How reading can sculpt our mind

gargoyle - reading like writersLately I was reading an article about reading habits and cognition. In this article the researchers claimed that reading literary fiction can boost our cognitive performance a lot more than popular fiction can. They said that, “just as in real life, the worlds of literary fiction are replete with complicated individuals whose inner lives are rarely easily discerned but warrant exploration.”

A literary continuum.

In a quite caustic tone Ezra Pound wrote that “The secret of popular writing is never to put more on a given page than the common reader can lap off it with no strain whatsoever on his habitually slack attention.”

For sure, popular fiction is often formulaic and presents somewhat stereotyped characters. On one hand this makes for a very easy read, but on the other hand it adds next to nothing to our baggage of experience as readers. However, I must also say that out of sheer boredom, on more than one occasion I had to put down a so-called literary work.

As a result, I believe that literary and popular works aren’t completely distinct entities. Rather, they fall on a continuum. A continuum that over the last few years has seen a proliferation of new genres, and an evolution too. In fact, among the mountains of new novels that are published every day, I believe there is a sizable section of popular works that aren’t easily classifiable. For example, works that have gripping stories, sure, but whose characters are quite troubled and multifaceted. Works that make us think. Continue reading

Inspiration–is it really so important for your novel?

After having reread and revised it at least five times, I’ve just sent off my first short novel, Ruin, to my editor. If everything goes as it should, within weeks I should manage to publish it.

I wrote the first draft of Ruin in about three weeks. The story came to me easily and I enjoyed writing it. Then, after a pause to let it settle, to put some distance between me and the world I had imagined, I began the revising process.two coffee cups and a pair of glasses making up a face - Inspiration--is it really so important for your novel? - Peter Rey

Though I had already edited a conspicuous amount of works before, the very first day I realized that the editing of Ruin was going to be a far less pleasant process than the previous ones had been. So much so that I found myself more often than not struggling just to keep my butt glued to the chair, to keep my fingers working the keyboard. Continue reading

The traditional novel — one thousand years old and still alive

clock - traditional novel - Peter ReyWriting has been invented more than 3000 years ago.

The first novel ever written was written by a woman in the year 1007.

Since then, millions and millions of novels have been written. Indeed, we can say that the traditional novel truly represents a millenarian form of art.

Yet, over the last few years, I heard on more than one occasion someone say that the novel is dead. That no traditional novel can match the immersive power of computer games, of interactive novels, and adventures.

For sure the advent of the digital era has made relatively easy the creation of new forms of art in which different media are mixed to create a rich and multi-layered ambiance, in which contents can be consumed interactively.

However, the rise of these new forms of art–or maybe simply entertainment — doesn’t necessarily mean that older forms have to fade into oblivion.

I think this is particularly true of traditional novels, which are sometimes disparaged by those who are all for the new digital technologies for their lack of interactivity, and the static nature of their content.

In particular, I think that this static aspect isn’t at all a weakness. It’s an asset instead, one of the features that make traditional novels such interesting representations of certain dynamics of life.

In fact, a traditional novel doesn’t give any choice to its readers. They can read it or put it down and forget about it, of course. But if they read it they have to follow the story the author decided to tell. The story the author crafted and brought to life. Continue reading

Writers who don’t read, an ossimoron?

a man and a book - writers who don't read - Peter ReySure, writers who don’t read aren’t really that common, but they’re not so rare either. In any case, some time ago, I came across the “confessions” of a young writer. She said she didn’t read much. Almost nothing at all.  She explained that she did so not out of a sort of repulsion for books by other authors, but to keep her voice, her style, as personal as possible. In short, she didn’t want to get influenced by what she read.

Now, this might seem an interesting position. After all, any serious writer works hard to develop a strong personal voice. A voice able to grab the readers since the very beginning.

Think, for example, of Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, and the way even the first few lines can give away so much about Humbert Humbert’s character:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

The Myth of Purity

However, as interesting as it may seem, I think that this self-preserving strategy is to say the least questionable. In fact writers aren’t some sort of entities living in a void. Apart from their ability for putting words together, they’re just normal guys living in the world we all live in. Continue reading

On Writing – Starting out and Setting Goals

footsteps on a beach - setting goals - by Peter ReyWhen starting out, setting goals is essential. I mean, for this post, my very first post I wanted to write something brilliant, something memorable. For a while I examined, and subsequently discarded, many different ideas. I also worked my ass off to find elegant and dazzling ways to spark up my writings. But I soon discovered that no stylistic ruse and no idea was ever going to be good enough for my lofty goal.

After the umpteenth draft and the umpteenth change of subject I was frustrated and spent to say the least – but not an inch closer to my goal.

At this point, exasperated, I decided to take a break. I went to the kitchen and made myself some coffee. I made it steaming and black, in line with my mood.

Once my caffeine reserves were restocked, my spirits instantly perked up again, and I decided that even though I couldn’t write anything decent, I could at least go out for a run. You know, to decompress. Continue reading