Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What is the One Book That Every Writer Should Read?

Reading is, dare I say, important to being a writer. (Controversial statement, I know.)

But if you had to choose one book that you think every writer should read, which one would it be?

The perfect novel? A guide to writing? Strunk & White?

I'm going with The Great Gatsby. It may not be my favorite novel of all time, but I think it's perhaps the most perfectly written.

Which one would you choose?

(This post was inspired by a recent Forum discussion)






303 comments:

«Oldest   ‹Older   1 – 200 of 303   Newer›   Newest»
Karen Rivers said...

Stephen King, "On Writing".

Caitlin said...

Stephen King's ON WRITING. Phenomenal book.

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. :) Amazing book. If you haven't read it. DO!

stacy said...

A third vote for On Writing.

hannah said...

RUNAWAY BUNNY.

JEM said...

Oh that's too tough. This is the one food on a desert island question...To Kill a Mockingbird. I know, I'm continuing the high school reading trend, but there's a reason they're there (phew, try that three times fast). Lee Harper did it so well the first time she didn't have to try again.

Steve Brezenoff said...

John Gardner's "The Art of Fiction" -- and while they're at it, most of his novels, too.

Erica said...

The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner. Amazing.

PhilH said...

The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar.

Natalie Whipple said...

THE SCARLET LETTER, just so you know what NOT to do.

No, kidding. A little.

grrlgenius said...

Is this like the Highlander, there can be only 1? I think you have to read everything you can get your hands on & know the good, the bad, the fantastic, the cotton candy because it all helps.

Right now I'm obsessed with Stephen King's book "On Writing" which reminded me read, read, read all the time!

amylmaris said...

Ray Bradbury's The Zen of Writing is a little gem.
www.amylmaris.com

Terri Nixon said...

Browne and King's "Self Editing For Fiction Writers."

Absolute gold.

Karla Nellenbach said...

I'd have to go with GRAPES OF WRATH...or OF MICE AND MEN. IMHO, that man knew how to write! ;)

Joseph Wise said...

Asimov's I, Robot...which is a great guide to character development.

Harlem Writer said...

I would say "On Becoming a Novelist" by John Gardner.

katieellyson said...

Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat." Grasping basic plot structure has to be the hardest thing for a lot of beginning writers I know. Plus, it covers a lot of things like persistence and having the right attitude in such a fickle business.

Christine Macdonald said...

Hands down King's On Writing.

Ted Cross said...

If there was only one book on earth, I would have to go with the only one I can re-read without ever getting bored - LOTR.

Chris Ing said...

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Just so people know how absurd you can be and get away with it.

A.B. said...

Is The Great Gatsby the most perfectly written novel? It jumps point of view. Nick couldn't possibly narrate the scene in Wilson's garage towards the end. Although it works, so perhaps that kind of thing shouldn't matter.

I think The Things They Carried is pretty darn perfect.

nkrell said...

I have to give a shout out to literary agent, Mr. Donald Maass. He has not one, but two great books. 'Writing the Breakout Novel' and 'The Fire In Fiction'.

Art 'N Soul said...

I love "Dandelion Wine" by Ray Bradbury. It's not his usual sci-fi story, but it's so beautifully written...really a pleasure to read.

David Downs said...

Stephen King? Charlatans.

'Politics and the English Language' by George Orwell.

Anonymous said...

Whatever Oprah tells you to read.

Stacy McKitrick said...

Stephen King's ON WRITING, for sure. Great advice in that book. Now, if I can only get it back from my daughter!

Exmoorjane said...

On Writing is great but the only problem with read, read, read is that it stops one from writing, writing, writing...

Sarah Waters - Fingersmith is nigh-on perfect, I reckon, for inspiration.

Ink said...

Dubliners, by James Joyce. Read the stories. Study them. Understand the multitude of levels they're working on. The realization of how much thought went into every single word... this says something about meaning and the craft of writing. Every word is important. And I can't think of anything where that holds true more than in Dubliners.

Laura Renegar said...

Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD, because it's funny and full of wisdom for writers.

Rena Rossner said...

I was extremely influenced by Thomas Wolfe's "You Can't Go Home Again" - perhaps it was just the time and stage in my life when I read it, but when I read that book I knew that I was and would always be a writer. You can't be afraid when you write you have to tell the story that you have to tell, even if it means you can't go home again...

D. G. Hudson said...

'Fire in Fiction' by Donald Maass. It actually tells you HOW to use some of his suggestions to better your writing. A lot of writing books tell you to do this or that, but leave it up to you to figure out how. This book delivers.

Other than Writing books, I'd recommend any of the Hemingway stories written while he lived in Key West and Cuba. (To Have and To Have Not; Islands in the Stream).

