I regularly turn to my writing critique group to share my WIP and gain valuable feedback from fellow writers.
But I also find much value in my monthly book group—and not just because I love to read and then discuss what I’ve read. I marvel at how divergent opinions can be about a book. I’ve wondered at times: Are we talking about the same novel?
Sometimes—actually, rarely—the group coalesces in full delight about a book. More often, some love it, some find it so-so, and some are outright sorry they read beyond the first chapter.
Of course, sites like Goodreads offer ratings and reviews on books for people who don’t have or don’t want to be in a book discussion group. But sitting together with a glass of wine and a plate of snacks is my preferred way of finding out what others think about that new novel or latest work of nonfiction. (My group reads both.)
As a writer, I also see how my take on a book is often at least somewhat different from a nonwriter. I can get caught up in the craft—how do the sentences flow, why did the author use that story structure—and forget that most readers just want a good story. The structural elements are important; they are the solid framework upon which the good story is built. But many readers are willing to give a pass on less-than-perfect structure if they are compelled to keep turning the pages to find out what’s going to happen.
It’s often a reminder to me that as writers we can’t predict what will appeal or connect with readers. One example is Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins. While I thoroughly enjoyed the novel—the crisp narrative, the layered characters, the grim depiction of war—I was disappointed in the ending, which I thought was a cheap shot, the equivalent of a story in which the main character wakes up to realize it’s all been a dream. But one member of my group gave an alternative explanation. For her, the ending with its surprise reveal represented the awful price the soldiers paid: that they forfeited their future, of what might have been. I had to agree.
The devil is in the details—not only when moving forward with any plan—or with life, but also when working to make a novel, short story, or even narrative nonfiction come to life for the reader.
I found the rooftop garden because of Captain America. We’ve become close friends, he and I. He depends on me for fresh greens, and I depend on him to keep me from taking the last step off the ledge.
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