What Books Are YOUR Characters Reading?

March 8, 2015

Teenage girl reading book sitting on beachI’ve been reading an excellent memoir by concert pianist/conductor/ teacher Leon Fleisher, My Nine Lives: a memoir of many careers in music. (Note: there are two links there. The first gives you a brief bio and the chance to listen to a snippet of Fleisher’s playing, the second is the Kirkus review of his book.)

At times it is simply a fascinating story of the life and times of a stellar musician; at other times it reads like a master class in understanding and interpreting music; and it also has at its heart the theme of reinvention, as Fleisher often had to re-imagine/re-image his career and his approach to his music-making.

As I was reading this morning, I thought, “Aaron has to read this!” Did I pick up the phone, or send an email or text, to alert Aaron to the book? No. You see, Aaron is the main character in a book I am planning, although the actual writing hasn’t yet begun.

In my writing, I often include mention of books, plays or movies that particularly resonate with my characters. I hope that some of them will resonate with my readers, as well.

For books for kids, two excellent sources of potential titles to refer to in this way are Pat Tilton’s Children’s Books Heal, the blog where Pat regularly reviews books about many different issues and challenges that kids face, and Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list, which lists books under a plethora of themes with links to reviews on others’ blogs. Those two websites are treasure troves!

I don’t know of a similar source for adult books, but if you do, please let me know.

I also, of course, use the library catalog. Aren’t online catalogs wonderful? I can make a list of possible books that might fit my theme before I head to the library. (And I can request books that aren’t in any of the local branch libraries.)

Even if you don’t mention the titles in your writing, this can be a great way to get to know your characters better. What books do they like to read – or do they not like to read at all? What books do they shy away from? And the big question – WHY is this?

This can be an enlightening exercise for readers as well as writers. As you read a book, think about what books the character might read, and why they would make that choice. What does this say about the character?

It’s intriguing, and it broadens research from just hunting down facts to in-depth character analysis. It’s a great tool!

Have you ever picked up a book because you saw it mentioned in a novel?

8 People reacted on this

  1. I’ve honestly not thought much about the books my characters read, so thanks for the tip to keep it in mind!

    I wonder if the reference librarian at your local library might know of a site, or sites, that reviews adult books of various genres?

  2. To Kill a Mocking Bird was referenced in Paul Acampora in I Kill the Mocking Bird and Robert Kemp mentioned Watership Down in Banaker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees – and I put both of them on my TBR list because of it.
    This is a very interesting post. I never thought about what CHARACTERS are reading!

  3. I don’t think I have picked up a book because it was mentioned in a novel. But in my present WIP I mention a picture book, a young adult novel and Tolstoy!

  4. Somehow I missed your post. Thank you for the mention. I know I’ve picked up books referenced in adult books over the years. But, most had to do with spirituality or self-growth.

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