Sunday, April 18, 2010

What do you read? What do you write?

A friend recently asked me the question, "What do you read?" It's not all that unusual a question among bibliophiles, but it got me thinking.

I read a lot of nonfiction, and always have, in a variety of subject matters. I am intrigued by learning more about areas in which I know little, and reading other authors' takes on subjects I know well. My favorite subjects are history, politics, current affairs, and law, with some memoir thrown in.

For fiction, my favorite authors come from varied literary traditions and genres.

Number one on my list has to be Jane Austen. I love rereading her novels, watching the televised versions of her stories, and sharing commentary on both with other "Janeites." I enjoysome of the many spin-off, Austen-esque novels available from modern writers. I recently became a lifetime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), and love the chance to be among others who feel the same way.

And, since we're talking about the classics, Charles Dickens has to be a very close second. There's a reason every school child still reads his work--or should.

I enjoy literary fiction, but confess that I most often choose to read popular fiction.

Who can argue with the success of J.K. Rowling? Her Harry Potter books are entertaining, and, for the most part, an excellent example of what fiction writing should be: a sympathetic, damaged, protagonist in conflict with an antagonist of equal or greater strength, surrounded by an assemblage of memorable characters, and a story that grabs and holds the reader's attention.

Jasper Fforde is an author I might have overlooked but for a friend. Based on his recommendation alone, I purchased two books by Fforde before reading anything he had written. That is a remarkable leap of faith for me, but one worth taking as he has become one of my favorites. (The Eyre Affair is the one to start with.)

I am on my third Connie Willis book in a row. After reading The Doomsday Book, I moved on to To Say Nothing of the Dog, and now to Lincoln's Dreams. From there I'll go to Bellwether.

Jan Karon's characters and small-town settings keep me coming back. And, although not shelved in fiction, James Herriot's tales of the connection between humans and their animals are old favorites.

I have always enjoyed mysteries, since my first Nancy Drew, in part because I want to puzzle them out before the protagonist does. I will read at least one book in any cozy mystery series I can find--as much for research as for pleasure.

Looking at the list above, it seems I prefer classics, sci-fi/fantasy, and mystery. I would never have described myself as a sci-fi/fantasy reader. I don't think of myself that way, but Rowling, Willis, and Fforde wouldn't make the list if I weren't.

They say you should write what you read, yet I do not try to write fantasy. I do not consider myself well versed enough in the genre to consider dabbling in it. I write mystery, and hope that others will try to puzzle them out before the protagonist does--but fail!

How about you? What do you read? And what do you write?


  1. The advice to write what you read will either limit your reading choices, or ask way too much of you as a writer. I too read a wide variety of genres, but I wouldn't think to write in all of them. For example, I enjoy memoirs, but don't expect to write one.
    However, I would agree we must read what we write. How could you write a good mystery without ever reading one? Unless you read books similar to what you are writing, you will have no way of knowing what the reader will expect from your story--and no way of knowing if your story is already sitting out on bookstore shelves!

  2. Since my Conversion to an E-bibliophile, I have found it hard to get my fix of non-fiction material. I've managaed to get Joseph Stiglitz' "Freefall," on the basics of the economic debacle, and David Hoffman's "Dead Hand," about Reagan and Gorbachov and the end of the cold war. However, other titles, especially on current events, are just not being offer in digital format. Perhaps publishers are waiting until the release of these books in paperback to offer dowloadables. However, by then, something else may be at the top of my ebook Wish List. Even though I really want to read some of these book, I'm developing an aversion to buying paper copies.