Literature Immersion

From when I first began to read by myself until now, most of the books I have read were science fiction works. I love a good, fast-paced novel with aliens, adventure, spaceships, robots, and maybe even robotic alien spaceships (like the Bobiverse series). Still, I also read with pleasure stories with more concrete roots in physics or engineering (The Martian) or tales of future and present that could have been (Stories of Your Life and Others collection for example).

Not being able to get out, we often do “varanping” (veranda camping), now that it’s warm.

Having a huge library of SF worlds in my head does not help me so much, however, in writing my own stories. As much as I love science fiction and would like to write some stories of that genre someday, for now, I prefer to stick to the “realism with fantasy elements” style of tales.

This year, one of my goals is getting out of the virus quarantine with more knowledge about story-making, and maybe with a story or two that I can work with. This is not easy at all (as you might expect), so I look for pieces of advice wherever I can. Some of the things that are repeated everywhere I look for knowledge are that a “storyteller has to read” and “has to be interested in things rather than be interesting.” This is all well, but I guess I needed more convincing still to start thinking about reading as a part of my work.

When I heard that Kana’s editor in charge (a person that takes care of her upcoming Edo Tokyo comic) wrote a long blog post with tips for comic artists who want to make more worthwhile works, I made Kana read it for me. And there it was: “probably the fastest way to getting better at making deeper, more involving stories is immersing oneself in modern literature. After two years of such treatment, one should soak up the needed knowledge.” Was what it said (more or less) in one of the points. You can read the whole thing (in Japanese) here.

OK, if I’m going to spend so much time “immersing” myself in literature, I should do it with a plan. A list of stuff to read was necessary, so I did some research and came up with about 30 titles from various categories to start reading. I’m thinking about beginning with myths, children’s literature, and any “classics” of fantastic writing I missed so far and can put in. I also decided to read most of the things on Hayao Miyazaki’s list of 50 essential books that he published in a small volume called Doors into Literature 「本へのとびら」2011. Whenever I feel that I need to mix in something different, I can always refer to the vast list of recommended reading from Stephen King’s book On Writing.

To make reading more pleasant, I also invested some thought into the reading process itself. I like my Kindle which (especially in Japan) allows me to get my hands on almost any English text, but when possible, I would like to read physical copies, so I bought a nice wooden bookmark with a strap that allows me to have it always slung through the book. This way, I don’t have to look for it when I want to pause.

The other thing that proved useful is a metal clip with a plastic pocket containing transparent adhesive markers. These are made by the Japanese “CocoFusen” brand and are perfect for when I find an interesting passage in the book. I can mark it with the transparent label, which is about the same height as a line of text. The pocket also contains two colors of tags so I can differentiate between narration and dialogue in my marks. After I’m done with a book, I can just take the clip off and slide it onto my next read’s back cover. Useful!

To keep a list of what I have read, I update my GoodReads account every time I finish a book. I also try to add the score and read some reviews (including the negative ones). I want to know what other readers are thinking about the book so I can avoid similar pitfalls when making my own stories. You can follow me there if you are interested in my current reads.

Finally, while reading, I make memos on my iPad. I have a separate Scrivener project where I keep my notes from creative writing classes, interesting research materials, ideas for stories, etc. Now I also added a “reading reflections” folder for any thoughts that come to me during reading.

Before the lockdown in Tokyo, I managed to make a quick run to the closest used books store. In Japan, it’s hard to buy used English books, but that store had some children’s literature, so I hoped I could find something that would fit my list. I came back home with the complete Narnia books set – as I have not read any of these, I thought it a good place to start my “literature immersion,” and I can report that I’m already on book five of seven.

3 thoughts on “Literature Immersion”

  1. I’m trying to get better at writing too. As well as reading lots – both online and off – I write observations from my everyday life in a little notebook I keep just for that one purpose. I’ve found it really helpful. They’re mostly seasonal or people watching observations, I’ve shared a few on my personal blog but most of them are just in my notebook. Also, do you use the app ‘pocket’? it’s very good for saving things to read for later. I often save fiction from Granta and The New Yorker in pocket and then enjoy reading it distraction free. Both Granta and TNY are subscription based but have some content up for free and/or allow a few articles free each month. I’ll keep an eye out for that list by Miyazaki, is it available in English or just Japanese?

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    1. Hi! Thanks for recommending Granta. I have been looking for reading materials online but It has proven a bit difficult to find the good stuff. I will have a look for sure!
      The Miyazaki’s book list book is only in Japanese (from what I know) but the list itself has been published by many blogs: http://www.openculture.com/2017/05/hayao-miyazaki-picks-his-50-favorite-childrens-books.html like here. Of course in the book, Miyazaki talks about his reading experience and why he choose these books and not other.

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