Thursday, December 27, 2007

Books I Read This Year To Help Me Write My Novel

When I was in college and for many years after I kept a list of all the books I read. For several years I lost the habit and renewed it earlier this year. The rule was always that it had to be a book that I read cover to cover, so books that I don't finish are usually not on the list. I figure I start about four times as many books as I finish--it's not uncommon for me to get a hundred pages or more into a book and give up on it, which I do with a lot of regret because I can be pretty OCD about adding titles to my list. I also have a lot of anxiety about how slow a reader I am--about half as fast as my wife.

But I'm good about making time for reading, so even with my slow pace and my tendency to abandon a lot of books part way through, I'm able to finish more than one book/week. I'm looking at my 2007 list now, and I have 65 titles on it, and I expect to add one more.

I'm not going to list them all, but I thought it would interesting to list all of them that had something to do with my thinking about my own novel, which I started working on April 22. These are books that I turned to for models, guidance, instruction, inspiration, moral support, research and relief.

  1. The Runaway -- Alice Munro*
  2. Writing In General and The Short Story In Particular -- L. Rust Hills*
  3. A Farewell To Arms -- Ernest Hemingway
  4. The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers
  5. For Whom The Bell Tolls -- Ernest Hemingway
  6. To Kill A Mockingbird -- Harper Lee
  7. The Blues Eye -- Toni Morrison
  8. This Year You Will Write Your Novel -- Walter Mosley
  9. Kafka On the Shore-- Haruki Murakami
  10. On Writing and Publishing -- Mark Twain
  11. Why Does He Do That? -- Lundy Bancroft
  12. Speak -- Laurie Halse Anderson
  13. The Pesthouse -- Jim Crace
  14. Suite Francaise -- Irene Nemirovsky*
  15. The Singular Mark Twain -- Fred Kaplan*
  16. Reading Like A Writer -- Francine Prose
  17. Journal of a Novel -- John Steinbeck (recommended for aspiring writers and hard-core fans.)
  18. On Writing and Publishing -- Mark Twain
  19. In Country -- Bobbie Ann Mason*
  20. Living By Fiction -- Annie Dillard
  21. Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interview (a few from each volume, probably adding up to about the equivalent of two volumes)*
  22. The Echo Maker -- Richard Powers*
  23. Winter Numbers: Poems -- Marilyn Hacker*
  24. Style: 10 Lessons In Clarity and Grace -- Joseph Williams (recommended for any working writer)
  25. Conversations With Toni Morrison -- ed. by Danilee Taylor-Guthrie*
  26. The Great Gatsby -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
  27. Kissing God Goodbye: Poems, 1991-1997 -- June Jordan
  28. A Light In August -- William Faulkner
  29. Waiting -- Ha Jin*
  30. Fathers and Sons -- Ivan Turgenev
  31. A Peculiar Grace -- Jeffrey Lent
  32. Fire In the Blood -- Irene Nemirovsky
  33. The Book of Daniel -- E. L. Doctorow*
  34. On the Road: The Original Scroll -- Jack Kerouac*
  35. Run -- Ann Patchett
  36. The View From Castle Rock -- Alice Munro
  37. Madame Bovary -- Gustave Flaubert

In addition, preceding and during that period, I read other books about writing (Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Novel*), books related to my travels in Vietnam, books on economics (Three Billions New Capitalists, The World Is Flat), books on WWII History (Joe Keegan, Joseph Persico) and several volumes of biography inspired by my driving tour of American historical sites last summer (Lincoln, John Brown, Lewis and Clark).

*I'm marking with an asterisk lesser-known books that I recommend to most readers interested in good writing (regardless of whether or not you are working on a novel.) I'm not bothering to mark the classics/canonical books that most people are already familiar with.

No comments: