Writers are usually avid readers. I suppose that it is expected of us, and possibly even required – although I’m certain that many of the classics were written by authors who did not read widely since there was so little to read (this is a theme I’ll get back to in a later post). I’ve given some thought before to the books that shape us as writers, but I’m still left wondering if others might be a little like me. Sometimes, when I come to the end of a book, I have a deep feeling that I wish I had written this book. It occurs to me that an examination of those books might provide insight into what we ought to be writing about – rather than simply always writing about what we think we should be writing about (or worse, only what sells).
I wish I had written…
Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline. This book affected me even beyond my deep feeling that I wish I had written it. An important examination of an industry that affects all of us in one way or another, this book is one that needed to be written, and needs to be read. This feeling of a book that needs to be written, coupled with my interest in the subject matter were the factors that perhaps conspired to make me wish I had written it. The author, Elizabeth Cline is an American journalist whose commitment to the investigation of the North American penchant for disposable fashion resulted in a story that had my head spinning – although much of it did not come as a surprise – and I avoid disposable fashion like the plague, given my penchant for quality.
Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster by Dana Thomas. As I closed the cover of this book I had a very distinct feeling that it was one I should have written! A social history of the luxury goods industry, the book is also well-researched, lucidly written, informative and entertaining. The fact that it focuses on a topic that has been of interest to me since I started researching the marketing tactics of luxury goods manufacturers in my day job (don’t ask!) might also make it the kind of book that I would have liked to have written.
I wish I had written…
The Thoughtful Dresser: The Art of Adornment, the Pleasures of Shopping and Why Clothes Matter by Linda Grant (who is also a novelist). This book had me at the following statement on page 10:
“I consider it to be absolutely normal to care deeply about what we wear, and detest the puritan moralists who affect to despise fashion or those who love it. Who shrilly proclaim that only vain, foolish Barbie dolls, their brains addled by consumerism, would wear anything but sensible clothes made to last. As if appearances don’t matter when, most of the time, they are all we have to go on. Or sometimes all that is left in the ruins of life.”
This paragraph encapsulated for me the conundrum of my life as a professor and writer – and someone who has always enjoyed the fun of dressing. On a university campus, dressing fashionably is viewed in much the way Linda Grant describes. She nailed it. Oh how I would have loved to have written this book for my colleagues to read!
So, these books all do seem to have things in common. But what strikes me most is the fact that they are all non-fiction. I hope my inner writer is listening. I’ve been focusing my future writing on fiction – which I love to produce – and yet the books I wish I had written are all research-based, narrative non-fiction.
A few years ago during one of my many searches for an agent (two searches were successful; neither of them sold my manuscripts), one of them snottily said the following to me: “If I had a dime for every bona fide non-fiction writer who wanted to write fiction, I’d be rich.” Then she refused to represent any fiction I might produce. I guess I should have been happy to have been referred to as a bona fide non-fiction writer, which I suppose I am.
So I think I’m going to consider this analysis of my own reading interests. Don’t get me wrong, though, I love to read fiction. I just wonder how much of it I should be writing.