“Read what you write.” Good advice, but when you stumble into a genre—like I did when I started writing my book—you have a lot of catching up to do.
I’m getting there. Literary agent Rachelle Gardner recommends that new memoir writers read at least twenty memoirs before pitching their own. When I read this advice a couple of years ago it seemed like a daunting task. I was in the middle of writing the manuscript, trying to keep my blog current, and researching freelance writing opportunities, I read voraciously, but I had trouble confining my reading to one genre. I devoured historical narratives, theological tomes, spiritual devotions, fiction of various kinds, personal essays, memoirs, and all the books on craft I could find. I can’t read in one genre any more than I can sit still. To my ADD-addled brain, figuring out a list and sticking to it seemed overwhelming.
But I kept reading and I got there by sheer accumulation. Here’s my reading list to date:
- Confessions – St. Augustine (the first autobiography)
- Practicing Resurrection – Nora Gallagher
- Dreams from My Father – Barack Obama
- Crazy for God – Frank Schaffer
- Gringa – Melissa Hart
- Expecting Adam – Martha Beck
- The Middle Place – Kelly Corrigan
- Operating Instructions – Anne Lamott
- A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers
- The Liar’s Club – Mary Karr
- All Over but the Shoutin’ – Rick Bragg
- The Seven Storey Mountain – Thomas Merton
- Cherry – Mary Karr
- Letters From a Distant Shore – Dawn Marie Fiala
- Babyface – Jeanne McDermott
- Lit – Mary Karr
- Schuyler’s Monster – Robert Rummel-Hudson
- The Wet Engine – Brian Doyle
- Roll Around Heaven – Jessica Maxwell
- The Mercy Papers – Robin Romm
My to-read list is shorter, but that’s because I add to it as I find new books. Here are the next few in the hopper:
- Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller
- Name All the Animals – Alison Smith
- Blackbird – Jessica Lauck
- The Possibility of Everything – Hope Edelman
I’ve checked the first three out from the downtown library, and I’m planning to get the fourth one next if it’s available. More will come after these, of course, but I don’t like planning too far ahead. I end up changing my mind anyway. Again: ADD.
This list doesn’t counting books on craft, or personal essay collections, or issues of Writer’s Digest or Creative Nonfiction, or anything else I’m reading for spiritual growth or personal enjoyment. If I counted those, the list might be twenty times twenty.