Being a writer— or an aspiring writer— is different. If you are a child or a plumber or a factory worker, the books you read are books you want to read. But for writers, there are books we have to read to make us better writers. There are good how-to-write books, sure. But one kind of must-read book for writers is examples of the kind of writing we do, or want to do.
For myself, right now I’m reading George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. No, I never watched the television series, and no, watching the TV series does not substitute for reading the book. I read it because it’s a wildly popular book in a genre (fantasy) which I like/write in.
THREE KINDS OF MUST-READ NOVELS
If you are a writer, I hope you are doing a lot of reading of all sorts of books. But there are three types which are kinds of books that you, personally, must-read.
- CURRENT BOOKS IN YOUR GENRE(S) – You have to know what books are selling right at this moment, in any genre you write in or might soon write in. If you know what science fiction was like in 1950, but haven’t read anything recent, you are not ready to write any kind of science fiction— not even 1950s nostalgia science fiction.
- CLASSIC AND OLDER BOOKS IN YOUR GENRE(S) – Who were the earlier writers who shaped your genre(s)? You need to read them. You also need to read older but non-classic genre books— many of your readers will have read such books. You need to know what your target readers will find ‘old hat’ or ‘done to death.’
- OUT-OF-GENRE FICTION – Successful fiction writers are widely read. That writer of best-selling romance novels? She probably reads spy novels or mysteries or literary fiction on the side. You need to read new books and old books, popular and obscure books. Even some of the Great Books, but don’t despair. You don’t actually have to read Ernest Hemingway. Pick books that appeal to you in some way.
Now, if there is a book that is popular but you can’t force yourself to read past the first chapter, perhaps that’s not the book for you. You might read three useful-to-you novels in the time it would take to make yourself finish something you can’t stand. Also, if you have strong moral objections to the content of a popular book, go with your conscience. But you need to read something. Ideally, a lot of somethings.
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