One of the first questions Drusilla Campbell asks her writing students is: “What are you reading?” If you are a writer, Campbell assumes you are an avid reader. To become a better writer, she encourages you to read — and read a lot — in a variety of genres, not just the one you write in.

The women in my two book clubs feel the same. This year’s selections cover a wide variety of genres — mystery, memoir, historic, romance, adventure, short stories — and my favorite — the classics. Over the past few months I’ve read (or in some cases re-read): To Kill a Mockingbird, Tortilla Flats and The Good Earth. Upcoming on our list: The Catcher in the Rye and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

You probably recognize these titles from your high school American Lit class syllabus. I must confess, reading them now — a few years after my senior prom — brings an entirely new perspective. 

I’m intrigued by the depth of the characters, the vivid scenes, the comic relief Harper Lee, John Steinbeck and Pearl Buck, seamlessly poured into their works. Mostly, though, I’m amazed that they produced such masterpieces without the aid of computers, cut-and-paste and Google.

So many classics are on my “still-to-read” list—Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Kerouac’s On the Road and Orwell’s Animal Farm, to name a few. But I’ve made a start. Page after page, I’m immersed in wonderful, engaging stories.

As a lagniappe (unexpected gift), I’m also learning from the masters what makes their writing relevant, compelling and still in demand some 50 years or more after publication.