Margo said...

Only one?!?

Okay, Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass.

Glynn said...

A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

hitthosekeys said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KaT said...

Gotta go with "Wuthering Heights", for the dynamic main characters and Bronte's use of unreliable narration. That book blew me away.

Heidi Yantzi said...

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. That book is not only a great story, but you don't even realize how much you can learn about how to write a book until way after you've read it.

Also, HOLES by Louis Sachar. It all comes together so perfectly.

ON WRITING of course is like the indispensable textbook, but every writer must read STRUNK & WHITE.

Brita James said...

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and On Writing by Stephen King.

andrea said...

I'm also going to go with John Gardener's 'The Art of Fiction'. I was handed that in college and it's amazing.

I'll also say Salinger's 'Franny and Zooey'.

Heidi Yantzi said...

Wait, only one? But books are like potato chips. You can't stop at one!!!!

jjtew said...

The one that made her fall in love with words/books, and that book, be it IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE, THE GREAT GATSBY or even, god forbid, TWILIGHT, should be read and reread. For me, it's Austen's PERSUASION. 'Course Strunk and White's not bad to have either... :)

James said...

I think every writer would benefit from having one book that they can read once every year that'll keep giving them something new every time they read it. After they've spent the last year out gaining experience, coming back to that one book can provide a compass point to their passion for the art & craft of writing.

For myself, that's Franny & Zooey by JD Salinger.

As for one book every writer should read...in the spirit of your example, The Great Gatsby, I'd offer up The Sun Also Rises.

On Writing is one of the best books about writing in general, but doesn't really provide that Star In The Sky to shoot for.

And quite frankly, there ain't no Should's in this business, yo.

bo said...

Doesn't matter, as long as it's the worst book you've ever read. Read it a million times if you have to in order to understand exactly why it's so awful.

Veronica Roth said...

Definitely "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott. Hilarious and smart.

Daryl Sedore said...

Read the Great Gatsby years ago. But I would say Elizabeth Lyon's book, "A Writer's Guide to Fiction."
My personal number one book on writing...

Henk said...

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of (Screen)writing by Robert McKee.

From http://www.storylink.com/article/321:

Q: What are the critical questions that a writer should be asking prior to crafting a story?

Robert McKee: Beyond imagination and insight, the most important component of talent is perseverance - the will to write and rewrite in pursuit of perfection. Therefore, when inspiration sparks the desire to write, the artist immediately asks: Is this idea so fascinating, so rich in possibility, that I want to spend months, perhaps years, of my life in pursuit of its fulfillment? Is this concept so exciting that I will get up each morning with the hunger to write? Will this inspiration compel me to sacrifice all of life's other pleasures in my quest to perfect its telling? If the answer is no, find another idea. Talent and time are a writer's only assets. Why give your life to an idea that's not worth your life?

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

"On Writing" by Stephem King

Deni Krueger said...

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss

Every word counts. Every word propels the story forward.

4ndyman said...

Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles made me want to become a writer. Such poetry in his prose.

Josin L. McQuein said...

There is no one book that's right for every writer. Each person will find inspiration in something different, and each will learn in their own way. What works for me may not work for anyone else.

Having said that -

the Dictionary is always good, as is the Thesaurus.

Kimberly Kincaid said...

I love how subjective this list is turning out to be...and it's quite the straightforward question. Fascinating.

I would say that whatever reaches out and grabs you, refusing to let go until it's moved you to the point where you're either exhausted or finished with the pages should do it. Whatever feeds your voice, there you are.

What fits the bill for me isn't going to fit the bill for everyone, so I'll venture to say that (even though I don't think Nathan intended it to be) this is a trick question.

Although the list so far is compelling and insightful- and I've added some more reads (and re-reads) to my pile.

Thanks, y'all!

Chuck H. said...

No! I will not be drawn into your nefarious plot to drive me crazy by making me chose just one book every writer should read. I will not! Well, maybe . . . no! I will not!!!

Nona said...

I don't know about books, but a funny movie about writing (well, it's partially about writing and partially about getting rejected from Stanford) is "Orange County."

Mark said...

So many exemplars of good craft, I wouldn't know which to choose.

For mechanics, Style by Joseph Williams, hands down. 7th edition or newer, mind you.

Holly said...

The instruction book to the coffee maker.

Debra Moore said...

A case could be made for reading such a piece of tripe you *know* you can do better...

But me? I'd recommend (and read) Gone With the Wind. Pulitzer Prize winner, fabulous story, timeless...yeah. That's the one I'd pick.

(Love On Writing, though...just sayin')

ljkuhnley said...

My favorite writing book is Description by Monica Wood.

The one book I've recommended (and read) to anyone who will listen is Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus because we all need to laugh sometimes.

