Reading & Other Authors

Reading Outside My Genre

Not surprisingly, since making the commitment to write light-hearted women’s novels, most of my reading has gravitated towards the same genre, with the odd self-help or writing manual mixed in. Here’s a tiny peak at 2013 for me:

2013 reading

But I think it’s also vital for a writer to read outside their genre. I was considering this as I slotted my latest audio book choice into my car’s CD player: The Last Assassin by Barry Eisler. My main reason for picking this action thriller is that Eisler will be speaking at the San Francisco Writers Conference, which I’m attending next month. I figured I’d get more from his keynote if I was familiar with at least one of his books. And even though some of the bloodshed in the novel caused me to question that decision, I’m happy to invest ‘reading’ time on unfamiliar terrain.

Because, no matter what the genre, the principles of great story-telling remain the same. As I listen, I’m thinking about Eisler’s choice of point of view, the length of passages with no dialogue or action, and how he has dealt with this being just one of a well-loved series. Even if bloody killings aren’t my cup of tea, I can appreciate (and question) the appeal of his work.

Likewise, with Gone Girl, an audacious thriller set in the context of unravelling relationships, I wasn’t too caught up in the whodunnit tale to miss the author’s accomplishments with alternating, unreliable narrators and detailed set-up work. Nor did I miss a wry smile that the novel starts in a way which unpublished authors are advised to avoid: your main character getting out of bed. Perhaps I found the early part a little too detailed and perhaps I didn’t love the ending, but the whole way through, I was admiring and learning from Gillian Flynn’s superior writing skills.

No, I’m not deluded enough to think that reading Dickens and Austen will turn me into a great writer, but I suspect that reading a book outside my favourite genre makes it easier to spot the writing techniques, choices and mistakes that other authors make. And I humbly hope to use those insights to sharpen my skills and make my next book even better.

Whether you’re a writer or a reader, do you stick to one genre for pleasure reading? Why, or why not?

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12 Comment

  1. Reply
    Marina Sofia
    January 22, 2014 at 12:56 am

    Very good point – I sometimes stick too much to the genre I write in (crime fiction) for my reading as well, but it is important to venture outside it. And I’ve also been known to be shamefully snobbish about certain genres – I wouldn’t be caught dead reading that etc. But there’s no such thing as a ‘bad genre’, only bad books!

    1. Reply
      Pauline Wiles
      January 22, 2014 at 12:15 pm

      Marina, once I began writing, I realised how much skill goes into books we might dismiss as being too formulaic or fluffy.
      And my own abilities land me firmly in the ‘lightweight’ fiction category; much like a foreign language, I can appreciate books which are far more clever than the ones I am able to write!

  2. Reply
    January 22, 2014 at 2:19 am

    I seem to have the opposite problem, which is: I am terrified of being influenced by other books in the same genre I write, therefore I don’t tend to read many books of my genre. Crazy, right? Last year, I only read two books in my genre (one of which was yours, Pauline!) I have this kind of phobia that somehow, consciously or unconsciously, I might copy some of those ideas and put them in my future books, or even worse, I might discover that the story line is very similar to the book I’m writing, hence I’d rather not know and carry on as normal.

    So, I’ve been reading books of complete different genres, mystery thrillers, crime fiction, sci-fi, humour, ghost stories; the only stuff I will not read are books with excessive violence in them.

    But I must admit, I love reading books of different genres, it kind of opens up a whole new world to me. It’s interesting to see, for instance, how romantic scenes are depicted by an author who writes sci-fi, compared to an author who writes romance, same result, but different words 🙂

    1. Reply
      Pauline Wiles
      January 22, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      That’s a great point, Martina. I know I cringe if I come across something similar to a draft I’m working on, and there is always the worry of what our sub-conscious might soak up.

  3. Reply
    January 22, 2014 at 5:20 am

    I try to be an omnivorous reader. I believe reading all genres helps writers extend beyond their chosen genre to include something fresh. I even dissect goal, motivation, and conflict as well as character development and dilemmas when I watch TV and movies. Can’t away from being a writer!

  4. Reply
    Julie Valerie @JBValerie
    January 22, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    So funny that you wrote this blog post – I swear, you and I are kindred spirits – because when I was logging my “read” books on Goodreads – I didn’t include the books I read outside my genre. And I really struggled with the decision.

    Here’s my secret confession: I love apocalyptic fiction. If the world is coming to an end – I love reading about survival. Not so much the sci-fi-aliens-have-come-to-crush-humanity stories – but other things like zombies, EMPs, grid down situations, the moon getting knocked out of orbit. Love it.

    Does that mean I’m bi-genre?

    Should I be coming out of the closet?

    Please advise. I can’t afford a therapist.

    1. Reply
      Pauline Wiles
      January 22, 2014 at 5:30 pm

      Yes! Come out, come out! I’m not a zombie-lover myself, but I reckon, whatever fuels your writing creativity or reading pleasure is a good thing. 🙂

  5. Reply
    Prince Snow Farm
    January 26, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    I know what you mean about sticking too closely within one genre….and I am (usually) pleasantly surprised with something different or new!

  6. Reply
    January 26, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Nice compilation of 2013 reads! What was your favorite book of 2013? I’m always looking for good recommendations…

    1. Reply
      Pauline Wiles
      January 26, 2014 at 5:35 pm

      Trish: both ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘The Light Between Oceans’ were amazing, although I wasn’t in love with the ending of either of them. They were certainly the strongest in terms of writing, although not especially feel-good subjects.
      For purely light entertainment, ‘Remember Me’ (Sophie Kinsella) was great fun.

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