Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Anthony Doerr enlightens readers about “All the Light We Cannot See”

In All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr, Loveland Loves to Read, Reading on September 30, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anthony Doerr, right, signs copies of his books at the Loveland Loves to Read author talk Sept. 24 in Loveland, Colo. With him is Carol Morganti, member of the Loveland Loves to Read Committee, who hands over copies of books for signing.

Boise, Idaho, author Anthony Doerr starts with the eyes of a housefly to describe his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “All the Light We Cannot See.”

Flies have two compound eyes, each made up of 3,000 to 6,000 simple eyes, enabling them to see elements of light invisible to the human eye.

Doerr presented an image of a fly’s eye during a slideshow he gave as part of his author talk Sept. 24 for the 15th annual Loveland Loves to Read event, presented by the Friends of the Loveland Public Library Foundation at the Roberta Price Auditorium in Loveland, Colo. His 2014 novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction a year after publication, as well as the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

“I’m sure you’ve heard Loveland loves artists … we’re here to tell you Loveland loves readers and writers as well,” said Peg Isaakson, chairwoman of the Loveland Loves to Read committee to introduce “An Evening with Anthony Doerr.” “The art of painting a story or documentary involves using words well, and that’s what we’re here to celebrate.”

The Story’s Inspiration

Doerr talked about his inspiration for the novel, the unseen light waves that make up technology. This includes the radio power serving as the center of the story of a blind French girl and a German orphan in occupied France during World War II.

“I want my reader to re-see things we take for granted or no longer see,” Doerr said.

Doerr began his presentation with his childhood, saying he was a dilettante or dabbler with many interests but no real commitment to any one thing. He couldn’t figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up but it was often based on his current reading. By the time he was in college, he treated it like an “all-you-can-eat buffet college course catalog,” not wanting to declare a major before having to pick something—for him, it was history.

“Sometimes we get stuck in our own lives, and we forget our own perceptions,” Doerr said as he presented close-up images of his fascinations that included blood cells, Velcro, flecks of salt and pepper, a banana and the eye of housefly at 1,000 times magnification. As he dabbled in multiple subjects, he recorded things he found to be interesting, allowing him to see ordinary things in extraordinary ways, he said.

Doerr threw out some extraordinary facts, such as the most common form of communication is light and that 80 percent of deep sea animals create their own light. He wondered about other things, too, such as “why snow crystals bother to be so beautiful” and why only some memories remain intact and others are lost.

The Structure of the Story

Doerr built his novels and short stories and developed the identities of his characters around the facts he collected, relating what he learned through story to help the reader enjoy his sense of awe. “About Grace,” his first novel published in 2004, relayed his fascination with snow, while “All the Light We Cannot See” focuses on his love of the many aspects of light and how light is perceived.

“I had a sense she could see things he could not,” Doerr said, referring to Marie-Laure and Werner.

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For “All the Light We Cannot See,” Doerr started with his title and on a book tour in France in 2005 tumbled on his setting—and then he had to do more research for a year on the place and time of war, getting yet another college education, he said. Once he began to write, sometimes he’d make it only three sentences before he’d have to stop and do more research.

An Old Story Becomes ‘New’

Doerr took an old story and oft-written subject and made it new, shaping the story’s structure to mimic a labyrinth.

“I want it to feel like a labyrinth, where the reader feels their way through it,” Doerr said.

He spent a decade solving the puzzle of the structure, which employs the use of short chapters and alternating storylines, and how best to relay the history, His approach to writing was reflective of how he hopped around in his many interests, with the book taking its initial shape out of chronology before he strung it back together into a sense of order for the reader, he said.

“Sometimes it’s good for the mind to make things no matter how well they’re received. For me it’s almost a prayer,” Doerr said. “It’s good for the mind, the soul and the people around you.”

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Magazine Obsessed

In Reading, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Processes on September 6, 2015 at 11:00 am

I am magazine obsessed, at least when it comes to magazines for writers.

I subscribe to “Writer’s Digest,” “The Writer” and “Poets & Writers,” but unfortunately, I’ve fallen behind. I have about a dozen issues to catch up, because I wasn’t reading magazines for a few months.

Life happened. Writing didn’t, or not so much. And the magazines remained in my closet.

To get myself back on track, so that I’m reading two months ahead of the publication date (I love how publications send you your subscription before it hits the stands, so you’re smarter and ahead of the trends), I stuck magazines in my book bag, my work folder and anywhere else I could stash and carry a copy. Basically, I wanted to go to the post office, get my magazine and start reading, instead of thinking, “Oh no, I have to add to my magazine pile!”

