Reading is an essential part of my work.
As a writer, I’m constantly learning—expanding my vocab, picking up new techniques, studying clever ways to develop characters and plot lines. Reading helps me stay sharp, discover writing methods I like (and dislike), and expand my creativity. It’s research—research I happen to love.
I’ve read quite a bit of amateur writing in my many writing critique groups, and it’s usually easy to tell who is well-read and who is not. Those who don’t read much often do not have a natural knack for storytelling. Their stories lack correct pacing, character development, and clever language usage. They lean on the lessons they’ve learned from Hollywood or even video games, which usually plays out differently than a storyline of a book (especially regarding pacing and developing a character’s backstory).
I find it useful to read a range of genres instead of just sticking with a narrow niche. Although I love magical realism and would probably keep my nose buried in books by Marquez, Gaiman, Morrison, and Allende all day long, I try to read a variety of fiction. Why? I believe there’s something to learn from each genre. Thrillers can show us how to keep a reader engaged and interested; romance can teach us how to build tension and conflict between characters; literary fiction shows us the beauty of language and extended metaphors. Why not soak it all in and use it to your advantage? Why not leverage the best (what you consider the best) from each genre?
Of course, there’s a whole lot of variety within each genre too. J.K. Rowling’s fantasy world is much different than George R. R. Martin’s or Jim Butcher’s or Susan Collin’s. Historical romance is wildly different than paranormal young adult romance. So, if you really want to sink your teeth into a particular genre, it is absolutely possible to find depth within the genre.As a writer, it's a good idea to read widely and read often. #amreading Click To Tweet
The crux of what I’m trying to say is this: as a writer, it’s a good idea to read widely and read often. Talk to others about books; join a book club; get lost in your local library or bookstore. If you’re looking for a few books to add to this year’s reading list, I’ve listed my favorites from this year (not all of them were released this year; I just happened to read them this year).
Which books stood out for you this year? Any recommendations? Anything that fell flat or left you disappointed? I’d love to hear from you!
The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker
One sentence plot teaser: A masterless Golem in NYC crosses paths with a newly-released Jinni and the quiet life she’s carved out for herself careens off the rails.
Why read it? For the exquisite language, original characters, and magical atmosphere of early 20th-century NYC.
Books it topped: The Moor’s Last Sigh, Salman Rushdie; House of Spirits, Isabel Allende
Magical Realism (Contemporary Setting):
Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward
One sentence plot teaser: Soaked in meth, restless spirits, and generations of troubled relationships, the Deep South is given a voice by three different characters.
Why read it? Though challenging at times, the vivid imagery, inventiveness, and deep emotional dynamism make Sing, Unburied, Sing an achingly lovely read. Bound to be a new American classic.
Books it topped: God Help the Child, Toni Morrison
All The Birds In the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders
One sentence plot teaser: A witch girl meets a tech genius boy in what builds into an epic clash of magic vs. science.
Why read it? Fresh, clever language, biting humor, and the best friend/lover/enemy dynamic you’ll find…ever? Anders is one of my new favorite authors.
Books it topped: The Paper Magician, Charlie M. Holmberg
Binti, Nnedi Okorafor
One sentence plot teaser: After Binti abandons her family of astrolabe-makers and hops on a spaceship bound for the Oomza University, she must confront a deadly terror in a way no human has ever done.
Why read it? Inventiveness and jaw-dropping sentences; a clever clash of cultures.
Books it topped: Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor; The Illustrated Man, Ray Bradbury
Little & Lion, Brandy Colbert
One sentence plot teaser: A sweetly-spun, modern coming-of-age story about a young woman who has feelings for the same girl as her stepbrother.
Why read it? A vivid and realistic glimpse at the struggles of modern-day youth, this book addresses everything from mental illness to abusive relationships in tender, vivid language.
Books it topped: The School of Exorcists, K.E. O’Connor
Honorable Mention: The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper
I had to squeeze this in! I just re-read this childhood favorite and—wonder of wonders—it held up.
One sentence plot teaser: Will finds out he’s one of the Old Ones and must learn a thing or two in order to protect his family…and, you know, the world.
Why read it? The Dark is Rising is part of a fascinating series of books that follow different characters through the same world. It’s the kind of story that makes you wish you were in it.
Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
One sentence plot teaser: [Read the full review on my blog] In the polished and pressed suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio, everyone has a secret.
Why read it? Ng tells a multi-layered, emotionally-rich story while breaking all the rules of literature.
Books it topped: Any?
Turquoise Blood, Cecelia Isaac
One sentence plot teaser: Kiri and Pristina exist two-hundred years apart, but their stories are intrinsically linked through a plot that involves betrayal, a magical essence called dya, and barn-sized dragons.
Why read it? The immersive world, clever plot twists, and refreshing portrayal of capable female-identifying characters makes Turquoise Blood a top read.
Books it topped: Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martin
Hello, Moto, Nnedi Okorafor
One sentence plot teaser: Women gain power from their wigs—whether for good or evil.
Why read it? It’s so damn clever.
Honorable Mention: Iron Boy Kills the Devil, Sheldon Costa
One sentence plot teaser: Convinced his inventor mother created him in her workshop, Iron Boy struggles with adolescence while trying to wrestle literal and figurative monsters.
Why read it? The imagery, the metaphors. Just beautiful.
The Borrowed Breath, Don MacLeod
Why read it? Visceral, emotive, and honest, this compilation of poetry will oscillate you between hope, tragedy, and everything in between.
Kate Bitters is a Minneapolis-based author and freelance writer. She is the author of Elmer Left, Ten Thousand Lines, and He Found Me. One of her proudest/nerdiest moments was when Neil Gaiman read one of her short stories on stage at the Fitzgerald Theater.