This is inspired in part by the discussion launched by Edward G. nearby about taking writing seriously, and the thread about reading and writing. Whether formally educated in writing or self-educated, it is clear that there are certain things that a writer must do in order to have the basic tools necessary to ply his/her craft. For one, the prospective writer needs to know the basic tools - grammar, spelling, vocabulary and the mechanics of language, as well as the building blocks of fiction - plot creation, dialogue, character development. But then the prospective writer also needs to see these put to good use by reading works that endure - as the corporate types like to say these days, works that demonstrate "best practices". I'm still thinking through my list, but here's what I've come up with so far. William Shakespeare - MacBeth, Romeo and Juliet. To me, MacBeth is the ultimate tragic hero, a basically decent person undone by his unbridled ambition. Romeo and Juliet is not only an enduring love tragedy, but also includes some of the most vibrant language Shakespeare used. And just because we don't use that kind of language now doesn't mean we can't learn from his modes of expression. No intention to slight the other works of Shakespeare by exclusion. Thomas Hardy - The Mayor of Casterbridge. Great use of descriptions of nature to show the emotions of the characters. Herman Melville - Moby Dick. Ahab remains a fascinating character for me long after I first read of him. Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations. Ebeneezer Scrooge isn't just the subject of a story of personal redemption, he is a great example of a character perceived as evil but with a story of his own to tell. But I also love Dickens' descriptive language of Scrooge. Great Expectations contains a layer of understated and gentle humor that came as a surprise to me when I re-read it as an adult. George Eliot - Middlemarch. The impact of life choices. A novel that sometimes seems more like a modern novel than a product of Victorian times. Mark Twain - Huckleberry Finn. An unflinching look at a time and place. C. P. Snow - The Masters. The fourth novel in the Strangers and Brothers series. The whole series is worthwhile, but I like this one because it provides a great study of a closed community. R. F. Delderfield - To Serve Them All My Days. The son of a Welch coal-miner survives The Great War and becomes a schoolmaster in an English Public School. A marvelous study in the clash of classes within a small, insulated environment. Jane Austen - Pride and Prejudice. Louisa May Alcott - Little Women. . E. M. Forster - A Passage to India. Three different cultures, three different perspectives, woven together, none giving in to the others. F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby. Ernest Hemingway - The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms. George Orwell - 1984. William Miller - A Canticle for Leibowitz. Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird. Allen Drury - Advise and Consent. Should be required reading for every American high school student, as well as for anyone who wants to write about the American political system. Taylor Caldwell - Dialogues With the Devil. Tennessee Williams - The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Ralph Ellison - An Invisible Man.