Stephen King, in one of my favorite books of all time, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, said, "The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor."
And he's not the only one. In book after book and article after article that I've read on the writing process, the exhortation is the same - read as much as you can, as often as you can, if you want to be a good writer. Not everyone who reads voraciously will be a good author, of course, but no one who refuses to read, or who reads very lightly, can be.
Luckily for me, this is the easy part of writing. I love reading. My idea of a perfect afternoon is one where I can curl up on the couch and devour a book. When Brian and I go on vacations, our suitcases are always in danger of being overweight because we pack 3-5 books each. (And read one, tops, but we're optimistic packers.) I read fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, business books, graphic novels, kids' books (mostly to make sure they are okay for my 2nd grader who now reads at a 5th grade level), newspapers, magazines, the back of cereal boxes, brochures, religious tracts, and anything else that stands still long enough for me to process it.
Growing up, my mom was a librarian, so we had a constant flow of reading material into and out of the house. (She, too, had to read a lot of kids' books because my word comprehension was WAY above my subject matter comprehension.) She'd bring home stacks of books every week and my brother and I would power through them. We weren't allowed to watch more than about an hour of TV a week, and we didn't have video games or computers or neighbors, so reading was pretty much our recreation. If we weren't doing chores or homework, we were reading. Books were our escape to a place bigger and more sophisticated than our hometown, and the library provided endless escape routes to follow.
When I got older, and my mom retired from the library, I found my Amazon habit getting pretty expensive. I'll admit that even though we have fantastic libraries near my house (and on my commute to work), I didn't even have a library card for a long time. I would just order the books I found interesting on Amazon, or read them on my Kindle. Brian managed to change that for me. He's always been great at living on a budget, and as a kindred avid reader, he has gotten really good at navigating the library wherever he lived. One of the first things he did when he moved in with me was go to the library near our house and get a library card. Now, we make regular pilgrimages to find the Kentucky history books he needs and whatever I'm into that week, whether it's fiction, business books or a stack of memoirs. (The fact that I can go online and place holds on the books I want is a major bonus.)
My passion is storytelling, so I want to read as many stories as I can to see how other people build and develop a tale. But no matter what you are interested in, the best tool I can possibly recommend is to get a library card and go check out some books. It's risk-free, because it IS free, and if you are stumped about where to find the kind of books you want, librarians are an incredible resource. I've never once left a library frustrated because no one could help me. Usually I'm teary-eyed with gratitude, especially when I'm trying to find books for my daughter that don't involve smooching or drugs. I've learned how to run my business better, how to cook better, how to parent better and certainly, how to write better, all from regular visits to one of the last totally free places on earth.
So if it's been a while since you went to your local library, or if you've never been there at all, go. Check it out. (Library puns!) Get a library card, check out a few books that seem interesting to you, and expand your horizons without spending a dollar.