I’m often asked my advice to writers. Mostly I say, just read.
Read Flannery O’Connor. Read Joy Williams. Read William Maxwell. (Please read William Maxwell.)
Read about the universe. Read about neuroanatomy. Read “On the Origin of Species.”
Read “Nine Stories.” Read Tolstoy. Read Carson McCullers. Read Edward P. Jones. Read Willa Cather. Read Yasunari Kawabata. Study atlases and maps. Read E.B. White. Read fairy tales.
Remember that “fresh new voices” can come from people over forty. Find those writers and read them.
Read Shakespeare. Read Amy Hempel and Lydia Davis. Compare. At least once a week, read a book published by a small press. Read, read, read poetry.
Find a book on Entomology. Learn the names of all the insects that inhabit your backyard. (Or make up names for them.) Read Freud. Read graphic novels. Read prose poetry and flash fiction. Study the dictionary.
Read a book about a place you never been to from a writer whose name you can’t pronounce.
Read naked. But not in public.
Find and read a newspaper from the day you were born. Or any old newspaper. Learn another language, then read a novel or poetry in that language.
Read “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” out loud with no children present.
Buy a thick notebook and write “Sentences I Love” on the cover. Fill it up and buy another one.
Read collections of short stories and flash fiction.
Read the history of the town you grew up in.
Read Jane Austen and Edith Wharton and the Bronte sisters. Read Katherine Mansfield and Shirley Jackson and Kõbõ Abe. Read Grace Paley. Read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Read long into the night until the characters walk around in your dreams. Read “The Dead” at least one winter afternoon a year.
Or don’t read any of these and just read whatever the hell you want. Whatever books strike your fancy at any moment in time. The only mistake you can make as a writer is not reading.
But should your mother or your aunt or your grandmother or grandfather want to tell you their stories, close whatever book you’re reading and listen.