I don’t remember which one of my professors during undergrad said it, but the statement that there are two different kinds of reading has stuck with me for some time. The first type, so said this now-faceless individual of many-classrooms-ago, is reading for reading. The second type is reading for writing.
I’m not sure if that’s entirely inclusive, but the idea in short was that there are some books which we read simply for the experience of reading them, and there are other books which we read because they are excellent models of a technique or style of writing that we want to convey in our own work. And then, of course, there are some books that function perfectly well as both.
Ecstatic Inferno, by Autumn Christian, is a book of short stories. The tales it contains—which vary in content and setting from the gothic to the futuristic and spin webs over many chasms in-between—are as beautiful as they are dangerous. For while you can certainly read them for reading’s sake, so to speak, you can’t get away with doing so casually. This is not your easy winter cabin read. This is the type of book you look for when you want to think—when you want rich ideas and details to be smeared into your brain. This is the type of book I would recommend to someone who wants to learn what prose can look like when delicate touches combine with broad, bold strokes.
The literary quality of Christian’s stories is as engaging as their content. There is no hand-holding for the reader. You will find no simplicities or over-wrought and contrived narrative structures. This is one of the main reasons which would lead me to recommend it for those of you who are wanting to learn to write…anything, really. Too often we see the stylized, the genre-cramped and well-mouthed formulas, and it’s easy to understand why writers do this: it takes real effort to find anything to learn from that isn’t rife with such. This is why it is vital to be made uncomfortable by a story, to pick the pieces that will make you think, not only about what they are saying, but also about how they are saying it.
Of course, that is not to say that you should pick apart and dissect the diction, the syntax, and all of the other beloved literary terms. Nobody writes like that, and readers shouldn’t read like that. But you can’t understand what writing outside of the jumbled toy box of structures and formulas looks like if you’ve never seen anything other than that. So if you have some time this summer, claim yourself a copy of Ecstatic Inferno and let it seep in. Enjoy the ride and the opportunity to learn a little something about the craft; it comes less frequently than you might think.
(Buy Ecstatic Inferno here!):
–image credit amazon.com–