Blessed be, all! You’ve probably heard it said that writers have to read. Myself, I never believed it until very recently. Intellectually, I suppose I’ve always known it’s true; the more quality materials you take in, the more quality work you can put out. Still, I never actually read. I enjoyed reading, sure. But I was so gods-damned picky that the books I would ingest suffered for it. One of my goals this year, though, is to expand my reading tastes so I can improve the stories that I write on both a sentence- and novel-level.
So! In no particular order (okay, that’s a lie, but I won’t tell if you don’t), here are the top five authors who have shaped my fiction in some way.
- Tamora Pierce. No list of mine would be complete without Tammy. When I look at my life as a reader, there’s not a single writer who has more history with me. I first picked up a Tammy book fifteen years ago, and I have read each and every novel she’s put out before or since. Tammy is the author who taught me that girls could be heroes, too, that you didn’t have to be strong like a boy to be worth having a story told, and–possibly most importantly–that I as a writer didn’t have to disguise my name for people to enjoy my work.
- J.K. Rowling. Again, what list could be complete? Harry Potter was my very first binge read. Five books had already been published by the time I picked them up, and I read them all in less than a week, blowing my senior year midterms to do it. Rowling gave me my love of the long game, of learning something in book one that would come back to be vital hundreds of thousands of words later. I think it’s also from her that I get my love of having the inciting event be something offscreen, a long time ago, that the protagonist has to slowly uncover along with the reader.
- Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games was one of those books that I couldn’t put down. I think it was largely because of when I first read it, the year I was graduating with my BA and moving into my MFA program. It was the first book I picked up for myself at that time and, probably not coincidentally, the first book that I found myself intentionally looking for the social commentary that she was making. It was a fantastic story even without seeing all the layers (I have a soft spot for prickly heroines) but this was the first time outside of school that I purposefully read deeper than the surface text.
- NK Jemisin. I will grant I’ve only just within the last month started reading her, so her inclusion on this list might be a little premature, but I don’t think it is. A book and a half into her works and I am absolutely hooked. These books are everything I didn’t know I wanted until I had it. POC characters in a variety of roles–check. Complex female protagonists–check. Non-medieval Europe fantasy setting; gray morality; beautiful prose–check, check, check. I am going to be reading, rereading, and studying the craft in these books for ages to come.
- JRR Tolkien. Of course the grandfather of the fantasy genre would find his way here eventually. But it’s probably not for the reasons most would think. I know lots of readers adore him: his worldbuilding; his attention to detail; his sprawling epic plot. But he’s on this list because The Lord of the Rings is everything I do not want to write. I don’t deny that the work was seminal in creating the booming genre that I now benefit from.
However, I find that much lore to be stifling when I’m trying to read or write and that the pacing suffers from trying to make room for it. But I never would have known I felt that way or tried to craft my own style against it if I hadn’t read him when I was younger.