Literature Aspiring Writers Should Read – Part 2

Faces in the Water – Janet Frame (1961)

Skills acquired by reading:

~ The way to create an external world and circumstances that symbolise or reflect an internal one.
~ The way to express loneliness, emptiness, and deprivation in subtle, tugging ways.
~ The way to write about large-scale oppression and unfairness in society by focusing on micro-world experiences.
~ How to get away with not using commas during chains of adjectives, verbs and even nouns (see also Jeanette Winterson for this).
~ The way to use personal experiences to create a narrative that does not seem indulgently autobiographical.
~ How to write about a mental hospital, and about mentally-ill individuals, without resorting to clichés and presumptions (see also Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Susanna Kaysen’s Girl Interrupted).

‘There was obviously a crime which was unknown to me, which I had not included in my list because I could not track it with the swinging spotlight of my mind to the dark hinterland of unconsciousness. I knew then that I would have to be careful. I would have to wear gloves, to leave no trace when I burgled the crammed house of feeling and took for my own use exuberance depression suspicion terror.’

Available in Random House Vintage, February 2008, 9781741666083 or purchase Faces in the Water & Edge of the Alphabet from Fishpond.

Death in Venice (short story) – Thomas Mann (1912)

Skills acquired by reading:

~ The way to express ecstatic joy as experienced by gazing upon physical beauty.
~ The way to weave depth and history into your story, connecting it with humanity and stories past by utilising mythological imagery.
~ The way to create an ordered, structured character then disrupt them with a catalyst, creating an awakening with dramatic consequences.
~ The way to create reader interest and conflict by utilising a struggle between the Dionysian and the Apollonian in character, theme and even prose structure.
~ The way to describe a place so that visitors will reminisce on its fictional construct many, many years from the story’s publication.

‘By art one is more deeply satisfied and more rapidly used up. It engraves on the countenance of its servant the traces of imaginary and intellectual adventures, and even if he has outwardly existed in cloistral tranquility, it leads in the long term to overfastidiousness, over-refinement, nervous fatigue and overstimulation, such as seldom result from a life full of the most extravagant passions and pleasures.’

Available in various collections of Thomas Mann’s short fiction, including Death in Venice and Other Stories, Random House Vintage, 1998, 9780099428657 or purchase Death in Venice and Other Stories on Fishpond.

See Part 1.

2 thoughts on “Literature Aspiring Writers Should Read – Part 2

  1. Thank you for posting part 2! I have been wating for it! But at the moment I am hooked on Julio Cortazar and his short stories, so these new explorations will have to wait. At least I can read Thomas Mann in the original German.

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