What do Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Toni Morrison, and hundreds of other authors have in common? Their biggest piece of advice to prospective authors is the same: read.
Reading helps a writer explore new voices and techniques, and see important aspects like character development and plotting play out in action. It also familiarizes writers with what it feels like to be on the other end of the spectrum.
There’s a snag in that advice, though. There are billions of books in existence and thousands of new books are published each year. So, which books are right for you?
What you read might be dictated by what you write. Books are typically marketed by genre and you can learn the most about your own writing by reading novels that meet the same goals.
For example, in 2011, National Public Radio compiled a list of 100 science fiction and fantasy best reads. Their list was based on recommendations by their audience and included some obvious (Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness) and some not-so-obvious (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye) novels. Of course, there have been many great books since in the genre.
Good Housekeeping’s 2020 list, 20 Best Romance Novels to Get You in the Mood, had successful contemporary novels that both titillated and helped you grasp what makes romance novels popular today.
Time Magazine published a list of the 100 best young adult novels and memoirs of all time. This included classics like Lois Lowry’s The Giver as well as newer, recently banned, novels like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
The Young Adult Library Services Association, part of The American Library Association, also maintains lists on YA books in various genres.
For mystery novels, check out stopyourekillingme.com, a self-described site to die for. Stop, You’re Killing Me keeps track of mystery and detective book lists, bestsellers, and award winners.
For other genres, check out regularly updated online book lists. Both Goodreads and Book Riot have a feature where you can search by genre,topic, and trope.