The Books That Make Writers

Filed Under: Book Related

One of the things all of the “How to Be a Writer” books will tell you is that, in order to be a writer, you must read.

And I do read – sometimes obsessively – but I don’t read the things I think writers probably read.

For instance, I wonder how many “real” writers have read the Sookie Stackhouse series [That’s an affiliate link and it’s only books 1-8. Don’t forget about book 9. Book 10 comes out in May.] five times? How many “real” writers have revisited YA Fiction from their past and read it with as much fervor as they read it when they were 13? How many of them read both Bridget Jones’s Diary books and laughed their asses off?

I ask these questions because Tucker and I were watching some more Vlog Brothers videos and there was a tribute to Kurt Vonnegut.

I have a confession to make. I’ve never read Kurt Vonnegut. Ever. The passage that was read on Vlog Brothers was the first of Vonnegut’s stuff I had ever heard/read.

I know there are some of you out there who are thinking about revoking my writer’s card right now. But you know what? You can’t! The IRS won’t let you. They say I’m a writer and who am I to argue with a government agency that could audit me and make my life a living hell?

A couple of posts ago [or maybe it was on Twitter] I said I would tell everyone what I’m reading right now and I want to make good on that promise but I know some of you constant readers will turn up your cute little noses at it. However, a promise is a promise.

Every night, for the past four nights, I’ve been reading The Vampire Archives: The Most Complete Volume of Vampire Tales Ever Published [Another affiliate link and yes, that’s the title. Short, huh?]. Before you too harshly judge me, included in the “archives” are authors such as Ambrose Bierce, Poe, F. G. Loring, Goethe, Stoker [Duh!], Stephen King, Tanith Lee, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Ray Bradbury. I’m leaving out a butt ton of authors because, seriously, go find this book at your local book store and you’ll get an idea of just how fucking HUGE this book is.

The cool thing about this book is it starts “pre-Dracula” and heads on toward modern times with all the changes frozen on the page. So far, and I’m not out of pre-Dracula, it’s a great read and since almost everything I write seems to have a bit of supernatural thrown in, I figure I could do worse for reading material.

Now, all of that having been said, I’m curious what YOU think a writer should read or should have read before they consider themselves a writer.

This is along the lines of  What Books Do You Remember? except it’s not necessarily about childhood books and the books can come from any time in your life.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is one I already have on my list and I’ll be interested to see how many I’ve already read out of the ones you suggest. Also, don’t think the books you suggest have to be covered with dust and older than dirt. If a new novel has spoken to you, suggest it; I’m always on the lookout for awesome contemporary fiction.

So, Constant Reader, what books do YOU think a writer must read before he can call himself a writer?

Leave your amazing book lists and comments in the section below. ▼



  1. I’m not sure that there are any books that qualify as “You read this or you aren’t a writer”. That said:

    Bradbury – Most anything, but especially “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.

    Lovecraft – Again, most anything but especially “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”.

    Stephen King – “On Writing”. Every writer I talk to either owns this book or is mad that someone stole it. Fiction-wise, “The Shining” and “Cujo”.

    Crichton – All of his early stuff and most of his later stuff that focuses on science and adventure as opposed to social agendas. In particular, “The Andromeda Strain” and “Eaters of the Dead”.

    Zelazny – Too many to list. Try “Lord of Light” and I bet you would really enjoy “A Night In The Lonesome October”. I read that one every year at Halloween.

    • Bradbury. Check. Have read him and enjoyed what I read.

      Haven’t read Lovecraft but will add to my list.

      Stephen King – You know how I feel about “On Writing”. WONDERFUL book. The Deadzone is a good one of his. The show wasn’t half bad either. I also am a big fan of his novellas. The PERFECT thing to give to people who swear they hate King.

      Crichton is simply fantastic. I hate he died since I always looked forward to his next book.

      Zelazny – Never hear of him. Guess he goes on my list as well. 😀

  2. Hey writers wrote all of those books, right? So I don’t think anyone gets to say what a “writer” should read.

    Never read Vonnegut either. Guess it should be on my list though.

  3. Speaking of Vonnegut – He’s another of those writers who is a bit “hit or miss” but he really is an American master. I would recommend “Slapstick” and “Slaughterhouse Five”. I might even go so far as to suggest that “Slaughterhouse Five” IS one of those must-read books.

    • I know it seemed like all of my friends in high school were reading Slaughterhouse Five. Though I suspect it had something to do with the fact that “slaughterhouse” was in the title.

      I had weird friends in high school. 😛

  4. Jennifer says:

    I have to agree with On Writing, but another book I keep coming back to is The Stand. I’ve read it probably ten times. Stephen King is blasted by Fancy Writers but nobody and I mean NOBODY develops characters the way he does. This is an element that will always draw me into a story. I am currently 100+ pages into Under the Dome and I really have no idea what is going on yet. I do care about the characters though. I am intrigued. This is why he has always inspired me and will always continue to do so.

    Books that haunt me forever are inspirational, I mean, who doesn’t want to do that? Johnny Got His Gun, Alas Babylon, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, The Iron Heel, Brave New World – all books I’ll never get out of my head.

    Boy’s Life by Robert R. McCammon is another book that is very Stephen King-esque that everyone should read, especially if you’re into coming of age stories and feel inspired by them.

    I think everyone who wants to be a writer should read Carl Hiassen. He writes stories with insane plots and characters that take you on a wild ride.

