One of my favorite traditions is choosing my first book of the new year.
In normal years, I’d take my time, making the rounds of my favorite bookstores, taking hours – or days – to browse, until I found what spoke to me, what fascinated me, what I hoped would set a positive tone for the coming year.
Of course, nothing was normal about this past year or about preparing for 2021. Yes, I looked at plenty of online shops, and there were many choices. But the tactile portion of it was missing.
I could have rooted through books I’ve bought over past years and never read.
But I did not do so.
Instead, I chose one of the books I’d gotten from my library, Neil Simon’s memoir REWRITES. Why not learn from a hugely successful playwright? I made the choice shortly after submitting two plays ahead of deadline, and putting in a proposal that means I might write at least three new plays in 2021.
I’m reading several books around this book – I’m not rushing through it. I’m savoring it. I was not fortunate enough to work with him while I worked in theatre in New York, but his work was an enormous part of my life during my theatre career working my way up to Broadway, and when I was actually ON Broadway. We’ve worked with some of the same people (six degrees of Kevin Bacon), but never worked directly with each other.
It was also reassuring that I’m not the only writer willing to cut what does not work! I can also learn from what he learned did not work in his own plays. There are so many asides that make me laugh, and so many experiences to which I can relate. And several I’m glad I’ve avoided.
As I said above, I’m savoring it. Considering the ideas for stage plays I have percolating in my head, lining up in order to spill out onto the page, I think it was a good idea, on both professional and personal levels.
I remember several years ago, when I chose a literary novel as First Book of the Year that sounded interesting, built around some recent historical characters, but fiction. Only then I started reading it, and one of the main characters was committing pedophilia and I was . . .supposed to like him? To say it didn’t work for me is an understatement. I did not finish the book and got rid of it. That poor choice felt as though it tainted months into the year.
I don’t sit there and decide, “This year I’ll start with fiction” or “This year will start with non-fiction.” I choose the book that draws me at the time. As I do my browsing through shelves, what I’ve read about various books and recommendations from individuals I trust come to mind. But I’ve rarely left the house knowing what book I sought.
This year, as I tried to decide with what I wanted to start my year, I definitely wanted it to be something centered around theatre. Again, not sure at first if I wanted fiction or non-fiction. I’m more than tired of the ridiculous clichés in novels, especially in cozy mysteries, that paint those involved in theatre or film as not very bright, very selfish, and horrible people. The tone is often patronizing, the author (and the protagonist) looking down on theatre people. Meanwhile, they’re usually written by people who went backstage to one community theatre production and don’t know what they’re talking about, and certainly don’t have the physical stamina for eight shows a week, or the mental capacity to learn two hours’ worth of lines and blocking. I definitely wanted to avoid one of THOSE novels (to be fair, I am writing my own fiction centered around theatre and theatre people that actually recognizes the work, dedication, talent, and intelligence it takes to create a career in the business).
With my scripts, whether they are for stage plays or radio or screenplays, I want every script to be better than the one before. I want to take what I’ve learned from the previous process and apply it. I do this in novels, too, but because scripts involve other people more than novels do (or, at least, more people), there are often more tangibles to take from project to project.
When I came across the Neil Simon memoir, that resonance happened, like a tuning fork pairing with the right note.
I’m glad this is how I started, and I hoped to build on this year positively, as both a reader and I writer.
What reading are you starting with this year?