What writers should read

It’s been raining here non-stop – almost—for months—almost.  At least that’s the way it feels. This is terrific for our lawns and gardens, but not so much for anyone longing to get a bit of (dry) fresh air and sunshine.  If you’re anything like me, though, a rainy day is an invitation to a good book, or any book, good or otherwise.  It’s an opportunity to lose yourself in the pages (or electronics if that’s your preferred platform), to learn something, to be entertained, to be provoked, to daydream.

I have two questions for you: What does a writer read?  And…What should a writer read?

The first question is, of course, making the reasonable assumption that writers read.  Of course they read.  The answer to the question is obvious: whatever he or she wants to read.  My answer to the second question – what should a writer read – might surprise you.

Perhaps you think that writers should read about writing.  Or they should read books in their specialty area (for example if you’re a creative non-fiction writer, you should read  creative non-fiction; if you’re an historical novelist, you should read historical novels; if you’re a women’s lit writer, that’s what you should read and so on).  Of course it’s important for you to read the kind of literature that you write.  In fact, it’s probably more important the other way around: you should probably write what you like to read.  So, it’s likely that you will read all of this anyway.  But in my view it’s only part of what you should read.

I think it’s important to cross-read.  This is a natural extension of last week’s discussion of cross-writing and is related again to the concept of creativity cross-training.  Reading in genres far afield from your everyday work and writing is one of the best ways to keep your creative mind working overtime.  And it’s fairly easy to tell if you’re a cross-reader; stack up the books you are currently reading, and the books that you have on your next-to-read list, and see what’s there.

Here’s my current stack of reading-now books…

Books I'm reading now.

As I mentioned, it’s been raining, so both my husband and I have managed to take on Stieg Larsson’s trilogy and I’m on the final one The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  We added onto that experience by watching the Swedish (with English sub-titles) movie versions.  We’ll watch the final one this weekend after I finish reading it.

But you can see a real range of literature in this pile.

  • London Day-by-Day is a representation of my favorite way to prepare for a trip.  I’ve been to London several times before, but next month we’re meeting my son (who lives in Europe) there for a few days before ticking off one of the experiences on our bucket list for which he will join us: a transatlantic liner crossing from London to New York on the Queen Mary 2.  This little book series is my bible for walking new areas of cities.  Sometimes they are even useful in the future when I’m writing about those cities.
  • No Exit and Three Other Plays by John Paul Sartre is a bit outside my usual reading.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time I actually read a play.  However, one of my avocations is writing ballet libretti and I promised a new one to my son who is a budding choreographer.  I’ve been inspired by the notion of Sartre’s take on hell.
  • Health Communication – what can I say?  I’m also working on the development of a new course in my department (many of us writers do still have day jobs).
  • Finally, the book on vintage purses represents one of my passions: handbags.  I actually have a collection of vintage Coach handbags.  The truth is that one of the antique handbags I came across in my cross-reading is the inspiration for some research for another historical novel.

See, what did I tell you about cross-reading? What are you reading now?

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