October 24, 2017

Reading to Write

By Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief for Southern Writers Magazine 

Barbara Kingsolver is an American novelist, essayist, and poet. She was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in the Congo in her early childhood. One of the early influences in her life was the Bookmobile.

For those of you who don’t know what that is, it was a mobile library. A vehicle was designed to be used as a library, and held shelves with books and drove to areas that didn’t have a branch library and parked so readers could access the vehicle and check out books.

I feel very fortunate, that I only lived three to four blocks from the library, so I could walk there as a child, which I did every week. I would get five books the first of the week, and when I read those, then I would take them back, and get five more. Why five, that is all they would let you check out at one time. I did this all summer. I loved reading.

To me, writers must be readers. How else will we learn to write what we want to write.
Reading books on how to write is good, education courses in writing is good. But, reading the kind of books you want to write, is an education all to itself.

Barbara Kingsolver said, “I learned to write by reading the kind of books I wished I’d written. I still do. I limit my exposure to the type of stuff I don’t want to write, and oh boy is the world ever loaded with that, mostly waiting behind some form of “on-off” switch. I’m enough of a biologist to know that whatever comes in will, in some form, come back out.”

Now, let me see, what books do I wish I had written? 

Barbara Kingsolver wrote The Poisonwood Bible, a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry everything they believe they’ll need but soon find all of it—from garden seeds to Scripture—is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.”

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