As you may have noticed, I’ve been reading an eclectic variety of works lately: Cisneros’s short stories on the Chicano/a and Latinx experience, Watson’s erotica, Chandler’s Christian memoir, and so on. At the moment I’m reading a controversial book about economic disparity. (The review for that will come at a later time.) I know that this list seems rather random. If I had read this as someone else’s reading list, I’d think the same thing. However, there’s a reason why I’m reading diversely–to this degree–and it’s not just because I have a book review gig on Fiverr. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a bonus but it’s not the only reason.
I have always sung the praises of reading diversely. The problem is that I’ve struggled to put my money where my mouth is, especially for the past couple years. I’m a fantasy fanatic, sometimes delving into science fiction, Gothic horror, and the occasional historical fiction or self-help/inspirational text. My tastes just lean that way.
It’s OK to have your specific tastes–great, even, since you’ll be able to narrow your search for new books a little better. Still, reading diversely can have numerous benefits for you both as a writer and a person.
As I indicated in my first post on genres, I hate when people restrict their reading choices due to genre preferences. You have no idea what you could be missing. Different genres can teach you about different aspects of writing. For example, genre fiction as a whole (fantasy, science fiction, romance, horror, etc.) focus on plot. Literary fiction, on the other hand, relies on character development and narrative voice. Fantasy can teach you about world building, horror about suspense, pedestrian fiction about simplicity of plot and the emotional gamut, and so on. You can learn something about every aspect of fiction no matter what genre you read, but you learn more the more widely you read.
You can also increase your empathy towards and understanding of groups of people whom you otherwise would not associate with or wouldn’t ask about their experiences. George Eliot, in The Natural History of German Life, claims that art is “a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow man beyond the bounds of our personal lot.” Literature, as a form of art, allows us to witness those experiences which we will never have, contact those people whom we will never be able to reach, and amplify experiences we’ve had in order to gain a better understanding of them.
I would personally be too nervous to ask a Chicano/a or Latinx individual about their experiences because I’d be afraid of offending them. With Cisneros’s work I can get a glimpse into the lives of such groups and cultivate a better understanding of their struggles not just as a culture but as real human beings. (These days it seems that people have to reminded that people of other cultures are still human beings.) I would also never be able to understand the experiences of Christians if it weren’t for books like Chandler’s because I am not Christian and most of the people in my life aren’t, either. The more diversely I read, the clearer (albeit more complex) my view of the world becomes.
Reading diversely can make you a well-rounded writer and a well-rounded person. We may not want to read certain works because they offend us or we strongly disagree with them. Odds are we won’t mesh perfectly with every book we come across. That doesn’t mean we should entirely close ourselves off from them. That’s the kind of closed-mindedness that leads to censorship, challenged books, book burning, and misinformed conflict. Our world and our writing won’t get any better if we don’t open ourselves to new ideas.