What I'm Reading, by Bri Lee


There are two main groups of books I make time for: books that are good to read because they are like my own book, and books that will make me a better writer.

I used to love YA fiction, but I find it difficult to put time aside for this any more. I’m not sure why I feel the need to justify it. The genre is hit-and-miss, and I think I’m afraid to borrow or buy a ‘miss’ of a post-apocalyptic YA novel because when it’s bad, it’s bad. Upon writing this reflection I think I will insert some back into my list though actually. I’ll never forget how The Hunger Games trilogy re-lit a unique fire in my belly I hadn’t felt since Harry Potter and Tomorrow When the War Began. Those books are the ones that keep me up all hours of the night. I love it when a plot rockets along. I love it even more when I can latch onto a strong heroine.

Artwork by  Shauna O'Meara

Artwork by Shauna O'Meara

Of the books in the first category, I consider them most of them as “work” but also I love them. They tend to be memoirs or non-fiction, written by an Australian and female author, and they explore an issue in society.

This is because I am writing a book that (I hope) is all these things. Five of the best books I have read recently that fit this category are: Avalanche by Julia Leigh; Reckoning by Magda Szubanski; Small Acts of Disappearance by Fiona Wright; The Boy Behind the Curtain by Tim Winton; and Only by Caroline Baum.

When I first started working on my book, about a year ago, I got a lot of conflicting information about whether or not it was a good idea to read around my work-in-progress. Some writers say that you’ll accidentally adopt other styles, or lose your own voice, if you read “around” your work. I felt a bit silly asking this question of some writers I admire. Each had different thoughts on the matter. In the end I decided that if I read tons and tons of books “around” mine that there would be no way I could accidentally internalise someone else’s voice. My person opinion on the matter now, is that having read so many books of similar themes/functions, I can see clichés and lazy structural devices easily, and can try to avoid these in my own work. This flipside of this is when you read a book “around” your own that is so good that it makes you give up hope for your own work. Why even bother? I asked myself about my own book upon finishing Small Acts of Disappearance.

Of the second category, I am not too proud to say that I am a try-hard. I read books about writing all the time. I have a lot of them. I wouldn’t say I’m “insecure” about not having gone to university for creative writing, but it’s something that worries me a little sometimes. There are odd gaps in my knowledge. Nobody has ever told me what to read. I didn’t get any kind of overall list (and no, I don’t mean “the canon”) in order to understand the history of writing and where I might or might not fit into it. I have to Google things a lot.

So I read books about writing voraciously. I’ve been reading On Writers and Writing by Margaret Atwood, Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living edited by Manjula Martin, The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr, Why We Write edited by Meredith Maran; and The Writer’s Room edited by Charlotte Wood.

I like reading about their writing practices and trying out different things that work for them. Hearing stories about them going through rough patches and getting to the other side is important for me. Again, there is a risk of comparing their “finished product” (successful life) to my “first draft” (ugh my life) but overall I learn a lot.

Aside from books there are certain periodicals and magazines I make time for. I read some things online, but not as much as I probably should. I pick up a standard newspaper about twice a week but I live in Brisbane and The Courier Mail makes me cranky.

Bri Lee is a Brisbane-based writer and the Founding Editor of the feminist magazine and community Hot Chicks with Big Brains. Her debut memoir Eggshell Skull will be published by Allen & Unwin in early 2018.