The Boneyard: Why Being A Good Reader Will Make You A Good Writer

The Boneyard features the best of the Writer’s Bone crew's daily email chain. Yes, we broadened the definition of “best” to make this happen.

  What the lobby will look like at Writer's Bone's future office.

What the lobby will look like at Writer's Bone's future office.

Daniel Ford: Here's the problem I've had recently. I can't read one thing at a time. I blame beign in grad school and having to read a bunch of stuff all the time. I'll get hooked on something and then flutter back to something else. I finally finished a bunch of stuff I had been reading for most of 2013, but now the pattern has started again. I mentioned I was reading to Sean at one point I was reading Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris (which I just finished!), but really, I’m also reading:

Plus, I have a stack of books that I've been trying not to crack yet, including:

Okay, fine, I also have a ton of books on my Kindle that are in various states of being read. How often do you read and what is your reading process like?

Sean Tuohy: Mother lover, I read every day. I have to read something or I feel like a junkie who hasn't gotten his fix for the day. I read on the bus going to work in the morning, on the bus going home, and then I try to fit in between half an hour to an hour of reading time before passing out. But I can’t read one book at a time. At the moment, I am reading three books and I have more on the list.

Rachel Tyner: I am always in the middle of multiple books. Right now it is Cuckoo's CallingThe Boss of You (about owning your own business), and a “Charmed” comic book Sean got me (don't tell anyone). I also began and abandoned some books too, which I do intend to go back to, including A Clash of KingsThe Birth of VenusThe Hunt for Red OctoberPrimary Colors, among others.

Wow, this is making me depressed.

My problem with reading is that it is not an activity that you can multitask. I am in the car for three hours a day, and if I want to survive I can't exactly read while in traffic. I usually get home and want to clean, and so I can put on Netflix (or the latest Writer's Bone podcast!) and be productive.

It is such a leisurely, wonderful activity, reading, but I find that I only really sit down to read when I have nothing else I feel like I need to do or comes above it on my priorities. I definitely will make it a goal going forward to read more every day. In 2014, it is my goal to finish all of the books on the list above. No excuses!

Daniel: Okay, fine, I’ll admit it. I’m also reading The Unnamed, a book by Joshua Farris about a guy who can’t stop walking, Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary, Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, and Craig Johnson’sThe Cold Dish.

I’m sucked in to pretty much every one. I have a serious problem.

But you know what? The more I read, the more I want to write. And the more I write, the more I feel like a writer. The more I feel like a writer, the less scotch I have to consume.

How does reading affect your writing? And what is it about Elmore Leonard that makes his prose so irresistible to the point you abandon all other reads and devour each morsel of hardboiled goodness (sorry, I’m sucked into Rum Punch at the moment)?

Dave Pezza: I am a large proponent of studying literature. I don't mean that in the contemporary liberal arts sense of study. Like anything else, you and learn your craft, and then you apply what you have learned. Writing, I feel, is the same way. You read as much as you can and absorb as much as you can. For me, writing and reading have always gone hand in hand. When I am reading a lot and reading more difficult authors or books is most definitely comes out in my writing. Dialogue, diction, syntax, they all naturally draw from your influences. That is how Ernest Hemingway changed American prose. Everyone began to read Hemingway, he became an institution, and more writers naturally absorbed the style.

As far as Leonard is concerned, he is one of the few authors who managed to successfully walk the tightrope between literature and entertainment. He is easy to read, mostly. His themes are rather pulpy. At face value, Leonard should be a dime novel author, but his simplicity isn't derived from lack of skill or thematic development. Leonard writes the American spirit well, the individual well. His characters, for the most part, are simple people, and I mean that in no offensive way. They're motivations and emotions are easily grasped or empathized with or judged. That's why he is easy to devour, he gives you the best of both words. A little crime, a few shootouts, but you still walk away with more than when you started page one.

Daniel: Sean and I talk about libraries in the video that we posted earlier this morning. Our staff consists of some of the younger members of the Millennial generation (you bastards), so do any of you have any memories of going to the library? What are your best and worst experiences related to the library?

Also, Here’s something I just read in Rum Punch that ties into our conversation:

“He said, ‘You name it. We’re living in the arms capital of America, South Florida. You can buy an assault rifle here in less time than it takes to get a library card.’”

Stephanie Schaefer: I loved going to the library. I remember when it was your birthday as a kid you got to "donate" a book to my school library (aka your parents paid for it and you got to put your name in it). Since I have a summer birthday, I donated a book before the end of school. All I remember is that it had ducks wearing rain boots on the cover.

And my town library used to host teddy bear picnics...badass.

Matt DiVenere: Ohhhh, the library. Let's see. In elementary school, my mom signed me up for the reading club that they had. I was able to borrow two books a week for the entire summer, and every time I read a book, I got a prize. I also got a star sticker next to my name on the bulletin board (of course this was the real reason why I was reading, to brag about how many stars I had.). I'm pretty sure I just gave away some of those prizes to my uncle for my cousins to enjoy.

My worst experience would be going to my high school "library" where we spent two hours learning the Dewey decimal system in order to get our books. Clearly, everyone in class already knew it, but it was mandatory to go to this workshop. In high school, the library was either a place to catch up on some sleep between periods or a quick route from one side of the building to the other without having to go all the way around and past all of the teachers. It's two hours that I will never get back in all of my life.

