I went to a fabulous seminar at Writers Victoria this week, presented by Danielle Binks about reading widely for writers. It may seem a little odd to think that writers need a tutorial about reading, because after all, if you write books, then it must surely follow that you read books and would hardly need to be told how to do so. Yet as Danielle explained, writers usually fall into two categories of readers – we either read only in our own genre or read too narrowly within our own genre.
When I look back on my reading list for last year, I can see that I read mainly middle grade fiction, adult fiction that would probably be classified as women’s fiction, a little bit of young adult fiction, and non-fiction about creativity and parenting. So plenty of room to add crime fiction, science fiction, fantasy, biographies, autobiographies, historical fiction. And even though there is so much room for improvement in this area, I think I need to read more widely in middle grade fiction, for 8-12 year-old readers.
I love my monthly bookclub meetings – mainly for the lovely friendships but also because I read books that I haven’t heard of before.
And why, you may ask, is all this important? Well, Danielle explained that if you only read in your own genre, you will never break beyond it, you will only be a pale imitation of the best writers in your field. Seems to me that it is true in any field.
I remember watching Australian Story a couple of years ago and seeing Professor Graeme Clark, who invented the cochlear implant, explain how he came across his brilliant idea. He was sitting on a beach, turning over a shell in his hand and observing how blades of grass were flexible enough to reach all the way inside it. He could see how similar the shell was to an ear, and he knew then how to solve the last piece of the puzzle. If he had stayed in his lab, ignoring the beach, he would not have changed the lives of thousands of deaf people.
Back to reading and writing – how can you write an original book if you are living and breathing the narrow world of your genre?
I think reading widely is true for kid readers, too. One of the greatest gifts reading can give anyone is a sense of compassion. You can understand the deaf protagonist’s perspective, you live the life of the athlete who was never quite good enough, you become the mother living hundreds of years ago who lost half her babies in childbirth, you understand the protagonist who was brought up by an alcoholic father. For kids, reading can offer insights into the home life of a school bully, into the feelings of the kid who can never keep up at school, into the thoughts of the kid who is never invited to parties. And if you read the same sort of book all the time, your world is narrow, and your compassion is limited.
So, I intend to read more widely this year to become not only a better writer but a more compassionate person! Anyone else have any reading plans for yourself or your kids this year? Or a book recommendation to help me read more widely?