I was at lunch with an editor today who noted, “I can’t imagine what you read for fun is the sort of stuff you represent.” It took me aback, and a sort of generic, “I’m an omnivorous reader…” response was at the tip of my tongue until I actually took a moment to think about it. (Bonus points to me for thinking before speaking!)
I represent a lot of paranormal fiction, young adult novels, the occasional narrative nonfiction, cozy mysteries, and contemporary romance. The last few books I’ve read? Chad Harbach’s literary debut The Art of Fielding, Danielle Evans’ story collection Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self (can we agree this is the best title of the year?), and Justin Torres’ stunning novella We the Animals. And I’m currently toting around the new Jeffrey Eugenides.
Sure, if you go back another few weeks, you’ll also find Marie Lu’s YA debut Legend and urban fantasist Karen Marie Moning’s Shadowfever, but as much as I enjoyed those books, when I read them, I kept thinking about them as signposts in the marketplace. “Oh, so this is what the competition is doing.” Awareness of the market is important, of course, and I’m glad I read both. That said, I don’t know that my motive for reading either was purely pleasure.
For me, there is a healthy level of awareness of the market that needs to be maintained—not just knowing what the competition is, but also actually reading said competition. On the flip side, if that was all I read, I suspect I might actually lose my mind. I need to read great books that aren’t at all related to what I do because I put a lot of importance on the ability to bring a fresh mind and an energetic eye to new material. The best way I personally know to do that is to recharge periodically by getting lost in a good book. And how lost can you get when your reading experience is spent analyzing a novel in comparison to other novels.
So my question for you, dear readers, is what your own approach to reading is while you’re writing. Do you exclusively read in the categories you write in? Do you also need to “turn off” and recharge with a great book from a totally different genre from time to time? Or (gods forbid), do you not read at all while you’re writing?