Julia Spencer-Fleming: Every writer – I was going to say every fiction writer, but I suspect non-fiction authors and memoirists and poets have the same issue – eventually confronts the question of what to read while working. Not at the beginning of the book, necessarily, or while researching or later, at the back end, editing and proofing. But when your teeth are at the throat of the thing, wrestling with language and plot and characters until you feel like the WWF on a Saturday night, you find there are books you can take, and books you cannot.
I don't mean those works that sit beside the computer to which the author refers feverishly throughout the current project. They're usually not the sort of things you want to sink into at the end of a long day: in my case, the working pile consists of baby name guides and books on Adirondack geography, flora, and fauna; compiled histories of small upstate New York towns and true crime texts; the Book of Common Prayer and a Hymnal.
But most authors get into the game because we're desperate readers, and cracking open a good book at bedtime or on the lunch break or in the bathroom is what we do for fun. (On a side note: has anyone else ever had to fill out a form detailing your leisure interests only to realize you're the most boring person ever? Hobbies: Binge-watching Masterpiece Theatre and reading.) The problem arises when you find there are certain types of literature you have to avoid unless you want to either become an inadvertent plagiarist or throw in the towel in despair and return to the law. (If you didn't come from the law, this can be a particularly difficult path.)
I cannot consume other authors' mysteries while trying to hammer out my own. I recall one time, when I was re-reading my friend Jeff Cohen's Comedy Tonight series, which are pretty much straight-up silliness with a few deaths thrown in for Jeff to hang gags on. The next day, my police chief and priest started cracking wise like Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. Or two years ago, when I picked up Kent Krueger's ORDINARY GRACE. I spent a whole afternoon crying and reading, reading and crying, and it was only a stern talking-to from my husband that kept me from quitting writing altogether.
So what can I read? Historical fiction has always been a favorite, and right now I'm enjoying WOLF HALL, by Hilary Mantel, which I checked out of the library because I wanted to prep for the Masterpiece Theatre version, only to discover it was, to use the phrase, un-put-downable. A Man Booker Prize-winning pager turner! Who would have thunk it?
I also adore Historical Romance, and while I was away in Nantucket I binged on a new-to-me author, Courtney Milan, who writes in the mid-to-late Victorian era (which is rare) has overtly feminist themes (even rarer) and who consistently sets up Romance themes and tropes only to subvert them. Plus, utterly swoonable heroes.
I've recently gotten into reading Fantasy again, after years and years of post-Tolkien fatigue. (I still flinch when I see one of the groan-worthy fantasy cliches in a novel.) Instead, I've become fond of urban fantasy – Dana Cameron's Fangborn series is a nice example of this – which isn't, I suppose, necessarily urban, but set in modern times. The Ben Aaronovitch series I've been devouring is, however, very urban – the civitas illa magna, London. The Rivers of London, to be precise, which in these fantasy/police procedural hybrids refer to various meddling and feuding goddesses as well as bodies of water.
Finally, my old love Science Fiction. A genre filled with innovative, challenging and thought-provoking work out there – which is probably why I'm engaged in my annual comfort re-read of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series. I've revisited each volume in the adventures of the scarred and manic Miles Vorkosigan (and his family and friends) yearly, since publication, meaning I've now read SHARDS OF HONOR, which I finished last week, at least twenty-nine times.
Imagine how good a novel has to be to read it twenty-nine times?
How about you, dear reader? What are the other genres you escape into? If you're a writer yourself, what do you read or not read while creating?