I review books on my Author Exchange Blog and, aside from being treated to some excellent stories, the process has helped my writing.
I have always read books by both men and women. In fact, my favorite writer of all time is the late Ed McBain/Evan Hunter. I must admit, however, that most of the books sitting on my bookshelves were written by women. Where am I going with this? In this direction: men and women write differently while, at the same time, writing precisely the same. Clear as mud, eh?
The first handful of books I reviewed were written by men. In two of them, the gender of the protagonist became immediately clear. Not because of their names but because their actions, vocabulary, and insights were indisputably male. I loved re-reading sections involving their inner thought processes because they highlighted excellent examples of superior characterization. Men and women often think and behave differently. I recall one particular male character who was emotionally involved with a woman in the story. While he cared deeply for her and angsted over their relationship (something we women do), he did so in a purely male fashion. I've since re-read a number of scenes and chapters of those books to research the way a male mind works. I could, of course, simply ask my husband. But I suspect it's better all the way around not to delve too deeply into his mind...
I also noticed that these prolific, award-winning, and often bestseller list-authors all excel in a particular area: plotting, characterization, dialogue, or wringing emotion from the reader. Most also had a subtle area of weakness. (A couple did not!) This realization made me look at my writing from an objective standpoint. I am now able to capitalize on my strengths, while simultaneously keeping a lid on my weaknesses.
The most important benefit I've received from these book reviews involves the concept of approval. One of the authors--famous, prolific, and a bestseller--was unable to wring a drop of emotion from me during my read of his book other than irritation. He is educated, intelligent, a terrific plotter, and tends toward philosophical soliloquies and, in my opinion, pomposity. A bazillion people love him and his books or they wouldn't have hit the bestseller list. Which just goes to show that no matter how famous you are, or how excellent a writer you are, someone is always going to think you stink. (I didn't think he stinks, but you get my point, right?)
Stepping outside the parameters of what you normally read, and treating yourself to books by unknown (to you) authors, serves two purposes. 1) You treat yourself to enjoyment you'd never have known otherwise, and 2) You gain insight to methods of improving your own writing.
To visit my book reviews, visit the Author Exchange Blog and slide down the right sidebar until you find the list.