A friend recently told me that she doesn't read literary fiction because she finds it dull. She went on to say that she loves crime novels and can't see herself ever wanting to read anything else. I agree there are some fantastic crime writers around, producing wonderful books that are well plotted, well paced, full of unique characters and high concept twists that hook you right to the end. But for me, that's not enough.
I have always believed that if you limit what you read, you limit what you can write. If you don't read fantasy, how do you understand the complexities of multilayered world building? If you don't read literary fiction, how do you learn to fix a beautiful sentence that just doesn't flow?
It's important to understand what you don't like and exactly why you don't like it so that you can avoid these pitfalls in your own work. For example, I have never loved modern romance. I have found many stories of this kind to be cliched and overly sentimental. They have never managed to catch my imagination in the way that Wuthering Heights or Persuasion have. I try to slip one in every now and again because tastes change and you never know what you're missing. It's how I discovered David Nicholls. It's how I learnt that I prefer love stories that are presented against a wider social or historical backdrop. It's how I know I prefer the silence to do the talking. If I'd avoided modern romance entirely, I wouldn't know any of this.
Reading will make you a better writer. There is no question of that. Read widely. Read anything you can get your hands on. Read without fear and without judgement. Read without expectation. Some of my favourite stories have come to me from the pages of books I nearly didn't open and they in turn have bled into the stories that pour from my own pen.
Don't build walls around certain subjects. Don't fence off a particular genre because you don't fall in love with every phrase. Writing is about exploration and what better place to start than with a story you almost didn't hear?