Creating Your Own Required Reading List

I really enjoyed your post! I absolutely loved reading your rebuttal and almost felt like I was sitting with you out in the garage smoking a cigar. Not to be too sappy, but I felt like I was back home when I read it.

Anyway, that’s not the point of this post. What I really want to do is keep building on this argument. I agreed with everything you said. You should never force yourself to read a book you don’t enjoy just because society said you should. That’s not the point of reading, the point of reading is gaining new knowledge, new perspective, and new ideas.

When I say that there are books out there that you need to read, I’m definitely not saying that you have to read them. You’re not in high school anymore so there’s no weekly reading assignment or list of class books you have to slog your way through. You have the right to choose what you read and don’t read. When I say that there are books you need to read, what I mean is that sometimes there are books you’re not that eager to read, but you really should to reach your goals.

Going back to the food analogy, there are plenty of foods out there that are pretty much unanimously voted to be “good” for us, like cauliflower. On the other hand, there are foods out there that are “bad” for us, like cookies. However, who gets to decide what it means to be good and bad?  When it comes to food, it’s mostly based on nutritional value, but I would argue it should also be based on what you need as an individual.

Cauliflower is a bad food if you’re prepping for a run, it just doesn’t have the carbs you’d need. Cookies are a good food if you’ve had a shitty day and need a pick me. It’s all based on what you need.

Sue

What I gained from The Dresden Files was the image of a wizard riding an undead T-rex. Who could argue with the value of that?

I think this is also true for books. There are plenty of books that English teachers across the country think I should read, like Catcher in the Rye, but I don’t feel like I need to read them because I’m not going to gain anything from them. To be honest, I feel like I’ve gained more from The Dresden Files than I ever would from those books, and you’d be hard pressed to find an English teacher that would assign the tales of Harry Dresden in class.


When it comes to reading, I feel like more people should view it as a tool to grow. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with reading just for pleasure. There’s definitely value in reading a book to relax and I’ve read my fair share of pointless books just because the cover was interesting. What I’m saying is that you should never stray away from reading a book because it’s a challenge, stray away from a book because you don’t want to read it or find no value in it instead.

And, of course, whether something has value is based on what you need, not what some authority figure told you. I decided to read Dante’s Inferno, The Lord of the Rings, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Jungle because I personally decided that I wanted more knowledge on those subjects, not because I found them on some “100 Books You Need to Read to Be Smart” list.

When I say reading for sustenance, what I really mean is that you should figure out what books will sustain who you want to be. Never, ever read a book just because someone told you to.

-EMS

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Writing Rules I Want to Unlearn

Regret is universal. Despite the many motivational posters, self-help books, and poorly-designed tattoos that tell us to live life without regret, regret is something everyone experiences and just can’t be avoided.

Reading your post about how you took the “easy route” through school made me think about the Spanish classes I gave up on, the short stories I never tried to publish, and the elective classes I skipped so I could take more required coursework. There’s so much I still want to learn and despite barely being in my twenties, I feel like I’m running out of time.

But, that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the stuff I want to unlearn. Specifically, the stupid rules we were taught in grade school English. As a professional writer, I’ve had to “unteach” myself so many rules over the years so I could find my own writing voice. 

Your last post was very personal and my original plan was to respond with something equally heartwarming, but I decided a list of all the writing rules I hate would be better. We’ll get back to our regularly scheduled sibling mushiness momentarily.

Rules I Hate

Rule #1: Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.

As students, we’re all taught not to end our sentences with words like to, at, of, or by. I’m sorry, no one actually talks like this. No one says “To which restaurant do you want to go?” Everyone says “Which restaurant do you want to go to?”

Rule #2: Don’t split infinitives.

Another rule everyone hears in grade school English. I’m sorry, but Gene Roddenberry would disagree and I always side with Gene. The Enterprise’s mission was “to boldy go” not just “to go.” Stop teaching us rules based on Latin. We’re not writing in Latin, we’re writing in English.

Rule #3: Parentheses are okay to use.

No, parentheses are not okay. Parentheses are a surefire way to make your reader stumble over a sentence. If that extra piece of information is essential to the sentence, you can take the time to find it a place.

Rule #4: Always write out an acronym on the first reference.

Okay, so some people actually flip flop on this rule. For me, unless the acronym is obscure you don’t need to spell it out. Keep in mind who you’re writing for and make sure you’re not babying them.

Rule #5: Don’t write in the first person.

Why? Am I trying to convince my audience that I’m not actually a person? I actually am a person, believe it or not.

I guess I’ll stop there. I have more I could rant about, but these are the ones that come immediately to mind when I think about the rules I want to unlearn.

Of course it all depends on what you’re writing. If you’re writing for academia, rules are rules and you have to stick to them. If you’re writing for a blog, rules can be bent. You just have to learn how to ignore that voice in the back of your head, the one that sound suspiciously like your fourth grade English teacher, and write what you want to write.

No regrets.

-EMS