Sadly, I wouldn't go back to a library again until I had to cover an event that happened at a town library in Vermont. It was a local historian group discussing plans for an upcoming parade. That's the last time I've ever been in a library.

Dave: Libraries are paramount of successful democratic culture. The state pays for and operates a free facility dedicated to learning and self-empowerment. Amazing, even in 2014. I had a very close relationship with the Cranston Public Library in Cranston, R.I. as a youngster. I would frequent it on a regular basis, borrowing books and VHS movies, and was even part of a young reader's group there. This early relationship is most likely the reason for my fascination with the mysterious Dewey decimal system and the physical joy I feel when I step into a library or a book store; the sheer amount of knowledge contained in those locations awe me.

Amount a year ago I was coaching volleyball at my old high school and realized I have never been inside the Warwick Public Library, a place I had driven by countless times over the years. At the time I was also interested in writing a pseudo-fictional account of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment's involvement in the Battle of Bunker Hill, and I was scouring Rhode Island libraries for sources. I hadn't used my card in so long that I needed to renew. Admittedly, I don't use the library often. I tend to buy my books now. I like my bookcases in my home with my books, and I like to annotate when I read. It is most likely that we will lose libraries soon, which is a marker of the failure of democracy. I wish there was a way to signify their importance in the digital age, but I can't for the life of me think of a reason why. Could you imagine the Boston library empty of all that knowledge, like a cobra without its venom?

Also, without libraries, my hot, redheaded librarian fantasy also fades away into the realm of impossible. I'll be a very sad man/boy the day that happens. Hopefully it never will.

Sean: That Leonard statement is very true.

Look, when I say South Florida has comic-like crimes I'm not kidding. It’s kind of like the land of misfit toys down there…if all the toys were doing lines of cocaine and buying M4 rifles.

It takes about two to four weeks to get your concealed weapons permit in Florida and that's mostly waiting time. You have to do a four-hour gun safety course, sign some paperwork, and then get finger printed and photographed. You mail this off—along with a $117 check—and in return you get an ID back with your picture and the right to carry a gun.

"Concealed" is a broad word in Florida. I could take my pistol, put it in a zip lock fanny pack, go to a restaurant, and then put the gun holding pack on the table while eating. I have seen that happen before! The man came in with his family, set the pack on the table, and downed chicken wings while watching the FSU game. He freely admitted to having the gun in the pack. This was all within the law.

I decided to get my permit when I was 21. I had a friend who gave me the card for a man named "Chuck" and said his course was only $50, which was $25 less than most places. Yes, my gun safety class was done on the cheap. I showed up at a private gun range and was welcomed in to a nicely outfitted trailer by a man in his fifties with grey hair and a big smile. He stuck out his hand, which I took in to mine and discovered he did not have a thumb. No thumb! Just a stump of what was left on his hand. Mind you in his other hand was a freshly opened can of beer. Chuck it turns out was a Vietnam vet who had been an ex this and ex that. He was an all-around nice guy and a guy who knew his guns.

I know what you are thinking. He got his thumb taken off in ‘Nam, right? Yeah, that didn't happen. Turns out it gotten taken off at the gun range years after ‘Nam. I don't know the details of what happened. Now, I am sitting down at a table with a thumb-less gun safety teacher who is drinking his third beer in less than an hour and the other student who was a woman in her fifties, too much make up, talked about her cats a lot, wore a t-shirt from the musical “Cats,” and was getting a gun permit because her ex beat her up and she wanted to shoot him.

I am going to skip over the part where the teacher pulled out a .45 from a briefcase randomly, the part where the woman showed pictures of her black and blue body post-beating, and the part where the teacher and the woman start hitting on one another. Now, remember when I said the course was four hours? This class was 89 minutes long. He skipped over everything, told some stories, and then gave me some paper saying, "This guy can carry gun safely." I left that trailer very...worried.

Well, after this whole permit-getting adventure, I decided to do the next big step in South Florida gun world and go to a gun show! A gun show looks like a comic book show. People dress up in weird outfits, the tables are filled with useless junk, and the one black guy at the show seems out of place. While waiting in line—yes, there was a long line to enter the gun show—the couple in front of me struck me as odd. Not because they were a good looking couple that was really well dressed, but because the man had a Carbine rifle slung over his back and the woman had a lovely Glock clipped to her belt.

Once I got inside, I spent a couple of hours strolling around looking at every kind of weapon; hand guns, shot guns, assault rifles, World War II weapons, swards, knifes, and ninja stars. I was with a friend who was slightly older than me and he told me I could buy a hand gun. I told him I couldn’t because I did not have a permit yet. He shrugged and said, "I have my permit. I can buy the gun right now and then we go to the parking lot and I sign the paper work over to you and you give me the money."

I asked if that was against the law. He smiled and replied, "Nope."

Yeah, that whole statement had some issues. Let's start with this: No background checks. In Florida, at this time at least, you could go to a gun show and buy a gun without the seller doing a background check as long as you had your permit. That seems like a huge flaw in the system. Second, if I was a felon who needed a gun badly I could pay some fool with a permit to buy the gun for me! Another huge flaw in the system. I decided not to buy a gun that day. Mostly because at one point a man in his seventies yanked a Glock .40 pistol from between his legs and asked if I wanted to buy it.

Florida is insane. I lived there for 10 years. Is it as bad as the 1980's during the cocaine wars? No, it's much better now, but that doesn't mean that crazy left.

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