a glaring mistake in my assumptions or decisions around this. After all, it could be said I chose to include titles by other authors who write of experiences I do not know. Chaim Potok, for example, writes of the Jewish experience. David Sedaris writes as a male essayist. I am not Jewish, nor am I male.
My response is that I chose their books, and others on the list about which similar observations could be made, for specific reasons.
For example, David Sedaris is a master of the personal essay, and I want to learn that form as part of my discernment. (Am I being invited to write personal essays?) Chaim Potok’s character Asher Lev crawled into my heart from page 1, breaking my heart with his vulnerability and sweetness and honesty, and I want to learn how Potok did that. (If I write fiction, how can I write characters that crawl into the hearts of readers too?)
And so on.
This post would not have been complete without an acknowledgment of this omission. Again, I hope the reason I made this decision is understood.
Next up from here, I’ll be diving into the list. I plan to read the books on craft first. More soon!