What Do/Should Writers Read? What Do You Read?


Anyone who knows me, knows that I am an avid reader as well as a writer. I tend to pick authors that I enjoy and read their entire body of work in chronological order. This not only brings me enjoyment, but it shows me their development as an author from their early to contemporary work.

One of my favorite authors is Stephen King. His early work is strong and definitely got stronger. When he suffered his accident and nearly died, his work suffered a bit after his recovery. He even threatened to retire, but thankfully, did not. I use him as an example because he also has one of my favorite quotes by an author:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

In the past eight months, I have written and published two novels and four short stories. I have also read somewhere around 20-25 books during that time. This may not sound unusual, but I also work 50-60 hours per week at my “day job”. How do I do this? Time management is one technique. Even though I work a lot of hours, I have a job where I travel to a destination early on Monday and return late on Thursday. There is a great deal of down time. Reading helps me to block out and reduce the stress of travel. It also makes flights pass by quickly. I often alternate reading and writing as I am on long flights. The writing depends upon my seating situation. If I am in a middle seat between to portly people, it is difficult to get out the laptop or tablet to write, so I resort to reading.

Before I started writing, reading was an escape. It was a way to de-stress from the pressures of my work and allowed me to relax and go to sleep. Since I have published my own work, it is also a way to assess other authors and look at their development as writers.

A prime example of this came to me through circumstance. A literary magazine reviewed my first book, Frankly Speaking, and compared my writing style to Elmore Leonard. I had heard the name and associated it with movies like “The Big Bounce” and “Get Shorty”, but I had never read any of Leonard’s work. I began reading from his very first novel, “The Bounty Hunters” which was published in 1953. It was a western, which took me by surprise. My book is a detective novel and I didn’t see the similarities. I’m not typically a reader of westerns, but stuck with Mr. Leonard. I noticed the lack of complex plots and well-developed characters in his early works. He also tended to end the novels abruptly without fleshing out the ending. Sixteen years and five novels later, he published “The Big Bounce”. It was his first non-western novel, but wasn’t really in the detective genre. I could, however, begin to see similarities in my use of dialog and narrative when compared to his work. I could also see his development as a writer over the 16 years.

An opposite example of this development would be in the work of James Patterson. I have read his work sporadically. I thoroughly enjoyed his early works, especially in the Alex Cross stories. His later work, however, is watered down. Most of his books these days (which seem to come out on a weekly basis) are “with” books. What I mean is that the cover will have James Patterson’s name in huge letters and then, somewhere at the bottom, there will be a line in smaller font that says “with …”. I have a feeling that the person whose name appears after the “with” is the actual writer and is writing books based on the James Patterson characters with his blessing (and substantial percentage of the profits). This is a phenomenon where a successful author has become a business and his books are like McDonalds franchise stores. I don’t read James Patterson books anymore.

My reading tends to be author and genre based. I read Harlan Coben, John D. MacDonald, and Jonathan Kellerman for the genre. I read Stephen King and Elmore Leonard for the writing style and enjoyment.  I read Hugh Howey’s books because he has hit on the formula and success that all self-published authors aspire to. I also read non-fiction books that help me with my craft. These range from books on self-publishing to works by other authors that give writing advice. Stephen King’s book “On Writing” is one of the best that I have found. I use this as a reference book. Even if you don’t like King’s books, he gives great insight and a candid view into the mind of a writer. It is amazing, based on his youth, that he is alive, let alone a successful writer.

If you are, or aspire to be a self-published author, I recommend that you read books by your competition in your genre. You can learn a great deal from the successful authors and learn even more about what to avoid by reading authors that are not successful. You’ll marvel at the typos, grammatical errors, and other pitfalls that are the bane of self-publishing. You can read some of my other blogs to find ways how to rise above this.

Again, I go back to Stephen King’s quote and paraphrase. If you are not reading, you shouldn’t be writing. Find or make the time to do it. You can’t write in a vacuum and expect to be successful.

I look forward to your comments on this post.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

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10 thoughts on “What Do/Should Writers Read? What Do You Read?

  1. I think writers should read anything that relaxes them. I’m reading a lot of books that drains me emotionally but that’s what I need to read in order to write my articles and books.

    I’m currently reading business, black history, Chicago history, success books and anything else tells me to read. I’ve read a couple books for book reviews for the Chicago Writers Association, Chicago Literary Awards and Blogging for Books. I can say that I read at least 25 books per year. I’m going to keep track next year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reading expands our understanding of what works and what doesn’t work, in writing. It also gives us a chance to escape and enjoy a few hours of pure relaxation… unless of course we are reading Stephen King, and then we just get to gnaw on our finger nails and sit on the edge of our seats, with all the lights ON. 🙂

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    • Dear Rosalie: I have just reread King’s “Cujo.” I am a bit jaded in the way of horror fiction, but that monstrous St. Bernard still threatened to scare me silly. Apart from that, King is a master storyteller who mixes his scares with humor. Have you read “Joyland” ?

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  3. Hello Don. You make some good points, and yes, Stephen King is the man. I read a lot of the classics. Dickens was a great story teller and his reveals are worth checking out. I find Hugo a little wordy, sort of like King, but on the other hand there is nothing wrong with bringing your story to life via details. Proust was an undisputed master at sentence construction. Flaubert could put the reader right inside his story. Of course I could go on but you get the idea. Too, many of the classics are free as Kindle downloads, a big plus for readers like me. I also enjoy mixing in contemporary stories as well. Alice Munroe and her short stories are fabulous. I also think all writers should read poetry. I know it helps me bring color to my words that would otherwise be lacking. Louise Gluck is a must read. If you buy her volume entitled ‘Poems’ you will have her entire collection and you can follow her development over the years. Thanks for your article!

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    • Dam, you’re right about the classics on amazon. Dickens wrote in a very understandable style. Some of his works, like Great Expectations, was written in a serialized form in the newspaper so that the commoner could enjoy his wprk as well.

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  4. I read for enjoyment and to see how successful authors write. For instance, I recently reread Stephen King’s “Cujo.” I also like the late and great Elmore Leonard. I have given up on James Patterson, as the “with” novels have no appeal to me.. I am currently rereading Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” I love his style and sense of humor.Thank you for your inspiration and telling us about some first-class authors.

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