As you are no doubt well aware, there are millions of books out there to capture our attention, entertain us, educate us, instruct us. In each of the categories below there are countless others to choose from. I’ve included a few here that I particularly like and will update the list periodically. Obviously, Hemmingway, Faulkner, Salinger, and many others, are must-reads for anyone who loves the written word. Please visit my contact page to send me some of your own favorites.
BOOKS RELATING TO WRITING (or just getting the words right)
If you are writing a memoir, Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir is considered a “bible” for the task.
Mastering the Craft of Writing by Stephen Wilbers contains weekly exercises to focus your attention on some aspect of putting words on paper. This guide is even useful for business writers.
Stephen King‘s On Writing, A memoir of the Craft is a great description of the creative process of writing. He doesn’t list how-to’s or rules, but I found the insights into his life, his vulnerabilities, and how he works to be inspirational. Plus, the guy’s a great writer—this is a very easy read.
Any writing book you read will insist you possess The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. Duh! I’ve looked at the Chicago Manual of Style at the library—I’ll leave that one to the editors of this world.
Woe is I, The Grammaraphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Conner has been almost more valuable to me than Strunk and White. Ms. O’Conner makes it incredibly easy to understand when to use and who and when to use whom and all those other pesky grammatical enigmas. She gives easy ways to test the correctness of the word or phrase you are stumbling over.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is solid advice on the craft of writing. She peppers her advice with plenty of examples and entertaining asides. She strongly advises that we writers just sit down and write what is in our hearts and accept the fact that we are going to end up with a “shitty first draft.” That’s what re-writes are for. Personally, I think this is one of the most solid pieces of advice any writer can follow—myself, included.
I’ve read several of Bill Bryson’s books, and they are all amusing. But they are also full of well researched information. For instance, A Walk in the Woods includes a lot of history of the Appalachian Mountains region and the trees that still flourish there. For a writer, his Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words is very useful and as with all of his writing, there is enough humor to really keep your attention.
Kate Atkinson, Case Histories. Ms. Atkinson is an amazing word smith. This novel could fall into the crime genre but is so much more than that. There are four cases that our hero is pursuing and they all loop back on each other. Great fun and a great story. I have a second Atkinson book on my shelf (Life After Life) which I am very much looking forward to reading.
I could read anything that Barbara Kingsolver has written and, indeed, I’ve read several. Perhaps my favorite is Flight Behavior. This book takes on the subject of climate change—one of Kingsolver’s pet causes, I believe—and does it with a very human story that will have you enthralled to the end. But, almost anything she writes is enthralling—and so excellently crafted.
Atonement by Ian McEwan. War, love, guilt, class differences, childhood, and forgiveness. What more could you ask for? They made it into a movie and, of course, the book is better.
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. Ditto on the book to movie, although I did enjoy the movie quite a bit—the scenery is so lovely. This book confronts the U.S.’s internment of Japanese citizens during World War II. I don’t personally know of many books that touch on that subject.
Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop. The story revolves around a French Catholic priest who brings Catholicism to New Mexico starting in the 1850’s. Epic in its reach but very lyrical in its approach. I loved letting myself escape to that era and that area. O Pioneers is equally moving and beautifully written but takes us to the heartland of this country. A father leaves his farm to his daughter instead of his sons, because she cares more for the land than his sons do.
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. Historical fiction that takes place in the Pacific Northwest—another of my favorite parts of the country. A story about a man comfortable with his reclusive life who opens his heart to two young girls. I need to read this book again soon. I really enjoyed it when I read it several years ago.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters is another historical fiction book. This is a long book—the paperback is well over 500 pages—but a wonderfully crafter page-turner. An impoverished woman and her spinster daughter must take in borders in order to make ends meet. A relationship develops between the daughter and the wife of the couple renting their rooms, and things get pretty interesting from there.
I’ve read several of Louise Erdrich’s novels. I love reading books about Native Americans written by Native Americans. Pick any one of them—they’re all good.
I read both The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and enjoyed both of them a lot, but must admit that I’m not sure why there’s been such hype about each of them.
OK, I will admit that I’ve enjoyed a few Nelson DeMille‘s books. They’re quite good to listen to when I’m working out on the Nordic Trak that I have in our basement. His crimes/mysteries/adventures are fast paced and engaging. He’s actually a very good story crafter. Warning: his men are very brave and manly and his women are liberated and intelligent, but very sexy and voluptuous; they often engage in what the two sexes like to do in dark rooms. If his books were movies, they’d be rated R.
I just finished Julia Dahl’s Invisible City. Ms. Dahl recently participated in Columbia’s local Unbound Book Festival and I bought her first book after the festival. As a writer, I was very intrigued by the fact that this book is written in the first person present tense. The narrator is a freelance reporter who pursues her own investigation of a crime in the Hasidic community of Brooklyn. I felt that the first person present tense worked really well here, allowing the action to unfold right now, in your face.
I’ve read Zelda by Nancy Milford probably three times. The Jazz Age of artists has always fascinated me as has the mind of an artist. Zelda had talent of her own but had to stand in the shadow of her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her descent into schizophrenia, her life with Fitzgerald, and then death in a fire is so sad to watch. Yet, as I said, I’ve read this book three times.
I’ve long been interested in Native American life and spirituality. I started my exploration with Bury My Heart at Wounded, An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown. This is an incredibly comprehensive history.
Anyone interested in Native Americans and/or spirituality should read John G. Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks. This is a classic. Not only a history of the Sioux people, but a description of their spiritual life as well.