MJR said...

I'm going with THE GREAT GATSBY also, and James Joyce's DUBLINERS. The latter isn't a hard read--really...but the writing is beautiful.

Mary said...

I'm reading the Marshall Plan For Novel Writing by Evan Marshall. I like the book because it breaks down the steps to writing a well- plotted, character-driven, and enticing plot for a novel. It has examples and specific instructions. I love "On Writing" because it's inspirational but it doesn't show the nuts and bolts of writing a plot line that works. This does. Now, we will see if it works when I create the next New York Times Bestseller ;).

Marilyn Peake said...

Only one book? That's a really difficult question. I guess I would recommend THE POISONWOOD BIBLE by Barbara Kingsolver - to learn how to develop a distinct voice for every character, write with beautiful language, and keep the plot moving along from beginning to end.

Rachele Alpine said...

"To Kill a Mockingbird." It's brillant!

Dawn said...

Definitely Stephen King's ON WRITING.

However, for a great lesson on the importance of "voice" (or actually, just "getting" the concept of voice) I'd recommend Where the Truth Lies by Rupert Holmes.

katharrmann said...

The Forest for the Trees -- An Editor's Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner. Just finished it yesterday. Stellar info on how writers/agents/publishers/editors work.

Rachel @ MWF Seeking BFF said...

These comments are totally inspiring me to go reread On Writing, which I read in high school or college some time ago.

I might vote for The Things They Carried. The chapter on "How To Tell A True War Story" completely changed the way I think about storytelling, fiction and non.

LS Murphy said...

I agree with "On Writing" by Stephen King for a must read. But I would also offer up "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen. One of the best first lines ever written and it only gets better from there. The character development is outstanding.

Anonymous said...

Gotta go classic and say "Elements of Style."
-Colin Hill

Rebecca said...

"The Giver" because you can read it at any age and get something new out of it. (I first read it at 7, loved it, read it again at 17, loved it for a different reason, read it at 27 and loved it once again)

As far as a book on writing? "On Writing", of course!

Vinny said...

The phone book. Where else are you going to get some really interesting character names?

Anonymous said...

Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers

Works for me.

Deb and David said...

Nathan, that's amazing you say "The Great Gatsby." That is the book, read in high school, that inspired me to write.

But there is no one book every writer should read. To be a writer, you must be a reader. A voracious reader. If one book existed that spoke to all writers, we'd live in a very dull world.

Jaimie said...

Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD.

Wonderful.

Ciara Blount said...

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Because inevitable apocalyptic doom can be hilarious, too! You gotta admire books that do funny well, especially sarcastic funny. (Honorable Mention: Hitchhiker's Guide.)

Mira said...

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland.

It's religious and outdated, so you have to know that going in, but what she has to say is wonderful.

katharrmann said...

... oh, and also chapter 55 of The French Lieutenant's Woman, where the author breaks in to say that he has no control over the characters he's written. Classic.

d minus said...

i think it's wise NOT to read a craft book until you've written and revised a manuscript of your own. IMO, style should be natural, not learned. That said, I'll second Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Amethyst said...

I agree with Stephen King's "On Writing" and Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird.

Would like to add "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg in terms of books on craft.

But in terms of a work of fiction, I would recommend Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist." A simple story with A LOT of meaning.

robin said...

Either HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban or HP and the Goblet of Fire -- without a doubt, JKR revolutionized the book world with this series.

Margaret Yang said...

WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass.

Anonymous said...

Webster's 2nd

J. R. McLemore said...

For writers (concerning the craft), I'd have to say Stephen King's On Writing.

Simply for the pleasure of reading a great book...well, there's so many! But, I really loved Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

Bane of Anubis said...

Yep - Strunk and White.

Christopher Gronlund said...

I was leaning toward Stephen King's On Writing, too, but Chuck Jones's Chuck Amuck is the book that really did it for me.

While Chuck Amuck is about art (focusing on animation), few books about creativity are as passionate and fun. It has its serious moments; great anecdotes; it touches on the importance of collaborating; it discusses the importance of understanding what's always worked.

The biggest thing I took away from the book when I read it years ago is the importance of diving into what you want to do and seeing it everywhere in your environment.

Man, now I want to read it again.

And the Great Gatsby!

david elzey said...

Another vote for "Of Mice and Men."

Rich Dailey said...

"Ask the Dust" by John Fante.

David said...

The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta by Mario Vargas Llosa.

A novelist writing about a novelist interviewing people to write a novel?

Marilyn Peake said...