In fact, I used to be two dozen copies behind, and I entered a magazine reading frenzy at the beginning of the year. Appointments, breaks and spare moments became a time for reading about writing. What resulted is a kind of dialog, where I kept absorbing new angles, new ideas and new information about the elements of writing, the craft of storytelling and the life of writers and how they approach writing discipline, motivation and craft.

As a writer, I can’t stop learning about the craft, because even if writing stories and novels follows structure and form, ways of understanding and approaches differ. Reading magazine articles layers in details of understanding the craft, so that it’s a constant learning process.

I made my work breaks a focused way of working my way through the magazine pile. I write as a journalist and spend two or three evenings a week working on my novel, editing other novel projects and writing the occasional short story or poem. I write and write some more; i.e., it sometimes seems like too much.

But if I spend a half-hour flipping through the pages of a magazine, reading about writing, I relax, especially if I’m outside in the sun absorbing the rays and the words. I get inspired to go back to work, thinking about what I learned about writing and the writing life.

The reading causes me to be more absorbed in the process, because I’m not just writing after work but constantly refreshing and reading new material.

So, I don’t know what I’ll do when I get through my pile.

Maybe I’ll have to return to eagerly awaiting my next issue, ready to read every article, but slower to make it last.

The Joy of Reading

In Reading, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on February 16, 2014 at 11:30 am

What comes first, wanting to be a writer or being a reader?

My guess is the second, or if not, wanting the glamour or the passion of the first.

I started with reading, loving the escape of books. I made sure I understood the meaning of words individually and together in sentences and paragraphs, and then could picture each detail from the landscape of setting to the psychology of character.

Over time, I became less of a careful reader, going for the movie screen effect, so that the words fly by into a colorful unrolling of setting and action. I want to read fast to feel the characters and the world of the book come alive, but doing this, I lose the individual words.

Reading multitudes of books (for me, about one a week) offers a way to absorb how other writers approach description, character development, dialogue and storytelling. It’s a way to experience different styles, or ways of using language through word choice and sentence structure.

Alternatively, by reading slowly, you can be more conscious of how you evaluate the writing. You can look at how the writer specifically employs each element of writing and assembles sentences and paragraphs, instead of doing so at the subconscious level.

As you read, slow down and ask these questions:

• Does the plot maintain your interest? Are there transitions, or does the storyline feel episodic and choppy?
• Are the major characters realistic? Do the minor characters serve a role in the story without drawing too much attention to their identities?
• Does the description of the setting make you feel like you’re there or do you trip over the words, because it’s too flowery and long?
• Is the dialogue how people talk without everything spelled out but with underlying meaning and an unspoken understanding between the characters?
• Is the theme played out in a new and interesting way, or do you feel like you’ve read the book a hundred times over?

Sometimes if I don’t like a book, I don’t just put it down. I try to identify if it is the style I dislike, or if it something about the storyline or the character development that bored me.

Reading makes for better writers, and writing makes for better readers as you learn about and develop a better understanding about what constitutes a great novel.

Reading to Write Better

In 52 Writing Topics, Reading, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on March 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

In my chase of 52 writing topics in 52 weeks, I am pausing on reading as a type of prewriting.

At least this is what I tell myself. I am a bibliophile addicted to reading and have to read at least every other day. I can go without reading for one day, but not two in a row.

I can give up caffeine easier than books, and when I do – usually when I’m sick in bed or trying to be healthier – I get the withdrawal headaches. I don’t get headaches when I don’t read, but I’ll start plotting how I can get my next reading fix.

Like caffeine giving energy, reading is essential to becoming a better writer. It is a way to experience different styles, or ways of using language through word choice, sentence structure and description.

The words are absorbed like anything wet into something dry, expanding the dry object so that it has more heft. So will your vocabulary, giving you more options in how you describe the people, places and things of your fictional, or nonfictional, world.

Another aspect of reading toward writing is thinking about what you read. This can be done by analyzing the different elements of how the story is put together, looking at the plot, characters, setting and dialogue and the author’s voice.

Here are some possible questions to ask while reading:

* Does the plot maintain your interest? Are there transitions or does the storyline feel choppy and lack transitions?

* Are the major characters realistic? Do the minor characters serve a role in the story without drawing too much attention to their identities?

* Does the description of the setting make you feel like you’re there or do you trip over the words, because it’s too flowery and long?

* Is the dialogue how people talk without everything spelled out but with underlying meaning and an unspoken understanding between the characters?

At first, I used to read just for pleasure, but now I engage in reading analytically, asking what I like about the story elements. If I don’t like a book, I don’t just put it down. I ask why and try to identify if it is the style I dislike, or if it something about the storyline or the character development.

As a final note, I think to become a better writer, read on a regular basis. Take your book with you wherever you go.

* See Zoey my dog’s blog on reading at Zoey’s Paw. http://zoeyspaw.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=493&action=edit