Feed Your Brain, Read Widely

By Samantha Garner

Feed Your Brain, Read Wisely - Samantha Garner

Writers are often advised to read within their genre to better understand it. And when it comes to readers, it can be tempting to stick to their favourite genre too⎯it’s a favourite for a reason!

I'm primarily a SF/F writer now, but I spent years writing poetry and zines and literary fiction. I'm also a mood reader who enjoys reading in almost any genre. Here’s how reading widely has improved my writing life and my reading life.


Reading widely as a writer

Reading within your own genre is immensely valuable. It helps you identify what’s going on with form and subject matter and ideas. It helps you examine why certain genre conventions work for you and why others don’t. It helps you understand what resonates with your readership, and they might be asking for. By reading within your genre, you can position your own work within a particular context. 

However, when I read outside of the genre I write in, different parts of my writerly brain are satisfied. Poetry lets me luxuriate in language, emotion, the shifting mist of inner life. Literary fiction gives me a framework for slower pacing and tangly character dynamics. Short stories help me notice what matters in narrative and dialogue. Memoir connects me with real lived experiences and ideas.

That’s not to say that the above elements only exist in those forms and genres, of course! But for me, nothing deepens my own fiction than seeing how other genres work with narrative and character and language and plot. 

It’s good to respect the expectations of your chosen genre, but it’s also good to defy those expectations sometimes. Reading outside your genre can help you freshen up your own work, or investigate new ways to tell your stories.

An example: If it weren’t for Susanna Kearsley’s The Firebird⎯a historical romance with sci-fi elements, and the first historical romance I’d ever read⎯I probably wouldn’t have been inspired to write the “superpowers in the real world” story of my novel The Quiet is Loud.


Reading widely as a reader

I’m a die-hard mood reader, but like anyone I have my favourite genres that I return to more often than others. Every reader’s brain has specific things that light them up and pull them into a story, blissfully unaware of the passage of time. Genre expectations can be comforting and offer a safe space for readers when other things in life feel difficult. I’m never going to tell a reader that their favourite genre is wrong. All reading is good!

However, as a reader I quickly feel antsy if I read too many books in a row from the same genre. My mind starts to wander, takes a look over the fence to see what’s going in the literary landscape next door. I haven’t read a historical book in a while! There are five new poetry chapbooks out since I last checked! The latest novel by Insert Literary Fiction Author Here sounds really cool!

I’ve always been endlessly curious about the things that drive people, and that’s true of my reader self as well as my writer self. Reading books in discrete forms and genres gives me insight into the human condition in a wide variety of presentations. I believe that a person necessarily cannot tell the same story of themselves in a poem as they would in a short story or as they would in a memoir. Form can influence so much of a story, and I love moving between genres to experience their specific conventions, tropes, and experimentations.

In addition, different genres satisfy different moods I may be in. I often turn to fantasy novels most in the colder, darker months, when I crave the escapism I lack easy access to in those times. I turn to poetry when my depression wants my attention or when I’m feeling particularly introspective⎯times when I find myself in a state of mind I can only describe as “floaty.” And when absolutely nothing in life makes sense, there’s always Jane Austen. Sometimes, what I think is a reading slump isn’t a reading slump at all⎯it’s actually a genre slump. Reading widely helps me to manage my various moods and mindsets, and gives me many outlets for my curiosity. 

To close, I’d like to share some of my recent favourite books across some different genres. Each has had a significant impact on me⎯whether it’s an influence on my own writing, or an influence on my sleep as I stayed awake far too late unable to stop reading (no regrets!).


Sana by Maria Bolaños, Poetry

Creature X Mystery series by JJ Dupuis, Mystery, speculative fiction

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu, Short stories, speculative fiction

Even That Wildest Hope by Seyward Goodhand, Short stories, speculative fiction

Strange Loops by Liz Harmer, Literary fiction

Port of Being by Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Poetry

Field Notes From an Unintentional Birder by Julia Zarankin, Memoir

Letters to Amelia by Lindsay Zier-Vogel, Literary fiction 

The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Samantha Garner is the author of The Quiet is Loud, shortlisted for the 2022 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize. A Canadian of mixed Filipino-Finnish background, her character-driven fantasy novels explore themes of identity and belonging. When not writing, Samantha can be found daydreaming in a video game or boring a loved one with the latest historical fact she’s learned.

She can be found online at and on Instagram and Twitter at @samanthakgarner.