Your question reminds me of something that’s been niggling at the back of my brain for a few days, namely how to write a novel that gets picked up by agents in today’s world because they see it as a potential best-seller. This past Friday, you posted a link to The Rejectionist’s Blog post, The Cold and Ugly Light of Truth: Special MFA Edition. That post has haunted me for days. Would THE GREAT GATSBY really get picked up today? Would most novels from the past get picked up today? I don’t think so. I know too many authors who have received rave reviews and/or phone calls from agents, telling them how wonderful their writing is, but how they have to reject their manuscript because it probably won’t sell enough copies in today’s market. I’ve started a dual reading track at this point: reading literary novels with lovely language and perfect structure, and also forcing myself to read best-selling novels that are badly written. (I’m not saying that all best-selling novels are badly written, by the way – not at all. I’m not trying to be snarky or anything like that. There are a lot of well-written best-selling novels, but there are also many – not just a few – that would have been rejected years ago for terrible writing.) I thought about this in relationship to your question, "What is the One Book That Every Writer Should Read?" I think it depends. Writing an extremely well-written MFA quality novel might have gotten a writer published years ago, but it might not do that today. Is reading a literary novel as a guide for how to write a novel for today's market a mistake? It might be.

J.J. Bennett said...

Stephen King, "On Writing". Great book. I gave it to a friend and he lost my copy. (@$%&*!)

Holly Bodger said...

"Save the Cat" by Blake Snyder.

Robert Pace said...

Good books all, and I've read quite a few of them,(and created a new shopping list as well) but for me you can't go wrong with a novel that begins

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

Gotta go with Charles Dickens and A Tale Of Two Cities.

MiFOCALS said...

Loved "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" by Donald Miller. It's about living/writing a great story. Inspirational.

Liz said...

Ray Bradbury blows me away. His short story "A Sound of Thunder," amazed me in junior high and reading "Dandelion Wine" as an adult made me feel like a kid again.

Carol Fleserieu-Miller said...

By this comment, over 80 comments answer the question. I'm thinking of writing down all the books mentioned. So for me, the original question from Nathan has transformed into something like the following: what are the must read books for writers?

Here's one more for the list. "Reading Like a Writer" by Francine Prose. Yes her pen last name at least is "Prose." Great book that leads you to other essential books for writers, some that have already been mentioned.

Joni Rodgers said...

Sidhartha by Hermann Hesse sums up everything you need to know about making it in the publishing industry:

"I can fast, I can pray, I can wait."

Munk said...

The first Percy Jackson novel... that way you won't write a turning point scene in your first novel that includes the Gateway Arch.

Kate said...

Pride and Prejudice by...just kidding, The Elements of Style.

I recently read Make a Scene and learned some interesting things.

I second Ink's nod to Dubliners. Thanks Dr. Helene Meyers for making me read it. Good stuff, surprisingly good stuff.

reader said...

I'm assuming by book you mean fiction, not "writing books," so I'll say WHERE the WILD THINGS ARE, which is a pretty damn flawless book and can be learned from regardless of your writing ambitions.

Anonymous said...

Find the pinnacle piece of your genre, read it, and then forget it as you blaze a new trail on your own.

For instance, epic/high fantasy writers should read LOTR, ignore all the imitators (which is the entire genre that LOTR spawned) because they are only pale shadows, and then put it away and write your own to outdo it, not to imitate it.

Cambria Dillon said...

Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends...for me, it's a good reminder that writing (whether novels or poetry) should be full of FUN.

Melissa Eiselein said...

I think aspiring authors should read Chris Roerden's "Don't Sabotage Your Submission."

I started King's "On Writing" and never finished it. After reading all these comments here, maybe I should pull it out and give it a second try.

Emily White said...

"A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court." Mark Twain knew how to break the rules and do it right.

Lisa Desrochers said...

Jumping on the ON WRITING bandwagon. Stephen King's book was a great read full of great advice.

JDeck said...

Say what? Stephen King's "On Writing"? No wonder there are so many terrible books out these days.

If you want something that will BENEFIT you as a writer, then I'd go for "Immediate Fiction" by Jerry Cleaver. Lays out the true basics of writing (not the technical crap of Strunk & White or pointless "read, read, read" advice).

Crystal said...

"On Writing" by King.

cwsherwoodedits said...

Bird by Bird.

Francis said...

Strunk & White, hands down.

Francis said...

I liked ON WRITING as well, but King openly says plot is secondary and really isn't that important, which I did not agree with at all.

Scott said...

The Monster at the End of this Book. Find me a better lesson on getting the reader to turn the page.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I’m going to be rebellious and say the Bible.

Dave Daniels said...

I'm really puzzled by all these responses suggesting books by Stephen King and similar writers. The only book that *every* writer should read is the collected works of Shakespeare, followed by the Bible, and I'm surprised neither has been mentioned.

alyson said...

For anyone who puts pen to paper to do anything more than signing their name.....

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

I think this should be required reading the first week of EVERY high school english class. At the very least, the chapter entitled "Shitty First Drafts."

Backfence said...

Well, I'm going with the Bible, but not for religious reasons. There's such a wealth of symbolism and metaphors and idioms, historical references, conflicts . . . So much material for a writer to draw on and learn from.

As to writing how-to's - I vote for Donald Maass's WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL.

Anonymous said...

This is the #1 bestseller on Amazon today, and it's only available for pre-order: The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella (Twilight Saga). Writers should read and learn from it?

ryan field said...

I'm going with Gatsby on this. I've read the first page a thousand times.

Sarah Scotti-Einstein said...

Job Hunting for Dummies

Toby Speed said...

I'm with Deni -- The Carrot Seed!

Emily Anderson said...

Tough question. I load up on whatever I'm writing about and in every genre there's that pedestal novel. But if I had to pick one, I'm going to have to vote for Catcher in the Rye because it's such awesome show instead of tell.

I think it's about time I crack open my copy of Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird and remember why I loved them. Maybe one of these days I'll get to On Writing.

Anonymous said...

Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon.

Penny Sansevieri said...

The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson, a fabulous resource!

Tim Riley said...

Sounds like On Writing is the big winner-I'll be sure to check that out.

I would suggest Catcher in the Rye, don't think I've read a book with better voice.

Anjali said...

I could never decide between ON WRITING or BIRD BY BIRD. They are my bibles.

Rick Daley said...

ON WRITING, by Stephen King. I was going to say THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, but since I read the latter because it was recommended in the former, I'm going there. It's a chicken-and-egg scenario, but with an answer.

Nic said...

Have to say i immediately thought of On Writing by Stephen King but maybe it should be a very well written novel but that may try and make someone write a certain way.

I also think "The Writer's Tale" is very good because even though its about writing for TV, i think a lot of it crosses over - it tells you that you don't have to plan everything in meticulous detail before you start writing, yes you need to plan in your head to some degree but Russell T Davies emphasises that each writer has a different style,

Anonymous said...

Harriette Arnow's The Dollmaker

Anonymous said...

Why do you think the Great Gatsby was a good book?

I "read" it in high school because it was required reading. I hated the whole thing, but that might just have been out of principle because I was forced to read it and I hate being told what to do.

So know I have to wonder if I should read it again.
In fact, maybe I should go back and reread all the books I had to read in high school. I pretty much hated all of them--To Kill a Mockingbird, Hamlet, King Lear, The Scarlet Letter, Heart of Darkness. They weren't all bad, were they?

Ulysses said...

Okay... I'll go with... mine?

Totally self-serving answer there.

The answers seem to be divided between books that "teach" writing and books that exemplify great writing. So I'm going to choose 2. I realize this is against the rules, but as Edison said, "Hell, there are no rules here! We're trying to accomplish something!"

So:
How to write: Strunk and White. Like Zen, the words are few but their meaning vast.
Great Writing: Hemingway's short stories. Hills Like White Elephants or The Short, Happy Life of Frances Macomber. A man could spend his whole life trying to say as much with as little.

Diana said...

Hamlet, William Shakespeare.

Hamlet's advice to the actors is not only the best direction a writer could give to actors, its also a marvelous guideline for authors.

Besides which, where could one better learn about characterization, motivation, comic relief and pathos? :)

Amy Tate said...

I'm going to be the odd ball here, but I wouldn't choose a book on the craft of writing. I would say that you should read, study and outline the one book - that one mesmerizing story - that made you fall in love with story telling and writing. For me, it's Toilken's work. His settings are timeless and each character has a purpose. The plot pulls me into his world so much that every time I close the cover, I wish I was still there. Studying his writing has helped me tremendously.

Keeks said...

The Great Gatsby- I agree 100%. My all-time favorite book.

TERI REES WANG said...

Gatsby is great but, My Antonia is better!

Anonymous said...

After I read "Atonement" by Ian McEwan I thought it was the most perfect thing I'd ever read. The structure of it is extraordinary. Yum.

Scott said...

Just one? My normal absolutely must read is Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. If I could write 1/8 as good as he does in that one book . . .

Katy said...

I absolutely agree on Gatsby.

I'd also say The Secret History by Donna Tartt, because that's the other most perfect book I've ever read. :-)

Ruby Jameson said...

The death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes. Technical masterpiece, yet evocative and heartfelt.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the folks who are voting for bad book to show you how NOT to write.

I vote the Bourne Identity -- terrible dialogue, wooden characters, yet I just keep reading it. (As Jason Bourne would ponder, in italics, Why, God? Why?)

Kristin Laughtin said...

