I have successfully converted my dear First Reader into a ‘jelly snob,’ as he puts it. From being satisfied with strawberry, and sometimes for a change to have grape, store brand colored wiggly sweet stuff in a jar, we have gone to eyes lighting up at the idea of blackcurrant preserves. Today, he said as he opened the jar, it’s special jelly. Tomorrow it won’t be special any more.
And you are looking at your screen reading this and wondering if I have lost my pea-picking mind (oh, yeah, I need to plant the peas, thank you for reminding me) and what this has to do with reading, or writing. Well, I was thinking about this the other day, and the jelly comments cemented the ideas in my head (or is that gelled? LOL). Our reading tastes change. Not to say mature, even, because I have been reading ‘grow-up books’ since I was about six or seven.
We may start out happy with plain old store-brand strawberry jam, and then someone shares their wild-strawberry handpicked and made with love jam, and the world stands on its ear. Books that did this for me often got read to pieces, they were so well-loved. I think I have owned a half-dozen copies of Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October. Nearly that of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor (currently I have Shards of Honor, but not Barrayar thanks to a loan never returned). Dorothy Sayers – all of hers, and it’s spoiled me in many ways, reading her and then trying to read other mysteries. Kipling, but especially Kim and Captains Courageous.
What books have affected you that way? Broadened your mental taste buds, and made it hard to go back to the bland books that are so popular? For me, sometimes it is entirely unexpected. I will never forget my first reading of Dave Freer’s Rats, Bats, and Vats, it was so real I could almost smell and taste the action, and enhanced by my immediately recogizing what the alien was (it’s a marine creature! so cool to my sealife geeky side). Oh, and… but there are so many. I’m not making this into a list of my favorite reads and authors, I’d like to hear what some of yours are, and why.
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, its that the special jelly is delicious, and some authors are unforgettable and head-and-shoulders above the others. As a writer, I challenge you to re-read some of your favorites and think about what it is that makes these books better. Why is this book wild-strawberries and not generic red jelly that is labeled strawberry? Not films, or TV, but books… as a writer, the one thing that will improve your writing is more reading, and furthermore, thoughtful reading of the good stuff. Go on, be a jelly snob. And if you can’t find the jelly you like in the store, make it yourself!