Now and then you see in the media or online a list of books that are must reads. It's usually the end of the year, looking back on the books released. Occasionally when the news is light, newspapers will print the list of books people should read. However, are they really useful, or just an exercise in futility?
Now before I start, maybe I should confess to making lists of my favourite books of all time, favourite books of the year, decade and sometimes even week. It's fun, isn't it? By writing it down, or even mentally placing books in a league table is built into my DNA. Is it really that essential? (YES)
The real kernel though is if we should take these lists as gospel and worry that we haven't read some books on others lists. That's when they become totally unuseful. Some list contain books that they rank high because others do, like Pride and Prejudice, Ulysses or the ilk. Books that are highly prized as being total works of literature. The ones you might read at school or hear discussed in lofty tomes.
Books are there to be enjoyed, they are entertainment, educational tools or information sources. You read them for those reasons. Most times you want the book to entertain, to take you away from problems you might be facing, and lift your spirits. By all means read those lengthy books that always appear high on the literary lists, but don't be disappointed with yourself if you don't.
So yes, lists are useful. If I argued otherwise then I'd be untrue to my psyche. BUT don't take them as books you should read. Read books you like for whatever you want. Make your own lists, publish them and let others follow your path. Lists are useful starting points, not the destination.
Reading other people's writing is so important to the writing process. It's one of the first tips I'd give a writer starting out. It really is the best way of picking up tips.
For a start you'll learn new vocabulary, new phrases that'll better populate your works. The choice of words is so important to make your story flow and not be a repetitive process. You'll discover different ways to write. Dan Brown and Charles Dickens are both authors who wrote for the mass market, yet their style is so different. Dickens wrote his stories as instalments, therefore there were lots of hooks to keep the reader buying the next magazine. Brown uses suspense to keep the story rolling.
Reading also opens new worlds up for you. Narnia, Middle Earth and Earthsea are all different. Beautifully crafted worlds that are inhabited by believable characters. Reading allows you to see how to construct your own world.
So a writer must read and read as widely as possible.