Friday, May 9, 2008

To Read Or Not To Read

We are told, “read what’s out there,” “read in your genre,” “know the market.” On our blog we have a section, “What We’re Reading” and we debate if we should list only the books for children we’re reading. Well, I have a confession….

I don't read in my genre. Or let me rephrase that, I don't read "what's out there." I read constantly, occasionally two books at a time, but I don't like to read children's literature. Now, you may wonder, what's a person doing writing for children if they don't like to read children's literature? Well, I am confused on the issue.

When I children's literature I have one of two reactions. The first occurs when I read something WONDERFUL like Neal Shusterman's Unwind or Barry Lyga's Boy Toy. I think, Oh, my goodness, this is fantastic. How could I ever compete with this? The second reaction comes when I read something different, perhaps something on the NYTimes Best Seller List for Chapter Books or Series Books. And I think, Oh, my goodness, this is crap. How could I ever compete with this? Now, maybe there is worth is knowing what's out there. Personally, whatever my reaction, I find it depressing.

I read extremely little in my genre - historical fiction. Mostly because I am afraid. I am afraid of inadvertently plagiarizing. (For the record, I haven't plagiarized since I was six and decided the world needed more Little Bear stories). Now, that's not to say that I haven't read the classics in children's historical fiction. I just tend not to read the current stuff. And especially not if it's something I'm currently working on.

So, do we read in our genre or do we avoid it? The verdict is still out for me. I peruse a lot. I spend hours in the bookstore picking up books, thumbing through them, reading a page here or a page there, but to actually sit and read a whole book! Nah....I'm still avoiding that.


  1. You have a point - up to a point. I can see your fear of inadvertently cribbing phrases, descriptions, or dialog. But how about structure? I have always found it helpful to study how someone else develops plot because I know plot is one of my weak points.
    I learn by seeing the various ways to frame a story, whether it is fiction or a picture book.

  2. Meg,
    When I was teaching, I read YA all the time and knew lots about authors. And I can't say many teachers read any children's literature and they all should be. Now that I'm trying to find my own voice, genre, etc. I only read adult -- and several titles at once, and abandon books frequently. Not sure that's a stage of life I'm in where I can't seem to focus, or my overactive, ADD brain, or my lack of tolerance if I'm not into it right away. But that said, I have other questions: what makes a book like Secret Life of Bees (I'm doing a study guide for Penguin now so am rereading it)- an adult novel and not an immediate YA? The protagonist is a 14 year old girl, trying to find out who she is, who her mother was; she takes a journey, etc. I digressed.
    Reading in the genre we write? I'd say, any reading helps us write. Lisa

  3. That's one that plagues me as well. I've been reading YAs carefully - meaning trying to avoid ones that are most like the ones I write - for the same reasons you mentioned. Unless it's one of my favorite authors, then I'll pick it up. I think that's why I'm into the vampire subject right now - completely not "my thing". I've also been reading YA male authors lately. John Green, M.T. Anderson, and most recently Jay Asher. There's a definite difference between male and female authors.(and not just the obvious, wink, wink) It's an interesting study. I also agree with Gale - reading in my genre (or any I suppose) helps me study structure and how others weave plot threads together (or not!)

  4. I've been reading a lot of MG fantasy/science fiction lately. I think it's more helpful than harmful. It gives me a concrete sense of what sells in the marketplace--what I'm up against. Call me crazy, but since I still hope to sell my book one day, this is not only useful but, I think, critical information. I learn about creating a successful fantasy setting, not to mention the basics like voice, plotting, etc., from these books. I just see it as doing my due diligence. And I make it a rule to steal as little as possible! ;-)

  5. I probably read children's novels vs. adult novels at a rate of twenty to one. This was not always the case, and the ratio seems to grow larger every year. I simply connect with a well-told, sparsely-written story more than I do a longer, more meandering tale.

    I don't worry about how reading others' works affects my writing. I hope it does. I hope that by reading and admiring good work, my own writing grows stronger.

  6. For me, reading a lot of a single author/series would probably be most worrisome. (My sixth grade winner in the Young Author's Contest was highly influenced by Trixie Belden.) But, when I read so widely in children's literature (which I have to do in my job, with my son and for fun), it doesn't seem likely that any one piece will overly influence my writing. Also, I agree about learning structure from published works and seeing what is currently selling. This is helpful for me both with books and magazines. (And, for the record, I still love series like Shadow Children, Dragon Slayers Academy and Emily K. Windsnap, but now I intersperse these titles with many other books rather than devouring them one after another like I did as a child.)