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A writer cannot be a writer without reading.

Since COVID-19 stumbled madly into our civilization, a deranged monkey throwing bananas (yes, I know they don’t actually go nuts about ‘nanas, but they’re cuter to imagine throwing fruit than leaves and bugs, yes?) everywhere they went, I haven’t written very much. As a result, I haven’t felt like a writer.

So the real point of be writing this post is really just to practice writing. So there you are, the secret: this is just practice. If you are reading this, you’re spying on my practice. Hello.

Today, this morning while the smell of pancakes fills the house, I’m thinking about reading. I once had the habit of reading at least one book a week, almost entirely fiction books. These days, I’ve struggled to find a book of fiction that’ll hold my interest, which is funny (not funny ha-ha but funny strange, as they’d say on SNL) because my primary work is in writing fiction.

I am hooked on books. When I was younger, so much younger than today, I definitely needed books in any way –oh, sorry, the Beatles hijacked this post for a moment– I went on this bicycle trip from Canada to Monterey California, with a short ferry ride skipping one part of Washington, and along the way I stopped at EVERY USED BOOK SHOP. And bought books. This was a problem considering I was on a bicycle trip and had panniers on the bike quickly filling up with books. And this was a 7-week trip.

Well, after about 5 and a half weeks, I decided it was kinda silly to keep pedaling with one pannier completely stocked with books. So I went to the post office and mailed a box full of them to my brother in Monterey. From that point on, you can imagine how much lighter that bicycle felt going up hills. Actually, now that I think about it, the post office visit was decided right after a particularly gruesome pass somewhere in Humboldt County. I think that’s not a coincidence.

But the point: I read (past tense read, not present read) a lot. Now I’m essentially giving loving attention to one or two books a month, and usually non-fiction. I especially like to delve into books that I feel might have a positive impact on my life. Currently reading: Atomic Habits by James Clear and Red Pine’s Three Zen Sutras, his translation and analysis of The Heart Sutra, The Diamond Sutra, and The Platform Sutra. I’ve gotten into the habit of taking notes while I read, hoping that’ll shove the wisdom into my brain. Is that an atomic habit? Perhaps!

Those kinds of books aside, I do think that as a fiction writer, it’d be worthwhile for me to really get back into reading good novels that will inspire me, so I welcome any recommendations as long as the recommendations have one quality: You MUST love the book. If you don’t love it, then why recommend it? Life’s too fleeting to putter around with so-so books.

Inwardly, just even saying that, though, I cringe to think of any of my books being “so-so” to a reader. I suppose that’s unavoidable. I can’t be everyone’s cup of Earl Grey tea.

By J. Parrish Lewis

J. Parrish Lewis was born and raised in Maryland. In his youth there, he and his brother had many adventures in the dogwood forests near his home. His nostalgia for these adventures has strongly influenced his characters, their relationships, and their perspective on the world they inhabit. He moved to California’s coast to earn his degree in communications and now lives with his family in the San Joaquin Valley. Lewis is profoundly deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate. He enjoys hazelnut coffee, captioned movies, and walking his dog.

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