Writer's read a lot, or at least we should, and we should read critically. But how many of us do this? Part of reading is escapism. When we want to relax we sit down with a book and lose ourselves in the other world. This is great, but does it improve our writing?
During the past year, I have been doing book reviews for several publishers, and it has changed the way I read. Now I'm looking for how the writer opens the novel. Does it grab me, or do I have to fight my way through the first fifty pages? Is there too much, or too little dialog? Does the author use description to enhance the story, or does she get lost in the beauty of her own words? When you really think about these things and critically evaluate them in someone else's work, it makes you more aware of what you're doing in your own writing.
Another advantage of doing book reviews is that you have to write down what you've observed. For me this is a critical step. If I write it down, I have to think about it. I have to make sure my views make sense and that they're fair to the other author. It adds another step to thinking critically about writing, and when I've written it down, I remember it.
You don't have to go into book reviewing as a career. I have to admit that sometimes it becomes a bit hectic keeping up with all the books, but you can review books in your personal library, review books for friends, or review books you buy. I think you'll be surprised at how much you gain from it.