Last week, during the Leicester Everybody’s Reading festival, I started to read “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte. I suspect this might be considered a slightly unusual choice of book for someone like me to be reading, as I am a young male who isn’t formally studying English.
My reasons for reading “Jane Eyre” are simple. The first reason is that I haven’t read it before and I am curious. This should be reason enough to pick a book to read. I do have a second reason, and this is to do with the how I approach what I read and how I let my reading affect my writing.
Understand that I believe that what you read affects what you write. If I was to read only science fiction (my native literary ghetto) then the narrative techniques and acquired experiences would be limited to those techniques and described experience found in science fiction. Yes, a wide range of techniques and stories are found within science fiction, but there are limits. Just as there are limits to what is considered romance fiction, crime fiction and literary fiction in all its many wonderful variations. To get better as a writer I have to read widely and without major prejudice towards style or content.
(Of course it helps that a book is good, but that’s a different discussion.)
What I do is read one book for fun and then read something that I would not normally read. Often this means I read a science fiction novel and then something you would expect to find on an English undergraduate course. There is a pretty neat side effect that forcing myself to read widely means I discover a lot of books which I end up enjoying I wouldn’t have encountered if I’d stuck to safe choices. Without deliberately making this effort I would not have read and enjoyed works authors like: Doris Lessing, Charles Dickens, Jorge Luis Borges, William Burroughs, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf or Ernest Hemingway.
Without reading widely and attempting to close as many gaps in my own personal reading, I would be ignorant of so many ideas and techniques found in literature, and would probably still be writing thinly disguised homages to William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”. Reading widely has given me a deeper understanding of that book, Gibson’s style and has given me the confidence to explore the whole world of literature in both my reading and writing. My own authorial voice is no longer limited to a narrow range of influences, but is instead informed by everything from Asimov to Woolf.
So I am reading “Jane Eyre” because I want to try reading different books. It may not be a typical book for someone like me to read but I am only on page one-hundred and I think it’s great. Will it change the way I write? I doubt it will directly, but it is not hurting me to read Charlotte Bronte tell a story with beautifully chosen words.