I often wonder about this. I've heard that some authors strictly do not read other people's books while they're working on their own for fear of their work being influenced.
But I for one cannot bear the thought of not reading, and I find that my writing sucks when I'm not reading and if I'm reading something I'm really enjoying, my writing gets awesome - but I've still got my own style, I'm not copying theirs (which is possibly a reason why some authors don't do it?)
But what to do when you find a book that carries the same themes as your own novel? Once you get over the initial panicked feeling that someone else has beaten you to it and published your novel (which should disappear after you've read past the first two sentences on the back cover), do you read it?
Love in the Years of Lunacy by Mandy Sayer the other day because I liked the cover and, when I flipped it over, found that it is set in the midst of World War Two in Australia, it's a love story that gets tested by the war and involves jazz music in smoky bars.
My story is set in Wellington, New Zealand during World War Two (Which had a lot of similarities to Australia during the war), my main character plays the piano in smoky jazz bars and is shipped off to fight in the war, which tests the love story. The edge mine has over hers is that mine involves time travel and five main characters.
It sounds like a great book, but should I read it?