This isn’t easy for me to say (or write, to be technical), but I’m close-minded when it comes to reading.
I first fell in love with reading when I was 17, and some of the first books I read once I was under reading’s spell were complex and dense tomes like Crime and Punishment or works that have received heaps of critical praise for being literary, such as Catch-22 and Animal Farm.
Not that I’m equating my writing style or quality with that of Orwell, Heller, or—gasp—Dostoevsky, but I believe I’ve taken much of what I’ve read from them and authors like them and put it into my own short stories and novel drafts. My Twitter bio is pretty upfront about this as well: “Literary fiction reader + writer,” it says.
Which brings me to the question: as a reader, should you make an effort to read not just a variety of authors, but also a range of genres? I learned the hard way that reading too much of one author can be a bad idea. I spent January of 2018 dousing myself in the works of William Faulkner, to the point where every sentence I wrote in my own short stories and half-baked novels ran on and on . . . and on, and there were more italicized words than non-italicized words on the page.
But what about getting a panorama of styles in front of your eyes when you read?
It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve made some forays into works that wouldn’t be considered strictly literary fiction, and the results have been pretty amazing. While I don’t think it’s possible to read too much literary fiction (it better not be, or else I’m never going to be a successful writer), I learned that my close-minded reading habits were limiting my writing horizons. You don’t have to be a creative writing to come to this conclusion; you’ll probably reach it on your own just by realizing how much you could broaden your enjoyment of reading by going to other genres.
I’ve since come to the view that as long as it’s a well-told story, it’s a good story. Reading the sci-fi classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams last November expanded my reading (and writing) horizons, so to speak, because until then I didn’t realize that a great tale could come from intergalactic voyages and the number 42.
Your reading niche could be elsewhere than literary fiction—in fact, I’d hazard to guess that it is. But the same principles apply. If you’re into crime fiction, you could make an easy hop over to nonfiction (literary nonfiction, I’d argue) with Truman Capote’s fantastic true-crime account In Cold Blood. Or if you can’t get enough of historical romance, I’d say that Jane Austen’s novels are the perfect fit if you’re on the hunt for classical works.
Of course, the great thing is that you can go vice-versa with this. A Jane Austen fan could get into historical romances, and a devotee of In Cold Blood should have some great fun with crime fiction titles.
The big takeaway here is that you shouldn’t be close-minded with reading. While having a favorite or preferred genre is certainly okay by me, being open to other types of narratives is a valuable quality for a reader, especially an up-and-coming reader, to have. I should know, since I’ve learned the hard way.