It’s interesting how often aspiring writers will ask what books they can read in order to become better writers. Usually they are looking for manuals and “How to…” books, but when it comes down to it, those books can teach you only the first step.
Writing well is a journey, and each step is taken as you read great works and them emulate what they did to make their works great. Do this time and again. Read, emulate. Read, emulate. Eventually all this will meld into a solid understanding of what makes writing great.
Side note: It’s just as important to create your own writing style over time and branch away from direct emulation, but that’s a step further down the road.
The trick in all of this is to avoid bad writing like the plague. If I begin to read a book and the writing is poor, I drop it immediately, maybe throw it in the fire place or quarantine it off in the west wing (of my 2 bedroom apartment).
Eight Amazing Novels You Should Read to Become a Better Writer
There are many great works of art out there, all of which are worthy of your time. In my opinion, it’s best to start with the classics. Those are the books that have stood the test of time despite the odds. That’s my goal, to write novels that last for centuries, and so I follow in the footsteps of the greats who have done it before me.
Then start reading great books by modern writers, but wait til you’ve studied a good chunk of the classics, maybe 30 books or so
So hear it is, the list of books to read to learn how to write. Hope you enjoy it!
The Great Gatsby is considered by many to be the greatest book ever written. Hunter S Thomson taught himself to write by writing this entire novel by hand over and over. He said it was to understand the flow of language. If you want your prose to improve, reading The Great Gatsby is a great place to start.
Heart of Darkness is simple to read, yet extraordinary book. Did you know there is a narration within a narration here? The characters are compelling, and the mystique cultivated around Kurtz is palpable.
The Violent Bear it Away is an excellent example of expert story telling, following the conflict between violently evangelical people. I recommend it because she has a firm handle on conflict and the many ways to manifest it in literature. She’s also one of the greatest writers of all time IMHO.
Some people may not understand what Harry Potter is doing on a list next to The Great Gatsby and Heart of Darkness, but I’m prepared to defend it. J.K Rowling wrote something people fell in love with, and I mean they really and truly fell in love with her books.
Perhaps it’s because they follow relateable characters in fantastic environments doing extraordinary things. Perhaps it’s her gift of blessing her characters fantastic names (you have to admit it’s fun to say Dumbledore and Dudley)! Whatever it is, there is something at the core of these stories that people grabbed onto, find it and utilize it.
Of Mice and Men is a short and poignant story taking place in the great depression following two hired hands. In a third the length of your average novel you will understand complex relationships between characters, as well as how to write a mental disability if that’s something you want to take on. A beautiful story.
Speaking of writing mental disabilities, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is another great book to study. This book captures a unique point of view so thoroughly that you can see this characters world as if it were your own reality. I’m surprised this hasn’t been made into a movie yet.
Slaughter-House Five, as well as Vonnegut’s entire backlog of books, proves that humor can be tragic, can be woven expertly into a story, and can be affecting in way’s you wouldn’t think otherwise possible. Slaughter-House Five in particular shows how “experimental” story telling can still go mainstream (the main character gets abducted by aliens and put in a zoo for crying out loud, and still it’s a touching story of coping with the horrors of a world war.)
The Road will teach you what danger in literature really is. I read a quote that said something along the lines of “While reading the road, I couldn’t put the book down, afraid the characters depended on me turning the page for their survival.” You’ve hear the phrase, push your characters to the breaking point so the reader can see what they are made of. The Road is the book that will teach you how to do that.