Well, good to see that everyone is looking for fun lists for holiday shopping! The “30 Books Every Writer Should Own” blog entry spiked my average reader count for this blog; it was the highest single-day total yet. I thank you all very much!
I’ve already received some wonderful comments, but this one leads to today’s blog: “What books were hardest for you to keep off the Top 30 list?”
Since I took 50 books that have touched me deeply in my writing career – or life – and pared them down to 30, I thought I’d run out the list of the 20 “Very Honorable Mentions.” Keep in mind: this list is incredibly subjective. All of these books belong on every writer’s short list of titles. They continue the theme of how I believe writers should read – roundly, fully, deeply, and interactively.
The Very Honorable Mentions (again, not in any particular order):
The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art, by Joyce Carol Oates: If you could mate pure, distilled wisdom and vision with the intimacy of a deep romance, this book would be the offspring. What a treasure, by one of the greatest writers on the planet.
The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself, by Susan Bell: For most writers, the hardest part of the process comes after you finish writing the draft – editing your work. In my opinion, this is the best book on editing. It contains tips, strategies, counsel from the greatest book editors of the past century, and interviews with top-selling authors. The author’s personal touch makes self-editing very inviting … and I invite you in, because these days, books need to go to publishers very well edited.
Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury: Zen connotes space, presence, serenity, succinctness. All of which you find in Bradbury’s prolific writing style. I was at a signing when science fiction’s greatest living writer toured this book 20 years ago … I’ll never forget his encouraging comments to me. This book remain a treasure.
On Being a Writer, Bill Strickland, ed: I kept this in the Top 30 list until the last moment. A great collection of conversations with our finest authors, who discuss voice, technique and process openly, in a way that every writer can absorb.
Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne Rice, by Katherine Ransland: One of the most poignant biographies of a living literary figure. Ransland’s book itself is art. It also dives all the way into how tragedy, turmoil, deep suffering and vision created the author who did the impossible – rewrote the legacy of vampires.
The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell: We need to be in contact with the mythologies that formed the archetypes we use in our writing. We also need to know the art of myth-making as storytellers. This book, first published in conjunction with a PBS series in the late 1980s, brings myth into the present. Worthy companion: Mythology, by Edith Hamilton.
Keeping a Journal You Love, by Sheila Bender: A wonderful friend in the writing-teaching community, Sheila has dedicated the last 20 years of her life to helping writers improve their craft. She’s written several books, but this brings home the essence of what it takes to be a compelling writer: Going deep inside, taking your life experiences and world view with you, and percolating wisdom and compassion through journaling. This book erases writer’s block – fast.
The Poet and the Poem, by Judson Jerome: 35 years after its publication, this Writer’s Digest Book remains a landmark on the craft of poetry.
Writing Begins with the Breath, by Laraine Herring: This new release borrows from William Carlos Williams’ philosophy of poetry, which launched the Beat poets movement. Part Buddhism, part instructional … a fine book.
Dare to be a Great Writer: 329 Keys to Powerful Fiction, by Leonard Bishop: Another Writer’s Digest Book, this is one of the most thought-out breakdowns of the fiction writing technique and process.
The Rise of the Creative Class, by Richard Florida: A sociological book on how society, culture, education, timing and the ’60s conspired to form perhaps the most diverse and creative group of people in U.S. history – us. Invaluable reading for better understanding of the Boomers and Gen X – the core book-buying public.
The Literary Journalists, Norman O. Sims, ed.: Another book about the New Journalism movement, which launched the personal memoir and narrative non-fiction as we now know it.
The Aquarian Conspiracy, by Marilyn Ferguson: A classic from its publication in 1979, this book breaks out the sociological network of community, technology, spiritual living and environmental consideration that are front-page news items today. I consider it a “must” because it reminds us of our responsibilities to society as creatives.
The Life of Poetry, by Muriel Rukeyser: A beautifully rendered part-memoir, part-instructional discussion of poetry by one of the greatest writers of the mid-20th century.
Journal of a Solitude, by May Sarton: As those who have been in my workshops know, I am BIG on journaling. This wonderful book is best read by a fire, with a cup of coffee or tea, quiet music … and a journal alongside. Because you will be sparked by the writings of the ever-wise May Sarton.
On Death and Dying, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: I realize this classic is a very unusual choice, but let’s face it – the vast majority of novels include death, many of us touch the subject in our writing, and we all face it. Why on this list? Because, when I edit books and read end-of-life scenes, it is very easy to see who has experienced them with family or friends, and who has not. This book will bring greater authenticity to your writing. Plus, everyone should read this book.
The Art of the Personal Essay, Philip Lopate, ed.: This should be a staple in every aspiring and practicing essay writer’s home library – from ages 10 to 100. The variety of essays, and informative lead-ins, make this one of the best edited and selected writing anthologies ever.
The Best Writing on Writing, Jack Heffron, ed.: Jack is a former Writer’s Digest Books editor who occasionally teaches writing workshops. He also compiles very good anthologies. This annual release offers plenty of great pieces for writers looking for a tip or some inspiration.
The Alphabetic Labyrinth, by Johanna Drucker: Writing is conveyed by letters. This masterpiece shares the history of alphabets worldwide, how cultures intermingled to create new alphabets, and how the written word spread. The book is beautiful rendered and illustrated, and is one of several wonderful studies of language and the word by this author.
And finally, one of my own:
The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life, by Robert Yehling: It’s very hard for me to include myself in any list, but I’m just sharing the vibe I’ve received from readers and reviewers since its publication in September. The exercises in this book are both stand-alone and mini-series pieces that cover every genre and leave plenty of opportunity for personal interpretation. You won’t find a more diverse writing exercise book.