The Best Books For Writers – Part 3: Books on the Writing Life

BY JON PILL

Previously on… 

Part 1 – Books on Being Writerly

Part 2 – Books on the Craft of Writing

what-it-is-1

A page from Linda Barry’s What It Is.

These books have some crossover with the books on craft (the first half of King’s On Writing is memoir rather than guide).

1. Top Pick: A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf

This is my top pick for a number of reasons. It touches on so many aspects of the writing life, detailing Woolf’s concerns and ideas, various manifestos, the thoughts behind her novels. You get to see things grown from a vague idea and take form for her on the page.

But the main reason I would recommend it to anyone who writes is for the violent mood swings. Entries that are days apart can assess her current WIP as being either a worthless self-indulgence that should be burned, or a satisfying piece possibly her best.

It is always good to see someone else come out of that slump time and time again.

2. A Life in Letters by Anton Chekov

Penguin produced this set of letters in which Anton Chekov touches on every part of his life. Somehow both prolific and brilliant, Chekov is someone to worth listening to.

3. Lions and Shadows by Christopher Isherwood

Written as a novel, with most of the real life names obscured, though often not very well (Wystan Hugh Auden for example is called Hugh Weston), Lions and Shadows covers Isherwood’s formative years as a writer and the drafting of his first works. It is facinating to get a sense of how his friends influenced him and how he figured out what he wanted his books to do.

Also recommended are Isherwood’s Diaries which come in several volumes.

4. What It Is by Lynda Barry

This is another recommendation from Interior DaseinWhat It Is is part artistic guide, part memoir, part objet d’art. With each page a collage of drawings and handwritten notes.

5. Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers by Various

A book of interviews made up of writers who were asked, “Who would you like to interview about writing?”. These writer to writer conversations are a great source of writerly tidbits.

6. Paris Review Interviews by Various (in many volumes)

Covering decades there are hundreds of these interviews with writers, all focused on how the writers write, what their approaches to literature are, the arcs of their careers. It is probably one of the most interesting and useful resources out there.

The interviews can also be found for free on the Paris Review website.

7. The Imperfect Life of T. S. Eliot by Lyndall Gordon (reviewed here)

This is both a biography and a biographical reading of Eliot’s work. It is fascinating to see the mirroring of his concerns both in life (where he was a persistently troubled and terrible human) and in his works (where he is brilliant).

A good place to see how not to let one’s artistic concerns rule your actual life.

*

There were several memoirs which didn’t make it either because they failed to cover writing much (e.g. Martin Amis’ Experience) or because I haven’t read them or been recommended them by friends (e.g. Dante’s La Vita Nuova).

I am sure you’ll be able to find plenty more yourself, and I’d love to hear your recommendations.

Coming soon…

Part 4 – Books on Reading Like a Writer

Part 5 – Books on Art and Arting in General

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Reading, Writing

2 responses to “The Best Books For Writers – Part 3: Books on the Writing Life

  1. Pingback: The Best Books For Writers – Part 4: Books on Reading | What is There to Option?

  2. Pingback: The Best Books For Writers – Part 5: Books on the Other Arts | What is There to Option?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s