I’m always seeking advice from fellow authors. I’ve been told many times that ‘to be a good writer, one must read a lot’. Certainly, like most authors, I can say I’ve read a lot of books. Out of curiosity, I wondered if I’d be able to tally the number of books I’ve read in my lifetime. I figured this would require some crazy calculating, so I prepared my pen and paper, drawing neat lines of novel categories, eager to begin.
I started with literary classics, including titles I’d read in high school—Wuthering Heights, Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, etc. After reviewing my list, I stumbled. Surely I’ve read more than 10 classics? Of course I have. But try and recall them all? Impossible.
Time to move on to horror novels. Scary books are easy to remember. Chilling psychopaths and evil-eyed clowns were added to my list. Okay, maybe I can do this.
What about romances? After all, this is the genre I write in, so I should be able to recall every single romance book, surely? Ahhh . . . not really. I’ve read oodles of romance books (and women’s fiction books highlighting romance). I’m attracted to a cornucopia of titles sitting on the N.Y. Times Bestseller’s List, in addition to novels by unknown authors and celebrity tell-all’s. In fact, each time I venture into my local bookstore and peruse the New Releases, in any category, I realize (alarmingly), I’ve read nearly every book on the shelves. My rewards card is bulging with points!
After a while, I gave up with my list, concluding that although I may love to read, I cannot even come close to guessing the number of books I’ve read over the years. Being a fan of numbers (and anything that can be categorized and counted), it bothers me slightly that I cannot come up with a nice sum. Say, one thousand and twenty three books. Or more specifically, two hundred biographies, five hundred romance novels and three hundred and twenty three horror novels. I just can’t do it. So the question then becomes, What have I learned from so much reading? That I can answer.
- I’ve read a lot of books. All genres, many different authors.
- My reading preferences are eclectic. Romances, horror novels, self-help books and endless survival-themed autobiographies streaming out of China, North Korea and the Middle East, fill my list.
- When writing, avoid word repetition. All authors make this mistake. Even great ones.
- Heroes sometimes materialize in the most unlikely people.
- I like to read about people making it to the other side intact. Survival stories are always inspiring.
- I’m terrified of clowns.
- I’m a sucker for a happy ending.
- Avoid overuse of adjectives.
- It’s nice to lose myself in a fairytale plot between a hunky hero and a gorgeous, feisty heroine. Romance novels reinforce that love is always possible.
- Reading has shown me the importance of description (settings, people, moods), as well as character and plot development.
Without a doubt, reading enhances writing and makes for a better writer. And though I may not be able to pull a magic number out of my hat, the number of books I’ve read isn’t what’s most important—it’s whether the books I’ve read (and will hopefully write) leave me with a memory, a feeling or an impression. If, at the end of the day, I’ve been informed, entertained, shocked or inspired, that’s all that counts.
By Kim Hotzon