I mentioned in a couple of posts ago how I use poetry to get my creative juices flowing again. Most recently it has been Ian Wedde's work (thank you JW for the introduction) but it has also been Okri, Rilke and Milosz amongst others in the recent past. I am a poet trollope. I find one I love. Read everything by them then abandon them recklessly when I have found someone new, irrespective of their feelings. (I do return to them eventually so hope they forgive me). That is only one small part of how important reading is to me as a writer.
I think it is important to read books in the genre that you write in but I also believe that you should challenge yourself and read things that are outside your comfort zone. I have previously said when I started my writing career I had a very definite idea of what sort of writer I was. It was only having the opportunity, during my BA and then MA, to try on lots of different styles of writing and voices that I actually found out what sort of writer I was. Interestingly it wasn't even close to the one I thought I was! I now find myself writing thrillers - I didn't even read thrillers before but it was only by challenging myself that I found out. (A distinct advantage of doing a CW degree)
If you write for children, as I do, you also need to read in and around your age group so you have an understanding of what works and what is appropriate for the age. It is good to keep an eye on what is being successful and winning prizes but don't be afraid to write your own stuff. Don't think you have to copy, in fact, it is important that you don't (obviously copyright helps with this!) Of course, it is almost impossible to predict what is going to be the next 'big thing.' (Or we would all be very rich if we could). Just write what you want to but understand the market place.
Go back and read the classics, read adult books as well as children's, in other words, read vociferously because as Mary Hoffman, quite correctly in my opinion, suggests it will give you a solid base of understanding what is possible. Going back to the quote I mentioned in the previous post from Scorsese it helps with working out what you like and what you don't like, what works for you and what doesn't.
I have heard some people say they can't read whilst writing as they are afraid of it influencing their work, which I can partly understand, but also have to be honest, it has never happened to me instead I find it inspirational. However you approach reading and whatever you read, it doesn't matter as long as you do. I have a 'to read' pile which is probably as tall as me (admittedly I am quite short) but I keep dipping into it and satisfying the reader and the writer in me. I hope you do too...
Thanks to Imogen Cooper for this, such a wonderfully gentle song: Jonny Kearney & Lucy Farrell singing 'Hares on the Mountain'