Besides ON WRITING and Strunk & White, I'd say SPIN, as I've been obsessed with it for the past 2-3 years. It's got a bit of everything: good character relationships at different ages, very well-formed characters, and drama on a literal cosmological scale, all perfectly balanced. It's a great example of how to write Big Issues and then make them relate to everyday people. And the prose is gorgeous. I think writers could learn a lot by dissecting this book. It's also the one book I can think of that everyone I've recommended it to has enjoyed.

Maya said...

"Self Editing for Fiction Writers" actually got me to re-read "Great Gatsby" because they do a fabulous job of pointing out what's so great about the writing (which I really didn't appreciate in high school).

Stephen King's "On Writing" made it OK to be a "pantser", ie write without extensive outlines. It was a huge relief for me because I thought I was doing everything wrong.

But mostly it's not what you read but just to read, read, read! In my teens, I read loads of romance novels. Guess what? They were an excellent source for learning vocabulary and history.

emmiefisher said...

Normally I would have said Stephen King's "On Writing", but I recently picked up Ray Bradbury's book, "Zen in the Art of Writing", and I couldn't get more than a few paragraphs before I was bursting with ideas to write. Almost every essay resulted in me writing something or making lists of story ideas.

Joseph L. Selby said...

I have to agree with Heidi that TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD would be a great selection, though I will disagree with Strunk and White. Those two have a racket going on that just won't die. And while King touches on some good advice, his hate for adverbs is a disservice to the reader. There is a middle ground.

My pick will by MY ANTONIA by Willa Cather.

Sommer Leigh said...

I actually responded to this in the forum discussion and stated that The Great Gatsby was the most important novel to my career as a student and writer.

It's not my favorite novel of all time, but it is the novel that made me understand literary analysis better than any book I'd read before it. I think I wrote at least a dozen papers about Gatsby throughout my college career, everything from its unreliable narrator in Nick to understanding the role each of the women play in this story. This book so completely conquers craft that for every person who sits down and reads it there will be that many understandings of the characters, plot, and story.

Lady Glamis said...

Yes! I would go with THE GREAT GATSBY, as well. It happens to be in my top 5 favorite novels of all time.

Dawn Maria said...

BIRD BY BIRD- Anne Lamott. Timeless and earnest.

mkcbunny said...

Shakespeare

Anonymous said...

@Marilyn,

I had the same thought re: "MFA writing" BUT perhaps, just perhaps with a little luck, a lot of hard work and some key short fiction placement you could be the next Jhumpa Lahiri or Junot Diaz or Zadie Smith and not have compromised anything but still sold A LOT.

JDS said...

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Kelly Wittmann said...

LOLITA. Understanding that this masterpiece was written by a man whose first language was not English... Well, how could that not inspire any writer to give his or her absolute best?

Anonymous said...

Novel, not craft book? TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

Craft book? Ann Lamont's BIRD BY BIRD. I can't honestly say that I would have really understood all she had to say had I not had a few years of writing under my belt, though. Perhaps EMOTIONAL STRUCTURE by Peter Dunne.

Eva

Dory Adams said...

THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O'Brien

Wilson Knut said...

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose, which should lead to reading every book she mentions.

Kristi Helvig said...

If the question had been: What is one book every writer should HAVE, I'd say Strunk & White. It's the best reference book ever. For the one book every writer should read, I have to go along w/ the crowd on my favorite writing book ever - ON WRITING by Stephen King.

David Kubicek said...

Fiction: To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

Technique: Writing the Breakout Novel (Donald Maass)

Nick said...

The Black Company by Glen Cook. But like a lot of series, the first book (or in this case the first three) are the best.

Julie Hedlund said...

For perfection in writing, I'd go with Lolita or Revolutionary Road.

For craft, also Stephen King's On Writing.

Julie Hedlund said...

P.S. I guess I need to read The Great Gatsby again. It's been a while.

Erika Andrade said...

I would agree with Stephen King's, "On Writing". As this has already been plugged, I must choose between two others:

1) Any Shakespeare play (or whomever you belive wrote w/ or instead of him) because human nature in all it's forms are there; like Clint Eastwood "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (not to mention the funny)!

2)"One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, but only if you have a grasp of Latino Culture or have Latino origins. ('nuf said)

The Point:
Writing comes from a part of yourself which in turn shapes the characters and plot. It also allows the story to take on a life of it's own....evolving much like we can.
Just sayin'. -E

Marilyn Peake said...

Anon @2:21 PM -

That would be the achievement of a dream, wouldn't it? I don't know that I'll ever achieve that or that I'm even capable of ever achieving that, but those are the writers I truly admire. I definitely read those types of books, and I've also branched out to read the poorly written books. I want to know what's out there, and maybe try to figure out why books with such vastly different levels of quality make the best-seller lists. It's kind of fascinating.

