Before writing Paradise Lost, John Milton undertook a six-year period of self-directed study, reading everything that had ever been published and was available in Europe.
I find it absolutely fascinating that Milton's world was small enough and young enough that he could do such a thing. It must have been a great education. Unfortunately, it's one that's impossible for modern writers.
When I left my job to pursue my MA in Writing for Young People, I undertook my own self-directed study, determined to read as many children's books as I could get my hands on. And I've read a ton. I have a good understanding of today's trends, the market, how different issues have been tackled in children's literature. I've also learned so much about voice, craft, plot.
Yet as of today my Goodreads account has 210 books on my "to-read" list. It's impossible to keep up, even with the books I desperately want to read. So I fall into a worrisome trap: I limit myself to only children's literature. After all, that's what I'm studying and writing. And it's what I love.
But I also love Charles Dickens, Tim O'Brien, Sarah Waters, history, literary fiction, fantasy, and so many other types of books. By limiting myself to children's fiction, I worry I'm missing out on reading other stories, and learning as much as I can about my craft and language.
So lately I've been trying to branch out. I read a collection of Grace Paley's short stories to see how she incorporated the voices and settings of New York. I read Adam Lanager's Crossing California to see how he did the same for Chicago.
I'm especially grateful for my library's book group. Currently we're reading Deaf Sentence by David Lodge. It's funny, thought-provoking, and the premise and use of language is so clever. As an American children's book reader, I might never have discovered this British, adult novelist. He's certainly not one of the authors on my to-read list. I'm lucky to have the opportunity to read him.
And it's that opportunity, reading widely, and discovering new genres and authors, and knowing that there's so much more to discover, that makes me feel a little sorry for John Milton.
Do you concentrate on one area of literature? Or do you try to read widely too? How do you find new authors to try?