5 Books Every Writer Should Read

Posted by on Sep 21, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

photo-1439005188911-c1e2fa71b52aThe greatest writers really are the greatest readers. We’ve all heard this sentence, and yet there is not any workshop of which I have been a part wherein someone does not assert that in order to be a good writer one does not have to read, but simply have the imagination that all the writers before us did. While it is true you need imagination, the ability to take a risk with your storytelling, to be a successful writer, that does not mean you shouldn’t study what came before you.

What do judges and lawyers study before they become judges and lawyers? History and precedents of the law. What do doctors study before they become doctors? Biology and medicine. What do chefs study before they become cooks? How to prepare food, what flavors work and which don’t. So then what should writers study before they write? Books. You must read and if you think you can get away with not doing it, you probably haven’t been published yet – that’s why. Here are five books, some craft, others fiction, that you should read and will appreciate as a writer.

On Writing, a Memoir on Craft

Stephen King

Stephen King tells his own story of growing up and knowing how inevitable it was for him to become a writer. He, through vignettes about his life, unpacks the true toolkit for writing as he sees it, a skill to be honed and a discipline to be earned through hard work and perseverance. He also talks about the beauty of the craft and why he keeps coming back to it: there is nothing else. This book talks about the truth that writing is the human thing since its invention. Anyone can be a writer; what separates the few from the many is the hard work and discipline: skills to be refined.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott has encapsulated a very succinct craft book with Bird by Bird. For me, it trails into a little too much biography and spirituality but is still overall worth it. Each chapter is very straightforwardly titled and they aren’t very long. So, you come out of reading this book knowing a bit about what it takes to be a writer or at the very least a better idea of the confidence that comes with knowing your first draft doesn’t have to be Faulkner.

The Beautiful and Damned

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald’s second novel, after This Side of Paradise and just before The Great Gatsby, is by far my favorite of his. In This Side of Paradise, he seems to ramble as an attempt to create a likeable character out of someone who just may not be very likeable and in a universe which itself may not foster likeable people—something he does not yet seem able to accept. Then, in Gatsby, his storytelling is so succinct that I miss some of the lengthier particularities of his poetry. With The Beautiful and the Damned, Fitzgerald is, for me, on his A-game. The story is very filled with twists and turns, it’s perfectly backdropped by the society about which he knew so well and wrote so eloquently, and it isn’t missing a bit of the poetry – the long inner monologues and tight sentences that feel so perfectly articulated, you feel the lack in your own thoughts. It’s a beautiful piece of fiction and a wonderful way to see how language and content can come together in modern fiction.

“The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

Ernest Hemingway

Ok, no this isn’t a book, but it is certainly one of Hemingway’s most famous pieces. “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is a short story, but it’s long enough to get the gist of what Hemingway did to English-language writing. Hemingway is known for his straightforward, cut-and-dry prose. It isn’t very long-winded and it is chiefly driven by the plot and the characters’ journey and point of view as they go through it. Hemingway chiefly builds the bridge between Romantic and Modernist literature, literature bogged down in artificial poetics (at times) and concerned more with the eradication of idealism rather than the telling of a story (if one be a critic of it all), and that of the post-modern (Palahniuk, Vonnegut, Pynchon, Morrison, Braschi) and contemporary millennial (Murakami, Foster Wallace, Ullman). It all began with Hemingway, cutting out the breath of the silent moments meant for thought and encouraging instead the complex over-wrought expression of the basis of human experiences. He’s telling you all you need to know, nothing less and nothing more.

Invisible Monsters

Chuck Palahniuk

Palahniuk is famous for Fight Club, but that wasn’t supposed to be his first novel. Invisible Monsters was, but it was seen as too graphic and experimental. Even for the 90’s, that’s shameful. Luckily, though, after his success Monsters was released to us. The book is a brilliant example of post-modern literature. Palahniuk once said in an interview to not write down for the reader. Film, he says, has made readers very smart and the thing we (writers) have to do is write craftier stories—find ways to tell stories that are more interesting for the readers of today. The twists and turns in this novel you will never see coming and the film in your mind that this fiction evokes can inform you on how important it is to know your reading public and how the modern mind works to our advantage.


P.T.StoneP.T. Stone is a student at Clemson University studying English and Philosophy. He is an avid writer of poetry and prose, a composer, a frequent Facebook ranter, and a pure-bred digital generation brat. He is finishing his first novel, flowers with no petals, and has literary blogs here and here. When he isn’t trying to become famous writing, acting, or singing, Preston can be found chasing fluffy kitties to use as pillows while they purr or Instagram stalking Lady Gaga.

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