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:
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 Nor did I miss a wry smile that the novel starts in a way which unpublished authors are advised to avoid: your main character getting out of bed.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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