Saturday, September 24, 2011

10 Novels Every Writer Should Read

I just want to say before you read this list, that unlike some of my previous lists, this isn’t a favorite books list. This is a list of books I honestly think every writer should read. This list is based on importance and what the writer can learn from these texts. So, while I love Huckleberry Finn, I at the same time don’t claim to be a scholar of Harry Potter, even thought I thought the books were good. This list is of importance I feel these books should be read. It is also in no order of importance, expect for Huckleberry Finn, which I feel deserves the number one spot. And there is one book that isn’t a novel on the list, but Stephen King giving writing advice should be read by everyone who wants to write. I feel he is the storyteller of the second half of the 20th century. Some of the books on this list may be debated, like Interview with a Vampire, but I feel it is a great book. The one thing I think we can agree on though, and if you don’t agree with this, put down your pen, you are not a writer, is that if you want to write, YOU MUST READ. That is not up for discussion. People keep coming up to me and saying "I want to write, but I don't really like to read", or "I want to write for TV or the movies. Why do I need to read books?" Well, a few reasons. Books are the only form of media that doesn't abuse you. They don't have commerical breaks, over simulation and product placement. So, put away the movies and turn off the TV. I have a few books for you to open.

1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain---Well, duh. This is where it all started, folks. Mark Twain was the first writer to try dialects. If they are from the south, they should sound like that. Also, Huckleberry Finn is a memorable character. Very memorable. You should know the story, but if you don’t, it’s Huckleberry Finn, a young boy on the run from his adoptive mother and wicked father, as he meets up with a runaway slave, Jim, and they sail across the Mississippi. Everyone from Roger Ebert to J.K. Rowling has put this on their favorite books list. It is the ultimate masterpiece of American literature. That’s saying a lot. And no, I don’t want to hear its racist, one more time. Mark Twain was anything but.

2. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut--- And now we come to the 20th century’s version of Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. The ultimate American humorist. His story is untraditional, and not a straight narrative. It’s the story of Billy Pilgrim, and his experiences with the firebombing of Germany. Meanwhile, it’s also about his physiological aftermath. Things start to get out of control as he imagines himself telling war stories to aliens.

3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling--- Every modern writer should read Harry Potter. It’s the defining book of the current era. Rowling did something right, and it’s seen in her prose and strong characters. She also gives a master class in world building. She creates an entire alternative world out of thin air. Her world is detailed, and mixes humor, characters, commentary and a magical core. Just think Tom Browning’s School Days with a dash of magic.

4. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman---And riding the coat-tails of Harry Potter, comes the brave Lara, an orphan in an alternative universe. Like Rowling, Pullman creates a detailed alternative universe out of thin air. Lara is brave, strong and goes up against an evil organization kidnapping children called ‘The Church’. Already, you can see this is going somewhere interesting. Its good commentary disguised as fantasy.

5. Necromancer by William Gibson—and speaking of alternative universes, Gibson creates one too. No, this one isn’t about magic but Arthur C. Clark once said magic is just science we don’t understand. Though, what is so interesting about Gibson’s world is that it reflects our own. Written in the eighties, Gibson’s novel predicts what would become the internet. The story of a computer cowboy named Case, and a Blade-runner named Molly Millions, the story takes place in the future where the mob and Case entangle in a world-wide network that resembles the modern day internet. Gibson, who coined the term cyberspace, predicts what would be a large part of our world.

6. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien--- The lush description and detailed world J.R.R. Tolkien created kick started a whole world of fantasy. Every piece of world building fiction owes a great amount to J.R.R. Tolkien, and his story of war, greed and fantastical creatures and worlds, as the characters journey and sacrifice all in the name of one ring to rule them all.

7. On Writing by Stephen King- This isn’t really a novel, more of a memoir but come on. It’s advice on writing from Stephen King. It also happens to be one of the most down to earth guides on how to write. I think Stephen King is the master storyteller of the second half of the 20th century. Some will argue J.K. Rowling is the master storyteller of that era, and as good as her story is, she did just tell one story. Stephen King has told over the span of eighty novels and three hundred short stories, many, many, many stories. I can’t think of a better guy to get advice on writing from, than the master storyteller himself, Stephen King. And oh yeah, pick up one of those novels by him.

8. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice- I think Anne Rice is one of the most underrated prose stylists. Sure, she’s a popular author but her actual writing is very good. Lush description mixed with a vampire’s narration of how he became one, Lastat at and Louis are two memorable characters who personify Rice’s erotic way of writing about something that’s not erotic. Rice mixes the two styles together, horror and eroticism and the result is a beautifully written novel. I think her mixture of lush prose and horror makes for a great novel.

9. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson---Not every novel on this list needs to be a traditional novel, and Hunter S. Thompson’s cross between fiction and fact, commentary and narrative, and travel log is anything but normal. Of course, it’s the story of Hunter under the name Roul Duke and his traveling companion who he keeps referring to as his attorney, traveling around Las Vegas, getting in trouble. The trunk of their car is full of drugs. Paranoia and surrealism come into play. It’s good for a writer to read a non-traditional narrative every once in a while, and this is certainly that.

10. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen---Jane Austen creates great characters. Her story of Elizabeth Bennett is an example of a strong woman in early literature. Her love interest, Mr. Darcy is the forerunner to every romantic male character in literature (I’m looking at you, Edward Cullen), and it’s just plain good to read a story that takes place a long time ago. It’s a classic among literature, and it’s a story that should continue to be read. It’s a romance but with a strong female lead, which was unusual at the time.

Happy reading, fellow writers.

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