My brother and I are book nerds. Shamelessly. We finish 1 book and we add 15 to our lists. Normal people look at 15 books and think “ugh, why so many;” we see 15 and think “sweet, I’m good for four months.” (Come now, fellow nerds, you know you do it.)
For pleasure reading, I prefer classics more than anything. My brother prefers science (but lately he’s been hunting down old translated copies of obscure fantasy authors from around the world). But we don’t hesitate to crack open something different.
I’ve read most of his books (campus library doesn’t have all of his publications, it displeases me) and I recommended him to my brother because I thought he’d like the adventure and randomness. Since then, my brother’s burned his way through Around the World in 80 Days and is now on Journey to the Center of the Earth. To give an idea of Verne’s style, I had described one of his works like this:
The Secret of Wilhelm Storitz (1910) – Me: “In one book, a guy is traveling to his brother’s wedding but it turns out there’s this mad son of an infamous chemist who’s in love with the bride and uses his father’s research to become invisible to try and crash the wedding…” My brother stared at me, “That sounds awesome.”
And now my brother’s got me starting this:
Fly in the Cathedral: How a Group of Cambridge Scientists Won the International Race to Split the Atom (2005) – He explained it as the story of passionate big-name physicists who were actually pretty much just a bunch of brilliant dorks. I value people watching but I love historical people watching. First-hand accounts of real people whose passions kept them oblivious of their awesomeness are like gold to me. (I’ll research history for story and character ideas. You can’t just make some of this stuff up. Anyway, I’ll have to tell you about some of my favorite epic history examples later and if you can write something with them, excellent.)
Reading is More
When I read fiction, I like to take it apart. As a writer, I read for inspiration in technique and structure, sure, but also in the bones. I like to think of content as being subtly and uniquely colored depending upon who wrote it and why:
If it was written by a career fiction author or a PhD in theoretical physics, if they’ve published one book or twenty, who or what inspires them in life, because it’s a pay check or because they’re outrageously nerdy for it, if they like Batman or Superman, who their literary heroes are, etc.
I don’t study authors to study authors, but I’m not opposed to letting my curiosity point things out and ask questions. It’s like practice observing complete characters. If I can understand what I’m looking at in real people, I might be able to build something just as alive. Authors leave an imprint of themselves in their words. Vocabulary choices, thought flow, word economy, pace. Patterns. It’s intriguing.
Character inspiration really can come from anywhere, if you look.