Normally, I’m reading several different books at the same time, and the genres can range from mystery to horror to straight literary fiction. Sometimes it’s like juggling bowling balls and chain saws, since the writing styles are so different.
The benefit to tackling books like The Passage by Justin Cronin at the same time I’m reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett or pulps like The Sea Magician by Lester Dent and The City of Doom by Walter B. Gibson is learning how each achieves the purpose of telling stories while maintaining its viability as a commercial product.
Because commercial viability is a factor when it comes to writing. You could sit down and pen the Holy Grail–the Great American Novel–but if it isn’t commercially viable the only people who will read it are friends and relatives.
I’m not going to get into the question of self-publishing or artistic value. First, I don’t think self-publishing works. Part of what you’re doing as a writer is reaching out to other people. You’re communicating with them by telling them a story. While the internet and desktop publishing allows every Tom, Dick and Harry to distribute their work, there isn’t any stamp of approval along that route. Agents and editors make their living selling books. Someone pays them to do something really really cool. That payment implies value, and we’re a consumer culture, folks. Have been for as far back as recorded history. Second, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Cliché, but true. If the public doesn’t find your book readable and entertaining, it doesn’t matter if it is the Great American Novel, because no one will know. No one except your friends and relatives, and they’re not critics. I’ve got 56 days left until World Fantasy in Columbus, and more than a third of the novel left to right, and if I’m going to spend my time on a task like this, I’m going to at least make sure I’m having fun.
Books that I read and re-read are the ones where I’m entertained. Even mysteries, where you already know the identity of the killer. It’s all a matter of the delivery in a re-read, because I am looking at the prose with a writer’s eye, trying to find out how I can achieve the same effect using my own words.
Right now … I don’t know where I stand on the style question. That’s another question for someone else to answer once I’m finished and the book is sold.