Today Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography was released. Although many sites have been focusing on the juicier elements of the book, this article caught my eye. The article highlights the books that influenced Steve Jobs the most.
Included on the list are books like Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, King Lear, Moby Dick, the poetry of Dylan Thomas, and Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. What struck me about this list was how varied it was. Yes, I realize that the list is a “greatest hits” sort of thing, encompassing Jobs’s lifetime, but I think that variety of information was a key to Jobs’s creativity.
Two quotes often repeated by writers within science fiction/fantasy/horror circles are these:
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
― Stephen King (On Writing)
“Read a lot & outside your comfort zone.”
― Neil Gaiman (quoted here, but I believe the original source was a Twitter Q&A that was part of 1 Book, 1 Twitter’s reading of American Gods)
I think many writers, myself included, do read a lot. Most of us probably have a few books on our person at any given time, and we probably read thousands of words online every day. But how widely do we read? For example, I’m currently reading Reamde and re-reading A Clash of Kings. Good reads, but genre reads. So how do I increase variety?
RSS feeds. Collect a ton of feeds and arrange them by topic. Scan your feeds during your morning coffee looking for particularly interesting posts. Every few months, add new ones and delete some old ones. Start reading experts in a field you are not familiar with. Collect feeds from a newspaper you disagree with.
Your local bookstore. What are the best sellers? Yes, feel free to make fun of a few, but look for trends. What’s popular in different genres? What’s popular among non-fiction? Do your RSS feeds keep mentioning a new book? Are you familiar with these trends and topics? If not, maybe you should try learning a bit more about them.
Newspapers. You thought I covered that in the RSS feeds? That was for information. Now I’m talking about book reviews. Most newspapers cover a variety of genres. When’s the last time you read some literary fiction? YA? A collection of essays?
“Great Book” lists. When was the last time you read a classic? Maybe you should pick something from St. John’s College Great Books program. Or the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels. There are many such lists. Some are broken down by country or century. I know this sort of reading may feel like going back to school, but these books have survived for centuries for a reason. Wouldn’t you like your writing to do the same? Learn from the masters.
Yes, I know your stack of “Books To Be Read” has its own shelf in your house. But variety is important because exploring the unfamiliar will spark ideas you wouldn’t normally have. It will make your writing unique among your chosen genre. We live in an age of “a modern twist on…” and “a mash-up of…,” and while some of these combinations can be derivative, others are wildly imaginative. If you only read within your genre, how will you introduce something different and new? Seek out the new and unique, because assuming a basic level of talent, unique writing often leads to published writing. And what writer doesn’t want that?
How do you increase the variety of your reading list? Post your tips and tricks below.