Tag Archives: books for writers

A Writer’s Booklist

Today’s blog post comes courtesy of John Rember, author of MFA in a Box and a long-time professor of creative writing

Over my years of teaching writing, I’ve consistently recommended that MFA students read books that, to me, live at the heart of writing. Not all of my students have liked my recommendations at the time, but I’ve gotten a number of letters from former students saying, in effect, “You know that book I told you I hated?  I read it again, and it’s a great book.”

I have always written back, saying that some books are an acquired taste, being gracious and kind in victory, and asking them if they might now consider reading some other stuff I’ve written.

Here’s a brief annotated booklist that includes none of my books, not even MFA in a Box although you might as well order it as a companion volume to the others. That’s what it was designed to be.

  1. Denial of DeathDenial of Death, by Ernest Becker.  Written with “man” meaning “human,” and using masculine pronouns throughout, this book might appear unreservedly patriarchal and oppressive even if it wasn’t a discussion of the inevitability of death.  But for writers, it’s a useful exploration of the existential dilemma and it offers an essential justification for going through life as an artist.  It’s not easy reading, and it shouldn’t be read all at once, especially in seasons when the days are getting shorter.  Still, I read through it every three years or so, just to see how much I’ve changed, and to see if I can find yet one more passage that will help me be a better and happier writer.  Hint: the happy chapters are at the end.
  2. Borderliners, by Peter Hoeg.  This scary autobiographical novel exposes the truth that much of what we call education is violence by adults against children.  It also contains a profound discussion on the nature of time that will help you when you decide that you’re going to kick your addictions to backstory and flashbacks.
  3. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig.  A book that looks at the troubled relationship between psyche of the individual and the consensus reality of culture. Given the weight of the ideas it discusses, it’s a surprisingly easy read. It’s also a clear demonstration of how ideas that are deadly dull on the pages of philosophy books can be deeply exciting and liberating in a novel.
  4. Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood.  Like her predecessor, H.G. Wells, Atwood disguises the present as science fiction.  She gives us a picture of our world as a place where the pharmaceutical-industrial complex has changed things forever, and not for the better.  Read this book as an antidote, if your writing seems to be stuck back in the 1990s, when all we really had to worry about was pulling equity out of our appreciating houses and whether or not Hilary knew about Monica and whether or not she cared.
  5. Breakfast of ChampionsBreakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut.  Don’t discount the simplicity of Vonnegut’s prose.  It’s far from simple-minded.  Together with Slaughterhouse Five, BOC shows humanity to be a great and tragic phenomenon, one capable of the sublime, even as it acts on its own worst impulses.  Tragedy doesn’t have to be sad, Vonnegut demonstrates, at least not when it’s this funny.

These five books might not seem like a lot, but if you were to pack them in your bag and read them with a writer’s eyes during a two week beach vacation, you’d bring some serious writing skills back with your sunburn.  You might be staggering a bit under the weight of the ideas they contain, but the blank screen will never look the same to you.

An Editor’s Advice For Writers

editors advice for writersWhat could be more valuable to a writer than a book written from the editor’s perspective aimed right at those they must edit day to day? The Forest For the Trees: An Editor’s Advice For Writers is that book.

Betsy Lerner has a pedigree a mile long–Houghton-Mifflin, Ballantine, Simon & Schuster, and Doubleday, she’s worked for the best and has plenty of war stories to share. These are insider secrets and perspective you owe it to yourself to explore.

Lerner’s excellent advice includes some fun-but-right-on-the-money tips including letting your quirks and bizarre behaviors define you and inform your work. “I’ve come to look at neurotic behavior as a necessary component of a writer’s arsenal.” Lerner says. BRAVO!

She also adds “Too often the neurotic writer who still hasn’t learned to trust his own voice rushes to spill the beans…” Lerner was talking specifically here about story development and letting a piece unfold in its own time, but you get the idea that little aside can inform your work in any number of ways.

This is one book you should make the investment in. The perspective alone is worth a million.

Sell Your Book on Amazon.com

sell-your-book-on-amazon.jpgBrett Sampson tells all. This book is about how to get listed on Amazon, how to promote your book and increase sales. We borrow a quote from Sampson’s Sell Your Book on Amazon product page:

“Penny C. Sansevieri of Author Marketing Experts says, “Finally! A book that helps you demystify Amazon. If you have a book to sell, you simply must own Sell Your Book on Amazon.

The marketing copy for this also claims to help you “beat Amazon at their own game”, and learn how to create “virtuous circles” (as opposed to vicious cycles, I’m guessing). While I’m no fan of breathless marketing hyperbole, I have to say that any book which helps a writer properly value their work and assign a reasonable price should be worth a read. Sell Your Book on Amazon has all the right chapters, and according to the author himself, this does NOT tell you how to get on the bestseller list. Instead, it offers strategies to help your book do well over the long term. If you’re a believer in Chris Anderson’s Long Tail concept, this book should appeal.

In short, not a bad way to spend $14.95 if you have a book ready for the world, or very nearly so.

Sell Your Book on Amazon sells for $14.95

To Be, Or Not To Be….Dry?


Keep yourself–as well as your books and papers–dry with this whimsical umbrella featuring the Bard himself: William Shakespeare. Find this (while supplies last) at CoolStuff4Writers along with interviews, articles and a free newsletter. Check out the site for other fun items as well, such as coffee mugs and books–all writing related of course!