Sunday, January 14, 2007

Writers as Readers

As I browse through the book review section of the paper, I am struck yet again by the number of books that are out there, and how few of them I've read. I used to think I was an avid reader, but sometimes I wonder. I guess it's WHAT I read. I read old classics, I read books that catch my interest when I browse in the book store or the library, I read books on topics I'm looking to learn more about, I read children's books for my teaching. I don't read from the latest best seller lists. I don't seem to read many modern novels. There's a lot I don't read.

How does what you read affect your writing? As a writer, should you strive to expand your reading repertoire? Are you ever afraid it will just paralyze your writing if you read the work of others?

4 comments:

  1. First of all, I think many of us wonder just how "good" we are, especially if you have a good deal of your identity wrapped up in it. Second, this is a thought that I think most people would have if they are "thinking" people and operate at a slower yet more deliberate way. Then we have today's reactionaries. Now to the answer that is purely in personal theory:
    I host a radio show, Between the Covers, and from the many author interviews I have done, most of them have mentioned writers that I have never read. I asked several of them this same question and they have all said, Reading more in varying genre's will help you find what your enjoy and identify with so that it becomes a mentoring thing. You know? Like you are open to grow because you relate to it and it interests you to emulate a bit. What do you think about that?
    Good thought provoking blog.

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  2. I definitely go all over the map in my reading tastes -- although I do also tend to avoid the bestseller list and most contemporary "literary" fiction.(The whole idea of classifying one's own work as "literary" strikes me as painfully pretentious.)

    I've found a lot of different kinds of stories that I might not have heard, had I kept to one or two narrow fields.

    I would also like to mention a thought I had as I was reading over the entry though. One of the genres I read which I think might have the most direct impact on my writing is biography. Getting to know the life story of real people goes a long way toward helping me develop my characters in a way that helps me make them look, feel and sound real.

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  3. Thanks for your comments, "Chaotic." I like the idea of books as mentors for a writer. In fact, I realize I often read journals of my favorite authors in exactly thatw ay, as a kind of guide to the mendset, ups and downs, hopes and fears of writers I admire.

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  4. If I had time, Lord knows I'd be reading a lot more. As fun as modern media can be, books still feel like the ultimate. A good book sucks you into another space, and you live in that space until you reach the last page.

    I do agree with the idea that people in general (and writers especially) should expose themselves to as many different influences as possible. Otherwise you're limited to what you think you know and want to believe.

    Sometimes I've felt paralyzed when exposed to other people's works, but that's been more a consequence of depression and envy. When it's that bad, they can mix and form a toxic paralytic brew. More often than not, good art leaves me energized. The good stuff leaves me wanting more, eager to hit the empty page at full throttle.

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