21 Books Every Aspiring Writer Should Read
All writers must be avid readers, for reading and writing go hand in hand.
The ultimate guide to writing any book is having read timeless works by exceptional authors.
How does one capture a moment perfectly, crafting words to convey the exact sentiments you wish readers to feel?
If you’re striving to become an author, you’ll find below 21 books every aspiring writer should read, which will no doubt leave you feeling inspired, and itching to get crafty with some words of your own!
1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
This popular author, born in Maine, is the king of horror, fiction and suspense novels. His memoir, published in 2000, is a collection of his most vivid memories with a plethora of writing advice woven in his words. King urges writers to “avoid adverbs” and “turn off the TV.” With 54 novels published to date and a collection of over 200 short stories written, this award-winning author’s advice should not be taken lightly.
2. The White Album by Joan Didion
Not to be confused with the other White Album by The Beatles, Didion’s is a book of essays published in 1979. With a focus on the history and politics of California, this collection showcases Didion’s expertise in the effortless way she crafts her words. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” writes Didion in the title essay as she helps to define the way we understand our culture and society.
3. Why I Write by George Orwell
Famed author of 1984, Orwell may be best known for his dystopian depiction of a futuristic society taught in schools across the globe. Yet it’s his essay, published in 1949, which details his personal journey to becoming the successful writer he’s remembered as today, that all authors should take note from. Orwell lists “four great motives for writing,” which include “historic impulse” and “sheer egoism.”
4. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Born in San Francisco, this American novelist writes with honesty, richness and humanity. This book, published in 1994, is a how-to approach on tackling a large project by breaking it down “bird by bird.” The title stems from years ago when Lamott’s older brother had procrastinated writing a paper about birds. Overwhelmed by the prospect of having to research and write up everything in a day, her father put his arm around her brother’s shoulder and said, “’Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'” A good reminder for those who write and a positive mantra for life in general, Lamott’s book is not to be missed.
5. Still Writing by Dani Shapiro
Published in 2013, Shapiro’s book is filled with wisdom and lessons meant for both novice writers and veteran writers alike. A native New Yorker and author of five novels, Shapiro’s writings have also been published Vogue, ELLE and The New Yorker. Both heartfelt and witty, Still Writing should be on every author’s bookshelf.
6. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This Pulitzer Prize winning book published in 1960 continues to reign in popularity among students and teachers around the world. A classic coming-of-age story peppered with family drama, social commentaries and courtroom suspense, Lee crafts her characters to remind the reader of what it means to empathize. Lee grew up in a small town, not unlike the setting of the novel which takes place in Maycomb, Alabama; her experiences are thought to have had great influence in her writing this book. Any author can learn from a novel able to transcend generations as Lee’s writing continues to do.
7. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
An absolutely chilling work of nonfiction published in 1965, In Cold Blood details the 1959 murders of four family members in Holcomb, Kansas. Capote, born in New Orleans, compiled over 8,000 pages of notes in research for his novel which won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime in 1966. To take that abundance of notes and ultimately craft into a critically acclaimed novel is no easy task; to do so in a way that hooks the reader with facts and flair can seem near impossible. A must-read for any author, but especially those who wish to focus on nonfiction storytelling.
8. The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr
Karr’s memoir, published in 1995, is a hilariously dramatic tale of her life in an east Texas oil town. A New York Times bestseller for over a year, The Liars’ Club refers to Karr’s family and the American Legion pool room and bar that her father used to take her to. With her unique poetic voice, Karr’s ability to write about her life in a way that resonates with people from all other walks of life makes this memoir a true gem.
9. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
A unique piece of literature published in 1930, Faulkner claims to have written this novel “from midnight to 4:00 AM over the course of six weeks,” without ever changing a single word. Narrated in turns between family members, As I Lay Dying is considered one of the most influential novels in American fiction. If you’re looking to learn more about structure, style and drama in writing, Faulkner’s novel is a must-read.
