I judge mercilessly. I fling aside into the DNF pile with wild abandon. I curl my lip at typos and sneer at poor word-smithing. I flip the bird (and sometimes the book) at puerile plotting.
However, over the course of my life, I have encountered books that have rocked my world in various ways. Some books entertained me. Some books changed my fundamental views of life and love. Others pushed my development as a writer. Still more became the type of books I want to write when I grow up.
So, without further ado, I present…the exquisite collection of Fiction Cait Would Save in a Fire.
YOUNG ADULT BOOKS
These were the books I read as a tween and teenager. Over. And over. And over again. Aside from Dandelion Wine, they all featured strong heroines on amazing adventures. These heroines faced their greatest fears, overcame mistakes, and saved the day. I read Dandelion Wine in my freshman year of high school, and one story in particular about the old lady and the young man blew me away with the magnitude of life, love, and death.
COLLEGE, FRANCE, AND THE BEAUTIFUL PAIN OF WIT
I was a French major in college and studied abroad in Paris. I made my pilgrimage to Victor Hugo’s house. I sat in cafes. I thought deep, dark thoughts about life. I then learned to both embrace the strange, bittersweet finality of things and shrug my shoulders at it, because it’s only life after all.
A cautious step beyond classics and comfort zones
Nobody should be surprised to see Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice, and Dracula on my list. Halton Cray is one of the most delightful riffs on Jane Eyre that I have ever read. But then, I realized I needed to start reading beyond my comfort zone, and I discovered books like Apathy and A Confederacy of Dunces that made me laugh, and books like The Shipping News and The Red Tent that made me cry.
Going Way, WAY out of my comfort Zone
None of these books have anything in common…except for the fact that they are amazing. Each one of them is exquisitely written, completely immersive, book-hangover-worthy, and taught me something absolutely vital about the craft of writing.
THE UNICORN: SERIES I WILL ACTUALLY READ
I will not read series. In general, I find it difficult to maintain interest in the characters over the long term. However, these writers managed to convince me that their characters had more to give, more to grow, and more to say. That is the highest tribute I can give a writer’s craft. Well, that, and buying the next book in the series.
I SHOWED YOU MINE…
Now, show me yours!
Leave a comment with your “Shelf of Fiction You Would Save in a Fire”!
I am insatiably curious. This has led to a slight issue (some might say addiction) with buying books.
For an author, my actual collection of fiction is quite small. That’s probably because I’m such a picky bitch about the caliber of storytelling and writing I will read.
But, non-fiction? OMG, it’s a real problem. Eric and I recently went to IKEA because I had to buy a whole new bookshelf system. I got the Billy bookshelves…and the extra shelf extension. I literally have books floor-to-ceiling now.
Yet, I regret nothing. NOTHING.
but…but…isn’t all that non-fiction boring?
Hardly! Most of the time, I end up reading things and am like, ‘You seriously can’t make that shit up.’ Reality is way, way weirder than fiction. Dragons included.
I will absolutely admit that non-fiction has experienced a renaissance since the 90’s, shaking off the dust of academic ponderous pomposity and embracing engaging narratives, clever topics, and intelligent and witty writing.
Most importantly, though, is the fact that through non-fiction, we learn more about the world and people around us. What’s more fascinating than that? The more I read, no matter what the subject, the more I see intriguing connections that help me weave more complex, compelling stories.
It doesn’t matter if you are writing historical, contemporary, paranormal, romance, or even epic fantasy. Reading non-fiction will make you a better writer.
Non-Fiction and Research
It’s hard to think of a single really good work of fiction that hasn’t relied on some pretty solid non-fiction research.
I can think of a lot of really, really bad fiction that clearly shows signs of the author not giving a fuck about facts. I remember reading an erotica story where the main female character is an interior designer. She lands a multi-million dollar project designing a hotel…and pitches in with the painting crew she hired to help paint the owner’s suite to get it done on time.
REALLY? REALLY???? Seriously?
It would have taken exactly six minutes to go to Wikipedia, look up ‘interior designer,’ and scrolled down to the bottom where it lists exactly the type of work that interior designers do, as opposed to…interior decorators. As opposed to people pretending to be interior designers who violate all kinds of union, OSHA, and other insurance and contract restrictions to ‘pitch in’ and help paint walls.
Sure, we could say that it’s ‘just’ erotica, and we’re supposed to be suspending disbelief anyway. Let’s just put aside any kind of professional pride, attention to detail, and desire to produce quality books. From a purely technical perspective, taking care to get a little detail like that right (even if it means reading a boring Wikipedia article) actually encourages the suspension of belief. Accuracy grounds a story in reality in a way that is absolutely tantalizing because it is logical and could happen, and therefore enhances the fantasy.
Okay, I may have gone off the rails a bit here, but my main point stands. Good fiction needs research, and research gets easier the more we accustom ourselves to reading non-fiction.
It’s almost as bad as wearing a pocket protector
Okay, fine. I’ll admit it. It’s not just books I have a problem with.
I am an insatiable magazine article ripper-outer. Daphne Lamb, Kim Alexander, and Genevieve Raas from The Fabulous Fictionistas can attest to this, having seen me tear through show dailies, catalogs, and other periodicals at Book Expo America.
My husband, bless him, knows me so very, very well. For Christmas one year, he got me a subscription to ‘Astronomy.’ I have my own subscriptions to ‘Discover’ and ‘Archaeology.’
I am the chick on the beach, drinking things with umbrellas in them and completely engrossed in an article about black holes. Don’t get me wrong. I am not a scientist and even less of a mathematician. God invented calculators for a reason. ‘Discover’ is written for people like me. Obscure scientific ideas are broken down simply. The writing is clear and entertaining. And, over time, the more I read, the more I learn, and the more familiar scientific concepts become.
I know what you are thinking. Don’t I write historical romance and paranormal YA? What am I doing reading about amoebas and pretending it makes a difference to my writing?
Well, just for the record, I drew on some of the articles I had read about quantum physics and astronomy for ‘Downcast,’ and the sequel has quite a bit of science behind the scenes. In fact, the whole premise of ‘Thunderstruck’ came from an article in ‘Discover.’
It’s more than that, though.
I’ve come across articles about how neurochemistry can explain why we get such a rush from reconnecting with a first love. I’ve read about pioneering immunology research in the 1880’s that used bacteria and provided a critical breakthrough with major writer’s block. I get clues I didn’t know I was looking for, plot bunnies, and just the sheer pleasure of exercising my brain.
Science and history are not everyone’s cup of tea…or Petri dish. I get it. But, we should all be constantly learning and expanding our horizons in both literature and non-fiction. The more we learn and know, the more we naturally anchor our story to facts, pay attention to world-building, and create connections between characters and concepts that make our stories deeper, richer, and most importantly…more worth reading.