I have often seen it said that the main requirement for a writer is to write, write, write. That’s true, of course. But I would add a corollary: in order to be a writer, you need to read, read, read.
Mind you, I grew up in a library (my mother was a librarian, then a library director, and my first job was as a “Page,” shelving books and working the front desk), so I think EVERYONE should read, read, read. Seriously—it’s good for your brain.
But more than this, I think one of the best ways to learn to be a good writer is to read good books. I have a lot of authors I love to read, but I have a few I actually STUDY. Their writing is so clear, their use of words, or development of characters, or world-building so far above average; their work is like a textbook of “to do’s” for anyone who wants to improve their own writing. (Of course, the books are just plain fun to read, too.)
But even the not-so-good books have something to teach. If an author makes a mistake that jars me out of their carefully constructed world, I make a mental note to try not to do the same thing. If there is something about a novel that “bugs” me, I make an effort to figure it out, so I can avoid bugging my own readers in the future.
Each book is a classroom, full of lessons on how to write—or how not to.
Of course, books are much more than that. They are my therapy; refuge from a world that is often harsh and unpleasant. They are my friends, who keep me company on a long winter’s night. And they play well with others (I’m thinking of a glass of wine and a cat, but feel free to pick your own companions).
I have extremely eclectic tastes in reading, which makes sense, since I write in many genres as well. I love a good urban fantasy or paranormal romance, but women’s fiction and romance can be wonderful when the characters are solid and the story believable. And don’t try to tell ME that chicklit is dead—I love a story with humor and heart. I also like mysteries, science fiction, young adult, and even some books that are shelved with the “Juvenile” (Madelyn L’Engle’s books, for instance, which appeal to any age). And I started reading fantasy with Andre Norton as a child, and never stopped loving imaginary worlds in all shapes and sizes.
Really, my only problem with reading is that, like any other junkie, I spend too much money on my addiction…and as you can see, I insist on “pushing” it to others. Still, don’t worry about what the neighbors will say; go read a book. Go ahead…you know you want to.