BY JON PILL
Part 1 – Books on Being Writerly
Part 2 – Books on the Craft of Writing
Part 3 – Books on The Writing Life
Generally speaking the advice all new writers get is: 1) Write. A lot. 2) Look over everything you write critically. Ideally with others. 3) Read widely and closely.
If you dropped English after GCSEs and didn’t pay that much attention before them, is that reading is often a really passive activity. Reading closely, which is the main way one absorbs the interesting stuff from what one reads, is a learned skill. These are some books that help guide you towards that.
Part 4 – Books on Reading Like A Writer
1. Top Pick: Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose
Probably the first best book to read on this subject, Reading Like A Writer goes step by step through the kind of things to look for when close reading: words, sentences, paragraphs etc… up to higher level structural things.
As the title suggests the focus is on reading to figure out how a piece works, and to collect examples of good writing in our brains for reference. To that end the book is full of practical examples and comes with a reading list at the back.
2. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism by Various
A huge book with all the key texts in Literary Theory from the Ancient Greeks to the latest trends. Each author and gets an short introduction and biographical note that puts their work in context.
This is probably the best reference for how other people have viewed reading over-seriously throughout history. Like most of the humanities – ideas which are stupid or monomaniacal as individual ideas add up to provide a nuanced and interesting collage of a world view when anthologised.
3. The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf
VW’s multivolume collection of critical essays aimed at the reader who has a taste for books but is not concerned with the kind of ‘rigorous’ criticisms of the Norton anthology.
She gives her thoughts on the work of a huge range of literary greats and sidetracks into other bookish musings throughout. Worth reading for Woolf’s prose alone.
4. How Fiction Works by James Wood
A slightly odd book, but informative. This is Wood’s analysis of the realist novel, and gives a readable breakdown of a particular sort of style, raising writerish questions and providing at least one of the answers to them.
I’m not sure I fully trust Wood’s manifesto as being what all fiction should be, but deffo some of it.
5. The Fun Stuff by James Wood and 6. The War Against Cliche by Martin Amis and 7. Many other similar collections.
Plenty of writers – like Amis – have turned critic for at various periods in their lives, some have always and only been critics – like Wood – collections of their essays on other people’s writings are a source of ways of thinking about what you read, and can help prod your brain in interesting directions about books you’ve already read.
5 and 6 are just two examples that I happen to have dipped into and found useful recently. I leave the possible 7s to your personal researches.
Part 5 – Books on Art and Arting in General