10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Regarded as one of the most exceptional American writers of the 20th century, Fitzgerald published his most famous work, The Great Gatsby, in 1925. The novel’s central idea of the American Dream’s decline during 1920s New York highlights social and moral values and the pursuit of pleasure. Creating a distinct picture to understand the perils of our culture, Fitzgerald will always be revered as the author who coined the phrase, “Jazz Age.”
11. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
The Harry Potter series shows the power of the written word in our society. From films and theme parks to conventions and clubs, Rowling’s work has taken over in ways no one could’ve imagined when the first book was published in 1997. If you don’t know whether you’re a “Gryffindor” or “Ravenclaw,” you should probably read the series, which ultimately teaches understanding and acceptance.
12. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Dickens’s’ thirteenth novel, Great Expectations, was originally published in 1861 and is still relevant to our lives over 150 years later. Through following the book’s main character, Pip, the reader is taken on a journey to ultimately learn that loyalty and love are more important than wealth and class. Any author can learn more about writing in detailed elegance by reading the work of Dickens.
13. Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
An English writer and journalist, Truss published this bestselling book in 2003. A nonfiction “zero tolerance approach to punctuation,” Eats, Shoots & Leaves is the perfect mix of wit and instruction to remind readers of the importance of proper punctuation. From exclamation marks and hyphens to emoticons and semicolons, Truss uses clever examples to successfully make her point. The U.S. edition was a New York Times bestseller.
14. On Writing by Ernest Hemingway
“All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time,” writes Hemingway in this collection of reflections published in 1972. Helpful advice from the Nobel-prize winning author of The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway reminds writers to “write one true sentence” and the rest will fall into place.
15. Living by Fiction by Annie Dillard
Hailing from Pittsburgh, PA, Dillard is an American author who won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1975 for her work, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. You can find understanding straight from the source in Dillard’s 2000 novel, Living by Fiction, in which she highlights the need and importance for fiction in our society. An exploration of this genre, any author interested in writing fiction should grab this book.
16. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Originally published in 1976, today’s authors still look to Zinsser for advice on how to develop a unique voice as a writer. Born and raised in New York City, Zinsser taught writing at Yale University in the 1970s. Zinsser, who lived to be 92, believed writers should read everything out loud for rhythm and sound: “Good writers of prose must be part poet, always listening to what they write.”
17. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
A United States Marine born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Pressfield published The War of Art in 2002. Aimed at getting folks to break down the barriers that hold some back from pursuing creative endeavors, Pressfield encourages readers to seize the moment and pursue those passions. If you find yourself overcome with an urge to write but need a final push, this is the book for you.
18. Portrait Inside My Head by Phillip Lopate
This Brooklyn-born and Columbia-educated poet and novelist published this collection of essays in 2013. Chosen as one of The New Yorker’s “Books to Watch Out For,” Lopate’s elegant style and witty prose offers readers a look at how to write a truly engaging essay. For aspiring essayists and admirers alike, Portrait Inside My Head, is a brilliant read.
19. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
This dark, romantic tale is one for the ages. Born in 1804, Hawthorne managed to write one of the most popular novels ever written; The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850. Twentieth century writer, DH Lawrence, said of the novel: “There could be no more perfect work of the American imagination.” As Hester’s crime was stitched across her clothing, authors will learn why The Scarlet Letter will forever be stitched in American literature.
20. The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
This Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist who graduated from Duke University at just 19-years-old published The Accidental Tourist in 1985. For authors looking to convey the struggles and hilarity of getting through life, Tyler’s novel is a fine example of what such writing looks like. An author who has mastered the art of evoking real feeling in how she crafts her words, Tyler is a must read.
21. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Published in 1967, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a critically acclaimed work that has sold over 30 million copies to date. Marquez started his career as a journalist, but is best known for this novel. The New York Times called the novel a work of enchantment, “concocted of quirks, ancient mysteries, family secrets and peculiar contradictions.” If you’re an author interested in the art of writing magical realism (an acceptance of magic in the rational world), this novel is the blueprint for you.
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