1. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Your "Writer's Reading List"

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by EdFromNY, Dec 24, 2010.

    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.
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    "The Grapes of Wrath" is a great book to use to learn about how to utilize sentence structure, passive/active voice, and other literary devices to create the tone you want.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i never had a 'reading list'... i simply read all i could get my hands on, from the time i first learned how to read... so if i had a list, it would be akin to a library's card catalog [or the current computerized version]...
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'd include Steinbeck's East of Eden and Of Mice And Men.

    Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls - an excellent novel for studying character and setting. And it's a great read.

    Rudyard Kipling - Kim and The Jungle Books. His prose is electrifying to me - he wrote with tremendous energy and verve.

    James Joyce - Dubliners. I know it's fashionable to talk about Ulysses, but it's a monster nobody reads. Dubliners is easy to read.
     
  5. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    My personal list, and the one's I've seen passed around writing classrooms, doesn't usually include many classics. That's not to say good can't be gleamed from classics, just that they often aren't as dense as more modern stuff if one is learning craft they intend to employ in a contemporary market. A lot has changed since even the greatest classical works were created, and those difference matter in big ways to modern audiences (both form a marketing and artistic perspective). Basically, most classics are doing something right, sometimes a handful of things, but there are many modern writers who can quite nearly do it all right (based on modern conventions and standards).

    My list personally includes authors like William Gay, Aimee Bender, Adam Haslett, Karen Russell, George Saunders who are all very contemporary and can be found in Best American series and O. Henry Prize anthology and places like that.

    Not to say good stuff can't be found from other sources, just that I've found the most benefit from searching out the texts most dense with good writerly things.

    A good bet, imo, is picking up the various anthologies that come out every year, whether Best American or O. Henry or any number that are dedicated to various 'genres' of fiction, whether anthologies or journals. There is a ton of amazing writing going on right now, and I feel writers are best served to learn from it if they want their writing to resonate in today's markets.

    Don't get me wrong, I love authors like Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut, but meanwhile writers like George Saunders are doing similar things, but more to todays standards. Instead of the couple of things I can pinpoint in a PKD story that he does well, and the handful he doesn't (like dialog tags, ugh), a George Saunders story pretty much ticks on most levels.

    Oh, and notice almost everyone I cited in my current list and anthologies are short stories. I feel this is where the magic happens, and most of the best novels I've read were by people who learned their craft writing short stories. Everyone these days seems to hate the short story, since it doesn't get much acclaim or market share, but that doesn't mean they aren't were good craft happens.
     
  6. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't say I read with thoughts of my writing in mind. But certain writers do remind me of what is possible, of what can be achieved with words on the page, and I turn to them. (Though I will say, on putting them down, I feel less inclined to write. Why bother?)

    Dr Zeuss - language is fun
    Chekhov - there is no need to shout
    Dickens - feel the warmth, the generosity, the vivacity, the good humour
    Russell and Orwell - keep it simple
    Carver - cut to the bone
    Johnson- a moral purpose is fine. How to present ideas forcibly. Not simple can be fine too.
    KJ Bible - the power and poetry
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Um, which "Russell" and which "Johnson" are you referring to?
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    bertrand and ben?
     
  9. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bertrand and Samuel respectively, good Sir.

    Russell's prose is tremendously (famously) lucid and even in tone. It has been suggested that that very eveness is a product of Aspergers (that some have retrospectively diagnosed).

    Excerpts from Russell's How I Write

     
  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Ah. But Bertrand and Samuel, as admirable as they are, did not write fiction - though you might think so if you disagreed with their arguments ...
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Bertrand Russell wrote short stories, if I'm not mistaken.
     
  12. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah. Johnson did write some fiction - Rasselas - and I'm responding to the central question: as a writer to whom do you turn for best practice? Let Ed, who is man of the law, pronounce upon the legitimacy of my response. I'm loath to put words in his mouth, but a close reading of his initial post would suggest to me that this acute New Yorker can do nought but

    - judge my offering valid
    - congratulate me on the excellence of my choices
    - thank me for widening the breadth of the discussion by introducing non-fiction writers.
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Ah, I was wrong about them not writing fiction. Thanks for enlightening me!

    I don't have any Samuel Johnson here, but I do have Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy on my shelves (alongside works by Will Durant, whom I would like to mention in this thread). Gotta read my Russell.
     
  14. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I must confess that when I made my initial posting, I was thinking primarily of works of fiction. But I certainly did not intend to impose any limitations. In my view, all offerings are valid, and I most definitely thank art for introducing them into the discussion, as I thank all of you for participating,
     
  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Will Durant wrote some great books on history. Nice mention! I've never read Russell's History of Western Philosophy. I'm sure I'd like it.
     
  16. finchgeam
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    finchgeam Member

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    Edgar Allan Poe - Dark poems that often give me ideas for stories.
    H.P Lovecraft - Pure Genius
    Charles Dickens - Oliver Twist is one of my main influences
    Mark Haddon -The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
    Really good book, inspiring and in some way changed my view on life
     
  17. Timewriter
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    Timewriter New Member

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    The Nova Trilogy - Burroughs
    Bangwallop - J&D Ballard
    This Is Not A Novel - Markson
    Reality Hunger - Shields
    Quotes - JG Ballard
     
  18. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would add several that may seem unusual choices:

    Alex Sanchez - warmth and characters
    Lian Hearne - scene building and story
    Gervaise Phinn - warmth and humour
    Robert Neill - for description and scene setting
    From here Islander, Tom Gold, Lothgar and Peerie Pict amongst many others. Their writing has taught me a lot.
    Louisa May Alcott
    David Mitchell - Cloud Atlas
    Bart Yates - Brother's Bishop for pacing how to write a novel at a breathtaking pace that is still engrossing.
    Grassic Gibbon - How to punctuate to effect
    Dolly Parton - ok for songs but her character bulding in such a short space of time is amazing (who didn't cry at Me and Little Andy).
    Enid Blyton - for worldbuilding, imagination
    Agatha Christie - is just plain brilliant lol

    I could go on ...
     

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