When I read a book, I really, truly read as a reader, not a writer. However, I learn from the book like a writer (after all, I’m 32 and sorta don’t need a morality tale that tells me to be nice to my best friend when I get a new boyfriend). The following is a list of new and old tales that I just recently read and marveled at (in both good and bad ways):
1) Holes, by Louis Sachar. This was a gorgeously crafted story, with an historical substory that supported the present-day story and that twisted and turned and somehow intertwined. I hope to write something so beauteous–and without being the least bit pretentious or “literary”–one day. Too bad the movie sucked noogies.
2) Guyaholic, by Carolyn Mackler. I hated this title–I felt like I was picking up some Gossip Girl distant cousin. Instead, I was charmed. What did I learn from it as a writer? That you can have a very, very flawed heroine and, if her internal dialogue and motivations are written well, still like her and root for her.
3) Lock and Key, by Sarah Dessen. The reader reviews for this books weren’t too great, mainly because there’s no clear cut, happily ever after love story (it’s implied, though). I learned from this book that teens are in their formative years, and just because some mySpace-like millionaire sort of adopts you doesn’t mean that you’re problem-free. You’ve got major baggage, even at 17-ish. Think about Annie. Daddy Warbucks wants to giver her the world, yet she’s still holding out hope for her missing mom and dad.
4) Breaking Dawn, by Stephenie Meyer. This is another book that got mixed reviews. What did I learn from it as a writer? That you can’t change the character that your reader has fallen in love with. I mean, totally have them do a 180-degree character arc–selfish to altruistic, bully to non-bully–but don’t spend three books writing about Kathy in Wuthering Heights and then give me Buffy. I fell in love with Kathy (in a best friend sort of way–geez, people!) and I like Buffy, but don’t do a bait and switch on me.
5) Dreamland, by Sarah Dessen. This one’s been out a while, but I like Sarah’s writing so much, I’ve been saving this one for the last year or so in order to still have “one more Dessen” to read. This book dealt with abusive boyfriends and drugs, but more importantly, it dealt with being the lowlier daughter. This book taught me as a writer that it’s important to have hooks (abuse, drugs) but that for a book to really work, it needs to tap into a reader’s deepest, darkest fears (not being the “pretty” one or the “smart” one).