JoAnn said...

Twilight!

Tee hee. I love how he looks like a male model in his rain coat. AWESOME STUFF!

Especially if you are writing about seating arrangements in the school cafeteria.

Brian Crawford said...

I didn't want to like Brenda Ueland's IF YOU WANT TO WRITE, but I did.
She says that the imagination works slowly and quietly, and we have to be idle and open to channel it. The problem is that most of us don't sit still long enough to be creative. Even when we have a spare moment, we fill it with something, whether it's TV or the Internet or drinking or exercise. I'm particularly guilty of this. I can't eat a meal by myself without something to read. If I'm stuck somewhere more than two minutes without a distraction, I get anxious. Can we not just sit idle and take in the scenery?

Ueland argues that it is in these quiet times that we form the ideas we'll draw from later -- to create something.

AM Riley said...

What a great list of books, but I like to read Websters new universal unabridged Dictionary regularly.

Jess said...

The best book I have ever read about writing is FREEING YOUR CREATIVITY by Marshall J. Cook. Fabulous book.

Kathleen Guler said...

Self-editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. Thorough yet concise. Every writer should memorize it.

Rollie Raleigh said...

Gatsby would have been my pick - That said, I'll cheat and offer other suggestions.

Tristam Shandy or Tom Jones to view the childhood of the English language novel.

Huckleberry Finn for character and dialogue.

Gravity's Rainbow for post WWII expression.

Ceridwen said...

Owl Moon--especially out loud to small children.

wendy said...

I write mainly for children/YAs and always fantasy, so the book that brought me most pleasure and inspiration was Alice In Wonderland for the magic of its characters, clever wordplay and sheer fun. Also children's writers can't go wrong by reading an Enid Blyton story. Her books are often focused on wish-fulfillment and are very simplistic, but as a child these stories were like nectar from the gods for me - as they were for many other children of the time.

Anonymous said...

I suggest Wikipedia because it's always changing, so you'll never finish it.

Ricki Schultz said...

Every writer should read OF MICE AND MEN.

All that Steinbeck accomplishes *in less than a hundred pages* is amazing.

IMHO, it's a perfect novel.

ElizaJane said...

I wouldn't want to recommend every writer to read the same book. Every writer should read completely different books, as they will also (we hope) produce completely different and original books.

Anonymous said...

Strunk and White is a joke. I always laugh when I see the 4 examples of passive voice given. (Only one is passive.)


Anyway, I guess it would be 'The Idiot's Guide to Not Starving While You Try to Build a Writing Career.'

Surely someone has written that by now...

Jasmine @ Eat Move Write said...

I'm a firm believer in "Read what you love," because most likely whatever you love most is the kind of thing you'll end up writing. (Atleast, that's true for me.) I'm a memoirist (right now), so I read alot of memoirs. My agent recommended a great book called "The Art of Time in Memoir" by Sven Birkerts. Certainly not an easy read, but worth it. I did like King's "On Writing."

Jim Oliver said...

Wow...No votes for Swain?

Techniques of the Selling Writer.

Sure, it's denser than flies on a rhino's butt, but there be gold in that thar hill.

The Pollinatrix said...

Wow. I'm surprised that out of 168 commenters, only one (that I noticed) has mentioned Writing Down the Bones. That's the one that gets my vote, hands down.

Cacy said...

Slaughter-house Five by Vonnegut. brought out the non-linear storyteller in me. also, gotta love sarcasim.

Lani Longshore said...

I find my writing improves after reading nonfiction, so I'm going to suggest Mark Kurlansky's Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. Elegant prose, wit, carefully structured arguments - I should be so lucky to write this well (to say nothing of making the reader care about an ugly fish).

Robin Constantine said...

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. Such memorable characters!

Derek Osborne said...

I've never read a book on writing except The Elements of Style. I like what Amy Tate said, and for me that book was The Sun Also Rises. I still read it once a year and use it for starting fluid when I'm blocked. I also have Shakespeare's Complete Works on CD and always have one play on my iPod. People wonder why I'm never upset when the plane's delayed.

The Red Angel said...

Wow, sounds like I'm going to have to read this On Writing. :] It's gotten loads of votes so far!

I'm going to have to say My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Memorable characters and an unforgettable plot. It's got everything in it (romance, family, suspense, everything!). I think Picoult is a great contemporary writer. :)

AndrewDugas said...

No "On The Road" fans out there?

Tsk, tsk. A masterpiece of solid writing, character development, scene, and wit.

And, as time passes, it has become valuable as a snapshot of a postwar America that was disappearing even as the characters were experiencing it.

I asked

GalaktioNova said...

