Song of the Shelf

Ah, the joys of the library. Free books! You can try anything you like and if you hated it, you don’t have to give it to boring Aunt Germania for Christmas, you can just take it back and politely wrinkle your nose a little as you send it down the chute. And you didn’t have to pay six bucks (unless you are like me, a chronic late returner).

Here’s something that every writer should do once a month or so. Find a local library that shelves its books by author, rather than by genre. You know the system—the SF ones will have a sticker with a spaceship, the westerns will have a sticker with a boot. Find your favorite authors, two or three of them, in the shelves. Then get the books next to them. Books by someone you never heard of. Outside your genre. Books whose cover makes you veeeery dubious. Take those books home and give them a chance.

Sure, you won’t like most of them. That’s why you’re doing this at the library, not the bookstore. Because every now and then… just once in a while, maybe no more than once a year… you will find someone outside your genre who will sing to your heart. You will improve as a writer for knowing this person; and every reader knows that a new author, hopefully wildly prolific, is a great gift. It’s well worth the trouble of carting home three or four books you don’t like every month.

Besides, reading someone really amazingly bad can be a great motivator. You think, boy could I do better, and toss the book contemptously in the return pile, and go sit down at your keyboard or pick up your pen.

So my advice is, go to the library and listen to the song of the shelf.

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