Monday, April 7, 2008

Is it Okay to Read Crap?

We all know if we want to be great writers, we must be voracious readers as well.  I think that's pretty obvious.  Many assume that a corollary of this sage advice is that we should only read the good stuff:  classics, the well-written, the prize winners.  In fact, we must never pollute our minds with the junk food of the book world, such as beach reads, genre fiction, or anything poorly written, lest we imitate.  

I violently disagree.  

And I found out yesterday that I am in good company.  As yet another means of learning more about the craft of writing, and for sheer pleasure, I listen/watch lectures from The Teaching Company. (As an aside, I've never bought anything from this company that wasn't outstanding.) Right now I am watching Dr. Timothy Spurgin discuss the English Novel. Jane Austen was the subject of the latest lecture.  She was one of the first novelists to grow up reading novels,since the first novel, Pamela, published 1740, appeared only a few years prior to Austen's birth in 1775.  Austen read voraciously, as we would expect a great writer to do, but she also read widely, including what we would consider to be junk.  Austen's close-knit family also read aloud in the evenings, which would have given Austen the opportunity to see and hear what worked and what didn't.  This reading aloud surely helped Austen develop her ability to create first-rate dialog.  

I know I've learned just as much about good writing from reading the low-life stuff as I have from reading the classics, because when I read something that just doesn't work for me, I ask myself WHY in quite specific terms, and vow not to imitate.  Besides, sometimes you just have to have a hot fudge sundae, because it's fun.  


Doug van Orsow said...

I'm with you all the way on that sundae idea.

You may find my Teaching Company forum useful, where all lectures are reviewed from new courses and old favorites.

I hope you enjoy it,

Doug van Orsow

Lottery Girl said...


Thanks a million for popping in--I'd love to check out your Forum because I adore the Teaching Company. I've got the Robert Greenberg music CDs in my car right now, and they are terrific. Makes long commutes enjoyable!

Amy Dupire said...

Hi, Lottery Girl.
I think I got something from The Teaching Company in the mail. I wonder if it's the same thing you're talking about.

I agree with you on reading CrAp [g] Thought I don't have time for a lot of it right now. Priorities, right? But then again, sometimes Twinkies are priorities and fiber isn't.

Lottery Girl said...


You might have received a mailing from The Teaching Company. You can click on the hyperlinks in my post and compare. The CDs/DVDs are expensive, but they put every one of them on sale at least once per year. I always wait for a sale. I have never purchased anything that wasn't fabulous. I still think about the material after the course is long over, the same way a great book stays with you.

I usually get a course for my bday or for Christmas. The kids and I listened to The Aeneid on a road trip last year, which was cool since I taught them Latin, and they remembered reading passages from it in Latin.

I am already relishing re-listening to a CD I bought last year. That's how good the lectures are.

Jenny Graman Meyer said...

I completely agree with you about reading crap as a way to improve one's own writing. This is one reason I think critique groups work so well - especially if there are a mix of skill levels both above and below your own level. It's so much easier to train your eye to look for mistakes in people who are just starting out, and through this you can learn to find these same errors in your own writing.

Lottery Girl said...


You are so right!

I just read a book of fiction that was set in my time period--turn of the century. I found the overly-formal language extremely off-putting and even a little snobby.

It's the sort of formality I was striving for in my writing because people of that era DID have richer vocabularies than we do now. After reading this other book, not only have I changed my mind about my own writing, but I can now see that these "unnatural" chapters in my WIP are the ones that are not working, and now I know why.

Amy Dupire said...

Yes! I did get a mailing from them. I was interested, but suspicious. I'm glad to hear you liked them so well, I'll have to get some of the courses some day, as some did really interest me.

Wow, what curriculum did you use for Latin. I'm doing a classical education--for the most part, but we're doing French to begin with since I speak it. But, I may think of adding Latin at 4th or 5th grade. My Latin's pretty rusty, haven't used it since college, but I could stay ahead of the kids, I think.


Lottery Girl said...


I used Latina Christiana, which can be used starting in Kindergarten. They start off quite simply with 1st declension nouns. After we worked through that series, I did purchase the Henley, which is extremely thorough and strict. We didn't use that too much because the kids took the Latin online through Florida Virtual School. Between three kids, we had five different teachers over the years, and they were all terrific.

One thing--Latina Christiana and Henley both use the pronunciation that is used today, while most others use what's called Classical pronunciation. whatever. Doesn't make a huge bit of difference, because there aren't Romans around today to correct you.

Latina Christiana also has a class in Logic, which we used. They also have some gorgeous CDs containing Latin hymns, which I still listen to for my own pleasure. And yeah, you can easily stay ahead of the kids. It gets tough when you get to the third year in high school, because there is a huge leap in difficulty. In 3rd year, you are suddenly reading Ceasar's commentaries.

Still, even two years would be fabulous because you would get all the word roots. Although English is a Germanic language, 60% of our vocabulary is Latin.

A Novel Woman said...

Okay, HOW did I not know about this? This site is awesome. I always wonder what presents to get Doug, since in all honesty, he _needs_ nothing. But this is something he could really get into. We just bought a bunch of books on Rome (Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day!) and now I see they have a DVD on Ancient Rome that might be just the tickety-boo. Do you get audio or DVDs or what?

Thanks, Lottery Girl. You rock!

Love your fellow nerdette

Lottery Girl said...

Dear NW,

The Teaching Company actually gives you advice on whether to buy DVD or CD. Obviously, the CD is cheaper and you could listen to it in your car. But then , you can't see the cool pictures, if there are any.

I especially like listening in the car, so I look for things that are more suitable for the car, such as the music CDs. I think some of the Art history courses are only available in DVD form, which makes sense. Most of my history choices have been on DVD so that I can see all the maps.

Also, only buy the stuff on sale, because it's much too expensive otherwise. Remember, all courses go on sale at least once per year. This was my xmas present this year, and they actually had all the courses on sale then. Like I said, I've never bought one that wasn't outstanding. They have excellent customer service and they have amazing guarantees.

A Novel Woman said...

You'll have to post a reminder at Christmas time, okay?

I have a mind like gravy these days.

(What the heck does that mean??)

DavidY said...

Robert Greenberg is my favorite instructor of all the lecturers. I have all of his opera sets.

There's a small group of us in a Facebook group if you'd like to join.
(Need to be a member of Facebook to join).


Lottery Girl said...


Thanks for your comment--sorry I didn't respond right away, but I didn't see it until today.

Yeah, I just finished Robert Greenberg's How To Listen To and Understand Great Music and I am DEPRESSED because it's over. Of course, I'll listen to it again, but still!

Are you an Opera fan? Have you purchased any of his lectures on individual composers? I'm looking to get a couple of those.

I'd love to join you at Facebook, but for now, I do not have an account.

Thanks for stopping in!