As part of my general budget-cutting measures, I've taken a good hard look at my book-buying habits — especially from online venues — and decided I needed to make more use of my local library system. I was pretty surprised when many of the books I'd been considering buying were in fact available through inter-library loan, or were in the local branch. It's one of those "durr, right under my nose!" moments that needed to happen.
Truth is, a lot of the books I've bought — unless they're reference works of some kind — tend to be read once and then put on a shelf somewhere. I don't do a lot of re-reading, with extremely few exceptions. It's about time I started moving to a model that was a better reflection of my actual reading habits. If I really like something enough to come back to it habitually, then I'll buy it, but for now I'll stick with checking things out. That and having only three weeks for a given book forces me to get done the reading which is always too easy to put off for later.
I was surprised, for instance, to find the Mobile Suit Gundam novels — the three-in-one volume — available in the system, especially now that it's fallen out of print and copies have become so terribly expensive. That was worth the read, inasmuch as it gives you an idea of how many of the core elements for the Gundam shows were there more or less from the beginning in some form or another. (That's something else I've been slowly getting up to speed on, which is tough given how much Gundam material there is out there. I'd seen part of SEED before, but am currently on Gundam 00 if only because it's available on Crunchyroll and was the first one I blundered into, more or less.)
I also found at the local branch The Authentic Confucius, a really interesting little book that examines the man and compares him against the myth and the legend. It also worked as background for Yasushi Inoue's novel, which I confess left me cold the first time but which I'm now revisiting with fresh eyes.
That reminds me of something else — a discussion which I don't have the link handy for, but which grew out of talking about NaNoWriMo (which I didn't do this year, sorry). We need, so went the piece, a "NaNoReadMo" — something where reading is cultivated as aggressively as writing. I've run into entirely too many people who called themselves writers but didn't really do much reading, let alone reading outside their self-appointed comfort zone.
I can see how it happens, actually. After a while, you begin to feel like you've seen it all before, and you just want to get around to the business of producing your own work. But then you run into something that shatters your sense of what's been done before, or what could be done, and it makes all that scratching around worthwhile. It doesn't even have to be a novel; some of the things I've read that had the most galvanizing effects on my writing were nonfiction.
I admit that as far as pushing boundaries go, I'm not much better myself than the people I'm criticizing. It's easy to fall into a habit of just keeping yourself content with what you know and are comfortable with, and not pushing outside of that. I know that many published authors are too busy trying to fulfill their commitments to read much, which sounds like a shame to me. I made a promise to myself to read at least 1-2 books a week, and I find that promise much harder to fulfill when so much of my life is taken up with the petty business of work and survival. Getting to bed and getting up that much earlier seem to help; the more real sleep you get in a night the less you need to make up for it in other ways.