If you’re a writer, you should read.
There’s a long-standing debate about that statement throughout the writing community – I fall squarely on the ‘pro-read’ side. Yes, you can be a good writer without reading (though who wants to just be good?), but immersing yourself in others’ stories, in noticing skills and techniques and opening your mind to other nuances and ideas you otherwise wouldn’t have thought of just elevates you. It does something. It’s like being a chef that never tastes anyone else’s cooking – sure, you might make a good dinner, but your food will get boring. You won’t be inspired or imaginative or pick up other ways to try something.
And yes, you should predominantly read for fun (your subconscious will do its writer-y thing while you’re reading anything, anyway). However, there are some books I recommend aspiring writers read for the lessons they teach or the awe they should inspire.
1. On Writing, by Stephen King – Stephen King has had (and is still having) a phenomenal writing career. Even if you don’t particularly like his fiction novels, On Writing is so inspiring and interesting and full of the most useful writing advice I’ve ever come across, absolutely every writer should read it.
2. Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion – Isaac Marion’s writing style is breathtaking. It’s so poetic, I found myself in awe at some of his paragraphs. The story makes a deep and meaningful point about society and is beautiful in its own way, but the writing itself is what makes this book worth reading.
3. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller, by John Truby – I don’t believe there’s a definitive template or formula you can use to structure a story and have it come out a bestseller. However, there are key components that help to make a great story. While I don’t think you should go into a novel with a cookie-cutter planning sheet, this book does give you a lot to think about and shows you ways of looking at structure and characters in a way every writer should know – some of which may be useful to keep in mind when you are planning (especially if you find yourself stuck at any point).
4. A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness – This book isn’t very long (so shouldn’t take long to read) – considering that, I think it’s worth writers read it simply because the idea of A Monster Calls wasn’t Patrick Ness’s. Tragically, the original author died and Patrick Ness used her notes to write the story, and if you go into the book knowing that, it’s useful to see how a writer takes someone else’s idea and works with it. Plus, the story is quite beautiful.
5. Under the Dome, by Stephen King – In contrast to A Monster Calls, this book is an actual monster. It’s huge. But it’s totally worth it. It’s not horror (if you’re not into that), but it is so real and a perfect example of how humans really behave. Plus, I swear to this day, Big Jim Rennie is still the standard to which I hold all bad guys; I’ve never hated a character so much. Just don’t watch the tv series, because they slaughtered it.
6. We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart – I’m often awed by other writers, but this is one book where I was straight up jealous as of E. Lockhart. The way she weaves things in is unbelievable. Insane skill. This book will change you.
7. Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton – Readers are held to all writing by suspense (in one form or another – it’s what keeps them reading). If you want to learn the true art of suspense in a paperback novel, you can’t find anyone better than the master of Jurassic Park itself. There’s a reason it went on to become a billion-dollar movie franchise.