The Book Nook: In Praise of Reading Widely

by Lori Walker
published in Reading

My reading has always been a bit all over the map. It’s gotten more so over the past couple of years, and even more so since I started cohosting the podcast. To be sure, there are still certain genres that aren’t my jam, but I am trying to find ways of subtly incorporating them in my reading life because I thoroughly believe in the value of reading widely.

As a person who mostly writes non-fiction, I definitely make room for fiction in my life. For a long time, I was very selective about the books I would read and stuck mostly to the classics. But the more involved I got on Bookstagram, the more contemporary literary fiction I began reading. This kept me going for quite a while because there’s a lot of variety within that umbrella.

However, the last year has led to a veritable explosion in the genres I read. I started picking up a lot of contemporary romance novels last summer, probably because Taylor Jenkins Reid’s last couple of novels have been pretty good gateways to romance. Lately, I’ve been picking up more YA (probably because of the upcoming Writer Igniter YA Summit) and sci-fi (probably because of the podcast). But I still get a heavy mix of romance and literary fiction and non-fiction as well.

For whatever reason, this topic has been on my mind for a while. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump and have been reading widely to try to break it. But the more I think about it, the more I can see the benefits of reading widely, both as readers and as writers.

Benefits of Reading Widely

You can learn from different genres.

This is a benefit of reading widely that I hadn’t thought of before a recent podcast interview. I was asking the author about her inspiration for the book we were discussing and she talked about how she was inspired by a number of genres, not just the one she was writing in.

She pulled craft lessons from different genres. Sci-fi and fantasy novels do an excellent job of world building. Romance novels do a great job of creating character arcs. And thrillers can teach you a lot about plot and pacing. 

To be sure, you need all three elements within a single story. But when you think about what draws readers to different genres, this rings pretty true.

Sometimes you just need a break from your genre.

Like I already mentioned, I mostly write non-fiction, so if I only read within my genre, I’d never get to read novels. I love novels! They are a great escape for me.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like reading too much of the same thing over and over without a break. Even though I frequently tell myself that it’s a good idea to go ahead and buy book 2 of a series or another book by the author I’ve been reading and loving, I never wind up reading another book by the same author after I’ve finished one. My brain just craves something different and I would venture to guess you’re the same.

It’s definitely important to be well-versed within your genre because you need to know the tradition you’re coming from as well as what’s been done so you can write something fresh. You also need to know what other people are doing currently, again so you can carve out your own niche within the genre. And of course you like reading the genre you write, otherwise why would you write that genre?

But I think it’s important to give yourself a break sometimes so that you don’t get burnt out. 

This leads me to my final point about the importance of reading widely…

It can spark creativity.

Another author I interviewed for the podcast said she doesn’t really have a genre, but she gets inspired by the different genres she reads. She wrote a thriller when she was reading a lot of thrillers and she wrote a sci-fi when she was reading a lot of sci-fi.

I think this makes a lot of sense. Inevitably, whatever we read shows up in some form in our writing—I’ve heard of authors who don’t read or avoid certain genres when they are in heavy drafting mode because they don’t want outside influences seeping into their work—so why wouldn’t it also spark an idea in the first place?

There have been plenty of times when I’ve had creative energy to burn, but no focus for it. The usual things aren’t speaking to me, so I look for a different outlet in the hopes that something sticks. And it usually does. Don’t be afraid to go looking for that source of inspiration.

These are just three of the benefits of reading widely. There are tons of other reasons you should consider reading widely.

Tell us in the comments: What are your reasons for reading widely?

Lori Walker is the Operations Maven at DIY MFA. Though she’s fallen off the wagon as a writer, she’s hoping to return to writing essays (perhaps even a novel!) through her involvement with DIY MFA. She is also Launch Manager, Web Editor, and Podcast Producer for DIY MFA and a Book Coach. She resides in Smalltown, Oklahoma, with her husband and their cat, Joan Didion. You can follow her on Instagram at @LoriTheWriter.

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