Learn To Write By Reading?

I've heard a lot recently from fellow authors that if I want to learn how to be a better writer, I should read more. I completely understand why this is true: if you're reading as a writer, you notice things the author does, and ideas come to your mind as to how you can execute the same strategies in your own work.

Since I first heard this, I'd been focused on finishing The Return of the King (no, I did not read the appendices). Tolkien is brilliant, but his work is still a little too advanced for me to get much out of as a writer. Therefore,  though I enjoyed reading it, I didn't discover much that I felt I could use myself.

Then yesterday, I started listening to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas on audio book. It wasn't a conscious decision really, I was doing some housework and wanted to listen to a book... that was the only one on my iPod that I hadn't read yet, so I started it.

I'm so glad I did.

I'm only in chapter eight, but already I've learned a couple little things I can use in my own writing. This book is probably middle grade (MC is nine-years-old), though I'm not sure I'd want to let my children read it until they're at least 13 or 14. It hasn't yet, but from what I've heard from my family who have read it, it deals with some pretty serious topics/themes.

I won't give any more away, but it made me wonder: what are some books you've read that have helped you progress as a writer? Do you prefer to read more recent publications, or works that have been around the block and seen success? Both, perhaps? What are the benefits?

I'd love to get your thoughts on this. And if you wouldn't mind, tell your other writer friends, and ask them to chime in. More comments means a better idea on how writers learn from reading :-)

Thanks!

-DC

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