Demian Farnworth over at CopyBlogger came up with a list of the 10 Books That Will Transform Your Writing. Ten books, that if you read them, will help improve your writing just by reading some examples of what is good, and then modeling them
A few of Farnworth’s 10 transforming books:
- King James Bible
- Barbarians at the Gate – Bryan Burrough and John Helyar
- Complete Odes and Epodes of Horace
- Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
While I’ve only read a couple of Farnworth’s recommendations, I have a few recommendations of my own. These are my own favorite books and the ones I read more than once just to get an idea of how I want my writing to look.
- On Writing – Stephen King. I’m not a big fan of writing books and try to avoid them whenever possible. But more than a few writing friends recommended this one. Stephen King talks more about the desires and itch to write, and how he pursued his love of writing, even when he was first starting out. His story is inspiring and makes believe I can be successful.
- Fool – Christopher Moore. Really, any Christopher Moore book will do. The guy is a comic genius and knows how to write humor that catches you off-guard and makes you laugh out loud. Moore writes off-the-wall, exaggerated characters who seem so natural in their setting, and their descriptions and his jokes seem so effortless. He doesn’t crowbar anything into his stories, they just flow.
- My Beautiful Idol – Pete Gall. Pete is a writer here in Indianapolis, and has such tight writing that, after I read the first chapter, I started working to tighten up my own writing. I typically don’t notice the quality of writing unless it leaps out at me, good or bad. I’m more carried away by the story. But Pete’s writing just grabbed my attention, and made me pay attention to the quality of the words.
- My Other Life – Paul Theroux. I read this novella in an issue of Granta, and became a fan of Theroux. I’m not a big fan of creative writing and the emotional angst anyone with an MFA feels compelled to flog, but Theroux is one of the few I actually enjoy. He’s got a mastery of the language that I wish I could reach.
- Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut. Indianapolis’ son is a world-famous wordsmith whose mastery of the language shines through, even when he’s writing some of the weirdest stuff. While most of his novels are fairly weird, Breakfast of Champions turns the Weirdness amp up to 11 . But even in this opus of oddity, the brilliance of his writing is obvious.
- Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman. The Romantic poet sure knew how to turn a phrase. He and a few other of the Romantic poets are great inspiration when you want to capture the flavor of language, and tap into its rhythm and energy, read someone like Whitman, Burns, or Lord Byron to get the creative juices flowing.
- Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain. I worked in a restaurant for a few months when I first moved here to Indianapolis, and while I didn’t spend much time in the kitchen, I can tell you it’s hot, sweaty, unpleasant work. But Bourdain is able to make it sound glamorous, cool, and even enjoyable. If he can make kitchen grunt work sound fun and exciting, what can you do with your blog with his influence?
- The Naming of the Dead – Ian Rankin. You can actually pick any Inspector Rebus novel by this Scottish writer to get a look at what good dialog looks (he’s written 20 Rebus novels alone; he’s written 12 others) like. The dialog is tight, believable, and sounds like real people. I figure Rankin knows what he’s doing, because according to literary legend, Rankin lives on the same street as J.K. Rowling, who lives in a damn castle. If he made enough money to be her neighbor, he must be doing something right.
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson. The man’s crazed drug and alcohol addictions notwithstanding, HST was a brilliant writer in his early days. His writing suffered as he slipped deeper into his addictions, but his earlier stuff was brilliant. It packed all the punch of a Chuck Norris movie, and was as tight as a drum. That’s because Hunter would write a series of ledes (newspaper talk for “lead,” or the opening sentence of a story), and string them together. Rather than having only one punchy attention-grabbing sentence, he had a dozen of them. If you want to add power to your writing, get the early Thompson works. (Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail is another recommended read.)
Other writers I could have included, but didn’t — for no particular reason include — Douglas Adams, Dave Barry, Dick Francis. These writers are also great, and worth studying. I like them for their humor (Adams and Barry), and their ability to tell a good story (Adams, Francis). Plus, they all have a large body of work to draw from. Check any and all of these writers out and start learning from them as a fun way to improve your writing.