If you're a writer, you've probably heard many times that the best way to improve your writing is to 1-keep writing no matter what, and 2-read.
I'd like to really examine that second one.
Reading is great, okay? I'm one of those advocates who says to give a kid a book instead of a television screen. Heck, give them a book instead of sending them outside to play in that bright, hot thing called sunshine. Even if you're just a reader and not a writer, as well: reading is the most fantastical thing in the world, in my humble opinion.
Writers are encouraged to read because, frankly, it broadens their horizons. They can begin picking apart styles, seeing what authors do and don't do and why, and it makes them pay attention to things like plot, characters, setting, pacing, world-building, and a whole slew of other things that extremely important in the craft of writing.
Personally, this is one of the reasons I review books. When I think critically about something that I'm reading, it helps me pick out what I liked and what I didn't like, and it kind of helps me shape my own style, particularly when I take a sentence from the book and figure out how I would have written it, to see the difference between how it would work with the rest of the text. In this way, every single book I pick up is research in some way, as well as the opportunity to escape life for a while.
Something else to think about, however, can be seen when you read books that are the same genre as you write. While paying attention to the craft-aspects of the novel is still interesting, what I've found recently is that the broader spectrum is more useful in that you can see if your own bases are covered.
This is particularly what I've found so interesting recently.
I just finished reading Cinder, by Marissa Meyer. It's fantastic, and part of what drew me to it in the first place was the use of cyborgs within the fictional world that Meyer created; heck, the main character, Cinder, is a cyborg, herself. Given that The Hollow Men also has a main character who's half-human and half-technology (albeit different technology) I was really interested to see how Meyer pulled it off.
What I got was an extensive checklist in my head, particularly in considering how the inner-workings of my own bionic people should work. As Cinder would think about different parts of her own mechanical body, it made me more eager to come up with answers for Ronnie, from THM.
Note: I'm not saying to copy what the author does. That's bad, and I would never consider it. What I'm saying, though, is that you can use the more broader aspects of a book to think critically about your own. So as I read about Cinder, I though a lot about Ronnie and how her inner-workings would combine with biological flesh to create a working body that's not completely made of organic flesh.
This is something I just thought was fascinating, because I thought of my own characters in ways I never had, before.
Another example could be from reading The Hunger Games (by Suzanne Collins). I admit it's been a while since reading it (years and years, actually), but exploring the way Collins set up the political and geographical spectrum of Panem tends to make me consider the way I have cities, towns, and governments set up-or at least positioned-within my own writing. Or it could inspire me to think about entertainment and news sources, and how pop culture works.
Just a few thoughts, but the more I think about it the more fascinating it is, and it reminds me of how exciting reading a new book can be, because of how many things it makes you think about.