I’ve been reading a lot of non-fantasy/SF books lately. It’s partly because I have quite the To Be Read pile next to my bed, and I figured it was high time to dig through some of the titles that have been there for quite some time. There’s a goodly amount of SFF in there, but there’s also a lot of non-genre, and I felt it was time to take a different path for a bit.
I mean, isn’t that what they always say? Read anything and everything. In among the SF I see in that picture, there’s also a Love and Rockets collection, a collection of Chinese Literature, a few mystery novels, some poetry, and a lot of Japanese literature as well.
Recently I finished reading Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which I adored, but also fascinated me due to Fowler’s wonderful use of language. And currently I’m reading Xiaolu Guo’s I Am China. Then there’s the various mangas, the music biographies, and the couple of history books (Alwyn Turner has a great triad of books about Britain from the 70s through to the 90s, if you’re interested) that seem to make their way to my TBR pile. Such is the fate of living down the street from Green Apple Books and their excellent selection!
I don’t think I’ve burned myself out on genre fiction as much as I think I’ve oversaturated myself with it. I can usually tell when I get to that point when a few things happen: the plot points start crossing over to different novels, I start comparing the characters and personality traits between different books far too much, and I start guessing the ending of the story way too early. That’s when it’s time to back away and do something different for a bit.
My usual go-to with this is Asian literature. I love how the pace and voice of the novel is equally as important as the plot itself. I love reading characters whose motives are often culturally different from my own. It makes me think about my own writing, how to approach storylines from different perspectives.
I admit I don’t enjoy too much litfic out there, but there are a few mainstream fiction authors I’ll pick up regardless. Douglas Coupland and Mark Danielewski are two of them. And of course I’ll pick up any music biography that catches my eye, especially if it’s a well-researched history of a particular genre. I’ll pick up anything by Mark Lewisohn, Greil Marcus or Simon Reynolds.
Point being…as a writer, I have to remind myself that I need to read as often as I write, if not more, and I need to keep the scope of the material pretty wide if I’m going to learn from it. I may read things simply for the pleasure of it, but even with those silly graphic novels and manga tankobon, I’m still picking up on the different ways to tell a story.