News | 2008 | That Reading List

You may have noticed I keep a list of all the books I read on this site. I let you know what I'm currently reading, what I've just finished, and also keep an exhaustive inventory of all the published books I've read since January 1 (for some strange reason, I don't count all the unpublished works I read--I'm not really sure why, although I suspect it's to honour the author's privacy with work that's not ready for public consumption yet). At the end of the year, I compile these lists into a single post so I know what I've read in any particular year (well, back to 2005, anyway--that's the year Laisha Rosnau suggested I try this).

Occasionally, people tell me they think it's kind of cool I do this (which happened last night and is the reason I'm blogging about this now). I usually smile. If they show any more interest (like last night), I might then explain my philosophy behind why I do it. For me, keeping a list of the books I've read is more than simply boasting how geeky I am. It's a way for me to see what works were influencing me and what I was thinking about over the course of a year (which was what Laisha had in mind). I also keep track of these books chronologically in a notebook, with the dates I start and finish them. It's really cool to look over a list and remember the progression from book to book my mind made.

However, recently I've started to keep other notes as well. Alison Acheson suggested keeping a reading journal, recording information on each book I read as part of a course on Children's Literature I took from her--she recommended noting such things as publishers, editors, number of pages, intended audiences, voices, tenses used, and brief synopses. Now I'll be honest, I'm really too lazy to do this all the time, but I do see the value in it and I think it's time I kicked my own butt a bit and got back into the habit. As a writer, this information is really valuable. Take the voice (as in first person, third person omniscient--that sort of thing) and tense issues for example. When you read a book, generally you internalize the story and make the experience into something very close to a memory. But can you remember what voice or tense the author used for a book after you've put it back on the shelf? Usually, I can't. I remember the story as something that almost happened to me, in a way. But as I writer, that's information I want to know when I'm selecting a voice or tense for the work I'm doing--not necessarily to copy someone else, but to see what techniques are effective and which ones aren't for any particular type of story I might be working on.

Okay, time to put my money where my mouth is. The last novel I read was Mary Lee Settle's The Scapegoat. Here are the details:

The Scapegoat by Mary Lee Settle

Age Group: Number of Pages: 296
Publisher: University of South Carolina Press
Editor: I'm not sure
Voice: Mix of limited third and first, but mostly limited third person.
Tense: Past, although opens in present.
Other Notes: Told from the points of view of a huge cast of characters (but returning to a select few), this story centres around a coal strike in the hills of West Virginia in June, 1912 and how the actions of one girl (Lily Lacey, the mine owner's middle daughter) end up precipitating a tragedy. Settle doesn't resolve the story neatly, instead she invites the reader to piece together meaning from the evidence presented by each character (many of whom are completely off base in their assessments of each other). While I personally don't like opening a character's head unless there's a critical scene in the story told from that character's viewpoint, Settle did make her convention of collecting and reassessing information from each character somewhat effective.

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