My very first powerful experience with reading came when I was in grade school and I discovered The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. I’d seen an animated version of the story on TV not long before, and the discovery that things on TV might be based on books that I could read over and over again was kind of mind-blowing (I am old enough, remember, to have lived during the dark times when TV shows were on once and often never seen again—a time before streaming, before DVRs, before color and music). To then discover that there were six sequels was almost too much for me.
I took the Narnia books out of the library again and again for months, just bringing them in so I could check them out again. When I finally bought copies for myself with my allowance, I noticed for the first time there were other books I could read, too. And so began my Life as a Reader.
Naturally, for a long time my reading was confined to classic fantasy like Tolkien and any fantasy story that involved people traveling from this world into a magical universe. If the cover art implied high school kids fighting orcs, or businessman learning to fight for his life in a sword-based gladiator school, I was sold. And in turn its little surprise that the first five thousand things I wrote when I started working on my own stories were just pale imitations of that basic trope—kid from this universe travels to magical world. Because my reading was pretty monochromatic.
Read to Write
You’ve no doubt heard the advice that if you want to be a better writer, you should read more—more often, more widely, more deeply. Reading anything will teach you something, but you also need to read diverse books by diverse authors. You want to learn as many different lessons from as many different people as possible. So when someone tells you to read more, do it—but read outside your current channels as much as you can. Read other genres, read books by authors outside your cultural experience. Read YA novels, and literary novels, read history and academic works, read everything.
Diversity moves along the Y axis, too—time. It’s easy to get stuck reading only current authors. It makes sense, even; if you want to sell work to the market, it’s good to know what the market has embraced recently. But you should also delve backwards in time. Read books published long ago—and not just the received “classics” of literature. Read pulp, read dimestore paperbacks, read serialized 19th century novels by someone not named Dickens.
Don’t just read more—read it all.