Thursday, January 12, 2017

Read-Along. Like a Ride-Along. But with books.

Let's pick up with the reading theme from the last post, shall we? I mentioned that I want to read a lot more than what is required for my work life. But there's one part of work-related reading that straddles the work and pleasure reading columns.
It's what I call the Read-Along. This is something I offer to do with my writing coaching clients, or sometimes writers for whom I'm editing a manuscript that's in need of more-than-moderate revision.
What we do is carefully choose a book that speaks to the very particular writing challenges that client is facing—and then we both read it, simultaneously.
Sometimes we read just a chapter at a time, and I follow that up with a series of questions. Or I ask the writer to note down observations. Other times, we read bigger chunks, then we check in, sometimes with a longish phone or Skype call. Or we read it through quickly, then make our way through again slowly, zeroing in on something in particular—say, the chapter endings, or time movements, or structure.
On one hand, it's like a tiny little book club for two. But it's really a very focused reading-like-a-writer activity, customized for that writer's interests and writing goals, and making some of the same demands as the reading annotations required in many MFA programs.
Sometimes we're in search of quality prose, a tight story, a prime example of a form. Or we're looking at a particular type of book or story structure or organization; a genre that's new to the writer-client; maybe a POV she's never written in before.
Though it's often a book I'm already familiar with, and I read it again as the client reads, some of the most memorable read-alongs in the past couple of years were books that were new-to-me.  
I've read-along to a couple of young adult novels (with a fiction writer who typically wrote very long novels for adults); an emotional memoir (with a journalist who wanted to stretch beyond just-the-facts); and a humorous novel made up of very short chapters (with a nonfiction writer hoping to turn dysfunctionally funny family episodes into fiction).
Though typically separated by hundreds (maybe thousands) of miles, being "on the same page" (sometimes literally on the same day) as a writer I'm working with is a singularly enriching experience. It's one thing to say, "go read this book." It's another to be having the parallel experience, and knowing we're going to discuss it later.
I have one such read-along coming up. This time, it's a themed essay collection—for a writer-client itching to edit an anthology. While her story editing skills are strong, the idea of assembling the varied pieces is a mystery. We're going to be looking at the mix of essays and authors; how the pieces differ and what ties them together; the order and flow of essays; and the variety and level of prose in the different pieces. (And, as it's a book I haven't read before, it will do double duty for my 2017 reading challenge list.)
I can't quite recall how I got the idea for the Read-along; it may have simply been a client frustrated with something, and me thinking of a book she could read that might help…and then realizing I'd be better equipped to help if I re-read that book too. Or maybe something else. What I know is that the activity seems to deliver beyond what I'd originally hoped. Plus, it's kind of fun.
Reading should be fun. Even when it's not precisely "pleasure reading." Right?

1 comment:

sjwaswood said...

Out of curiosity: what was the title of the humorous novel made up of very short chapters? Looking for humor in an extremely compressed and demanding period of life -- very short chapters sound like a dream come true! I have followed and enjoyed your blog for some years now.
Sara R.