    My favorite author is Christopher Moore. I like proper character development (obviously) and I also like well researched fiction, even (or more importantly, especially) if it ends up to be the craziest story ever. All of his books are like this. Read Lamb if you haven’t yet. Read it next.

    I’ve read most of the classics and they are important to read as far as reading goes. I’m not sure if I am inspired to write because of the Bard, Dante, or Milton. I just like to read them.

    I really enjoy Longfellow and the other poets of the “Dante Club” (and I loved the book too – silly if you know the real story but fun nonetheless).

    Slickriptide covered writers I think should be read as well. Slaughterhouse Five should go on your immediate list too. It may be unpopular, but I enjoy Hemingway. I know not everyone likes him, but I do.

    I could probably go on forever.

  5. I don’t read anything too acclaimed…just finished book 9 of the Sookie Stackhouse series this morning (who do you want her to end up with, by the way?)
    I think that reading anything exposes you to different styles and ways of wording things. Some of the best writers I know barely read and just have a way of putting things on paper (or online) that comes naturally. Read what you like!

    • Eric all the freakin’ way!

      And I think you’re right about reading what you like though I know there are classics out there I should expose myself to.


      That sounds dirty. Whatever. You know what I mean.

  6. Reading is to writing as eating is to cooking.

    One action must be completed for the other to exist, but that is the end of the relationship.

    Writing is a skill. Skills must be practiced. If all I had to do to improve my running was to watch “good runners”, I would be attending a lot more track meets.

    To get better at writing, cooking, and running you have to practice.

    So, keep writing!

    • Heavens to Murgatroyd! If that was really true then nobody would ever cook anything except pancakes and hamburgers.

      There’s a reason that the top chefs are also people who enjoy eating and savoring the full experience of it.

      Yes, writing is an acquired skill like any other. Reading, however, is not like watching a track meet. It’s the equivalent of getting out there and running on the track alongside another runner. Reading widely is a matter of education, not simply a matter of vicarious professional voyeurism.

      The more you read, the more exposure you acquire to new styles and ideas. The more you read, the more inspiration you gain from seeing what works, what doesn’t work, and how the written word is being used, exploited, and sculpted by other authors. The intricacies of plot, characterization, and timing can be taught in a class to a certain extent. Beyond that, it comes down to practice and to experience gained by reading what others have written and learning what you like and what you dislike.

      Just as the great chefs are all great eaters, it’s shown time and again that the great writers are pretty much all great readers. They write because they enjoy the act of creating with the written word. They read because they enjoy consuming the creations of others.

      No offense, Tucker, but that was about the most counter-intuitive example you could have chosen.

      Don’t get me wrong – I totally agree with your statement that a writer should write, write, write. That IS how you improve. Reading widely, though, is the way you train your brain to be creative. Using the track example, reading is the equivalent of sprint training while writing is the execution of the sprint.

      You COULD learn quite a bit from watching track meets, if you watched the RIGHT meets with the right runners. As you rightly point out, though, that can only take you so far. Somewhere in there, you need a coach or you need to be a prodigy. The rest is practice, practice, practice. In other words, write, write, write.

      Just be sure to read, read, read as well. I don’t think there are necessarily any “must read” books, (there may be a few). What matters is that you open your brain to as many influences as you can and that you enjoy the experience of consuming the written word as much as you do the experience of creating it.
      .-= Slickriptide´s last blog ..You Ever Drink A Flower? =-.

    • I am glad to see that my point of practice making perfect was received and agreed upon.

      However, I am disappointed that I made it so poorly that it warrants an explanation. The act of reading the books of “great writers” is to provide yourself a benchmark to measure yourself against. The reading of others is not as important as the effort you put in to your craft.

    • No argument with that. I look at it this way: When my kids each started college, I told them that the most important part of the whole thing was not the diploma. It was the opportunity to widen their horizons, get exposed to new ideas, and to learn to argue constructively with others who would have different ideas about things.

      Reading widely serves the same purpose. Reading widely doesn’t make you a writer. Only practice does that. Reading (and also accepting criticism from people who read YOU) DOES broaden your horizons and expose you to new ideas, new techniques, and alternatives to the way you’d normally do things that present learning opportunities, regardless of whether you’d ever do it that way yourself.
      .-= Slickriptide´s last blog ..You Ever Drink A Flower? =-.

  7. I’m all about reading one “trashy” book, then making myself feel better with a classic or a historical novel. It’s a vicious cycle. One Sookie Stackhouse novel, then one H.G. Wells novel, then some crappy romantic novel, then The Art of War, then a Diana Gabaldon novel, then some Shakespeare. You know, even it up. Now, I don’t know if that will make you a great writer, but it makes me happy and increases my exposure to “the classics.” Now, I’m off to eat a cupcake, then an apple…

    Keep writing!!!

  8. Great post! This is something I think about all the time. As a writer I think having a grasp of the classics is important but heck – you can cliff notes that! Just kidding. I try to balance one fluff/easy read with a “classic” but at the end of the day writers should read whatever inspires them. And we all get inspiration from different places.

    Thanks for an interesting post :}


  1. Amy Tucker says:

    New Blog Post: The Books That Make Writers http://bit.ly/68yOfR

  2. Amy Tucker says:

    New Blog Post: The Books That Make Writers http://bit.ly/5U87HI

  3. Amy Tucker says:

    Would be interested to read your thoughts: The Books That Make Writers http://bit.ly/68yOfR

  4. Amy Tucker says:

    Great convo going on between @Slickriptide and @Crazy_n_me over whether reading makes a writer. http://bit.ly/bGCzin

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