Definitely NOT King's On Writing!!

Don Quixote. If Cervantes could write LIKE THIS in the flippin' 16th century, we have no excuses! /-)

Seriously, IMHO, Donald Maass' books on Writing A Breakout Novel are by far the best. They tell a novel writer exactly what s/he needs to know.

Lucinda said...

I have a shelf full of books - dictionaries, grammar, Elements of Style, etc, but having read both Stephen King's, and David Morrell's books on what they suggest for success...

I vote for "The Successful Novelist" by David Morrell (the author of "First Blood" that later became the movies about Rambo.)

J. T. Shea said...

Ray Bradbury, Robert McKee, Mark Twain, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, an embarrassment of riches! I offer no definitive answer. But I am rereading TREASURE ISLAND, an object lesson in leaving out the boring bits. As is THE GREAT GATSBY, come to think of it.

Tricia said...

The Mr. Putter and Tabby series

Terry Towery said...

Fiction: "Rabbit is Rich" by John Updike.

Non-fiction: "On Writing" by Stephen King

Second place, non-fiction: "Writing the Breakout Novel" by Donald Maas.

Michelle said...

Campbell's HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES. It changed not only my writing, but how I viewed my entire life.

Helen Hanson said...

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, John le Carré

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Because I like them.

@Joni Rodgers – your Sidhartha argument is persuasive . . .

joe said...

The Lieutenants by WEB Griffin

Sam Hranac said...

I am stunned that more haven't chosen Strunk & White. I mean as the ONE book to read? Sure King's book is required and many of these others. But as the ONE book, I have to go with Strunk & White.

annerallen said...

Donald Maass. If you want to know why, go to http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/ right now. Do not have any beverages near your keyboard.

callofkairos said...

I'm with you on the Great Gatsby. It seemed to perfectly combine writing, plot, and character.

Nicole L Rivera said...

Break Into Fiction, by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love (if you write fiction).

Stacey O'Neale said...

If you feel like your are losing focus or you can't find your writing mojo then you must read

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Also, Steven King's - On Writing for all your other writing needs.

King is my Buddah!

Jil said...

I definitely agree with what Marilyn Peake wrote at 11:27. Those wonderful classics would probably be firmly rejected by the modern agent.
I also agree with the suggestion that we read what we really love because that is what we will be happiest writing.
For me- I love the sensitivity of Paul Gallico's "Love of Seven Dolls" and "The Snow Goose."

Tassia Therumi said...

To Kill a Mockingbird.

Every writer should learn how to touch every single soul that reads his books.

David said...

got to go with
Zen and the Art of .... Robert Persig
Even in his descriptions of the majestic scenery there is/remains a feeling of isolation of the human spirit, a deep desire to know more, possible more than we as mere mortals are allowed

D.M.Cunningham said...

Hero With a Thousand Faces. Joseph Campbell rocks. It's the bible on story. Everyone else is just repeating his words with spin.

A. E. Anderson said...

My new favorite, "The Courage to Write" by Ralph Keyes.

RLS said...

I have four kids, so I intentionally resist the 'pick one' game.
The books that come to mind:
The Right to Write and Letters To A Young Artist by Julia Cameron
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
anything by Amy Bloom
Strunk and White
(Charolette's Web, too)
anything by Judy Bloom (what's with these Bloom chicks?)
I know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
John Cheever's short stories(to get in the mood)
The newspaper (to get my heart rate up ...)
and finally-- your blog. I meet people who say they want to write. I suggest they check your blog. If they don't, I suspect they're not in it for the long haul, because there's writing and there's the industry. You taught me about the industry.
Apologies Strunk and White. To be concise: thank you NB.

Grace Rose Schreck said...

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle. And the writer should remember that it was rejected umpteen times before it was published by FS & G. And then it won several awards, including a Newberry. That is just plain comforting right there. And it's a great book.

B. Nagel said...

Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. Because every word must increase and support weight.

(If you hate poetry, read DUBLINERS. Many prefect lines.)

George Fripley said...

Year of the Horsetails by R.F. Tapsell. Of all the books I have read, this paints the best pictures of medieval battle scenes. I could visualise the country and see the people. The opening line also got me straight in.

'On a certain day a man rode for his life'

George Fripley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Moyrid said...

Jane Austen-Pride and prejudice. 200 years later and we still make it into block buster movies.

abc said...

I'm not kissing up, I swear, but I have to agree with Nathan and go with The Great Gatsby. It has a good plot and a most excellent story. It has longing and death and heartbreak and desire and damnit if Fitzgerald isn't the most beautiful writer.

When I read The Great Gatsby, when I think about The Great Gatsby, I think it is what great writing is all about. And then I cry at the exquisiteness of it all.

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