Since I write young adult (YA) fiction in the science fiction/fantasy (sf/f) genre, I've been reading YA books and taking notes on the fantasy and world-building elements. Right now I'm reading Cornelia Funke.
But I always have a "pleasure read" book to enjoy when not writing or researching. Most recently I finished the newest Dick Francis mystery, "Dead Heat." (I know book titles should be in italics or underlined, but the editing shortcut keys don't seem to work with my Mac.)
I started reading Ken Follett's "The Pillars of the Eatth" set in 12th century England. Hmmm. I have in the planning stage a novel with a medieval setting and I've started world building based on the research I've done thus far. BUT...why not take advantage of Follett's research? So I am now taking notes as I read my "pleasure book." I've done this before with other novels.
So -- is it cheating or just being economical?
There's always the problem that author may have gotten it wrong, so then you will too. But, since I'm creating my own worlds, historic accuracy isn't essential. I just (just!) have to create a setting that "seems" logical and realistic to the reader.
I call it "sugar-coated" because I'm reading a good story as well as conducting research. A little less dry than taking notes from a text book.
Yes, folks, I'm old enough that term papers began at the library with real books and real 3x5 notecards.
Anyway, Follett's research into 12th century England is not only confirming some of the research I've already done, but filling in some holes. It's the little details of daily life that can make a novel bloom for the reader. I'm trying.