Wide Reading (makes you a better writer)
First things first, apologies for radio silence. It was easter bank holiday weekend and I spent it getting drunk and going to funfairs. I may love books and reading, but it doesn’t stop me being a bit of a party girl.
I want to talk about one of the negative aspects of reading a lot. They do exist!
They exist because not every book in the world can be a mind-expanding piece of glorious literature. That’s fine! Sometimes all you want is a bit of brain candy, especially if you’re having a hard time of it lately. And bear in mind, this is not a literary/genre thing, there are beautiful, soul enriching books among even the most poorly treated bits of genre fiction just as there are dire, emotionally mean and beige works among literary.
As I said, there is nothing wrong with these books. There is nothing wrong with reading something just for entertainment. The problem comes if you JUST read these books. It’s why I say a wide reading habit is the best thing you can do… it tests your beliefs and makes you think about different things, which has the effect of broadening your horizons. But if you ONLY read one type of stuff, ONLY read generic, brain candy books, you’ll do as much damage to your thinking as a diet of pure sugar would do to your body.
But why? Surely any kind of reading is good?
Well, yes and no, and if you’re someone who doesn’t really read (freak) then reading even imaginatively narrow and poorly written stuff is a start. But, in an ideal world, you would be increasing your reading habits to include things NOT in the favoured genre. Why? Because narrow reading= narrow mind.
Certain genres of books have their tropes – techniques they use to tell the story. The best examples of genres use these tropes well, abandon out dated or unpleasant ones, or outright subvert expected tropes. The average merely use those tropes competently. The poor, however, use them with no subtlety, and it often leads to unpleasant attitudes going unchallenged by the work. For example, thrillers often have a tendency to treat women like set dressing. They’re victims or seductresses, there for the man to win. If you only read that one genre, you won’t have any opposing points of view to offset that. This can lead to problems. For example, recent controversies about racism and rape apologism in some Urban Fantasy books.
It becomes more important to read widely if you are a writer. It’s only through reading widely you can develop taste – by which I mean the ability to tell when a type of writing is bad or good – and if you only stick to one genre of fiction, you artifically restrict your writing ability. Sure, you should read a lot of books in your chosen genre (and there’s a hell of a lot of sci-fi and fantasy on my shelves) but you should also read outside it. For your readers sake, if not for yours.