I’ll be honest with you. I’ve never read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I never finished Swann’s Way or Moby Dick. Never even tried to read Infinite Jest. Never read—this will shock you—a single Harry Potter book. Gasp! I know. I’ve gone three decades without reading some major [American/Western European] classics. We all have these reading gaps that may embarrass us at times, so why not use National Read a Book Day (today!) to crack open one of those books gathering dust on our bookshelves? Or, even better, why not go support our local bookstore and ask a clerk for their recommendation?
Now, for the hard part. I don’t know about you, but being held accountable—whether it’s via a class, a book club, or work—helps me stick to a book through the end. Keeping a reading journal comes in handy in all three scenarios. It also traces your evolution as a reader, which is fun to go back to.
We’ve previously talked about why it’s a good idea to keep a reading journal, and even offered some links and tips to get started. Reading through those, I realized that many of the questions I asked my creative writing students to consider before workshopping their peers’ work applies to this kind of journaling. I thought I’d share some of them in case you’re not sure what to write about:
♥ Think about the book’s structure as a whole. Is there something about the format, chronology, chapter lengths, etc. that sparks something in you?
♥ What emotional effect does the book leave you with? After I read a good story, poem, or book, it feels like I’ve been seen. Did you feel this or any other intense emotion? Did it leave you cold? Why? Write about it.
♥ What about the book is unclear? Are there plot holes, underdeveloped characters? What would you have done differently?
♥ Are there comparable titles or authors? In what ways are they similar? How do they differ?
♥ What do you think personally drew you to seek out this book or root for/identify with a character? Your socioeconomic background? Your job? Past experiences? Did you find the book on a stoop?
♥ Is there anything about the style or content that you may want to try or use in your own work?