Tag Archives: Reading List

The Best Non-Books on Writing – Part 2


After the online reading material of the last post, I promised there would be a follow up in a weeks time. In an effort to keep you guessing – or rather in a total lack of effort to do anything – that post is now here just a few weeks later than scheduled but no more polished or thought out for all that extra time.

This post is a collection of links to things I and those around me have found useful creatively


Morton Feldman and John Cage in Conversation (Youtube)

This from friend of the blog Flo, who found much in this discussion of music that has helped with her writing.

In fact it is interesting to note how many of the links below relate as much if not more to music, the one art that is almost entirely unrepresentative but which seems to be a source of endless ekphrastism at least in the particular circle of eccentrics I’ve been landed with.

Watch the conversation here.


Meet the Composers (Podcast)

I’ve never listened to this, so have little to say on the subject, but best friend of the blog J S Loveard said it should be on the list. Listen here.

Glass in 12 Parts (Youtube)

Ditto this.

Ira Glass on creating stuff (Youtube)

And while we’re on the subject of the glass brothers….

Desert Island Discs

This hardly needs an introduction if you’re British, but for those who hail from outside these fair isles this BBC institution involves celebrities of all stripes, including writers, choosing a series of records which they would take with them if they were to be stranded on a desert island without hope of rescue.

The music is then used to punctuate an interview about their professional careers. It is a format that works even in the vast archive where the actual tracks have been taken out for copyright reasons.

You can hunt for your favourite castaways in the BBC radio archives here.

In Their Own Words (TV Series)

This is another favourite of JS’s. A documentary series based around interviews of various novelists it basically serves as an introduction to the 20th-Century novel as directed by the people who happened to have spent time in front of the camera.

Watch the trailer here.

Civilisation BBC TV Series

Commissioned by David Attenborough in his time as one of the admin top-brass in the then new colour channel BBC 2. To make full use of the new colour format this inspiring and beautiful walk through Western European art history was curated and told by Kenneth Clarke as he wanders through museums and churches pointing cameras at nice things and then talking about them. Like Planet Earth but for sculptures, tapestries and paint.

You can the DVDs on Amazon here.

A good companion read is E M Gombrich’s The Story of Art.

BBC Modern Writers Archive

Lord Reith’s commission has a lot to answer for on this list. Including the collection of interviews with writers (one of the sources for much of the In Their Own Words series). They’ve been collected, conveniently on the BBC website, so you can hear your favourite and least favourite writers talk at you from your own computer.

Find their trapped souls here.

Every Frame A Painting

A fabulous series of short video essays, which are lovely works of art in and of themselves. You can subscribe to the channel here.

I will also leave you with this, which remains one of my favourite clips about creating:


Filed under Writing

The Best Non-Books on Writing – Part 1


When I was doing the series of post on the best books for writers to read, I polled my pals about the sort of books they hunted up when feeling a little autodidactic. The books made the previous list but there were a lot of responses along the lines of “this website on the neterweb” or “some lecture series I watched” or “a human’s blog that I read once”.

I shoved those links into a separate document and meant to write them up as a final post to the books articles. That didn’t happen for complicated reasons (lazy, disorganised). But I’ve brought my extraordinary faculties of sedulisation to bear on the bits of fluff that serve me as a brain and sorted them into something resembling a useful list.

Here is that list. Many thanks to those who suggested links, and if I’ve missed something useful or interesting, stick it in the comments.

A lot of them just involve creative people talking about their own ways of creating, from the Ordinance Survey level of the ‘creative process’ through the fine detail of daily schedules down to the electron microscopic processes of choosing a word or punctuation marks.

I’ve split them up over a few posts starting with those links that are for eye reading:

Paris Review Interviews (The Paris Review website)

This huge archive of interviews with mostly 20th Century writers is free and contains hundreds of interviews on how writers have approached their works in general and whatever creative niggles were on their mind at the time of the interview.

It is a fabulous resource which you can access here, and if you suffer from literary tastes and read mostly Westerners then there’s a good chance your favourite authors have done an interview with the Review at some point.

Uncle Jim undiluted (Absolute Write Forum)

Fabulously pragmatic and unsentimental spec-fic hack James MacDonald (not to be confused with Dear Jim) set up this long running, wide-reaching, and hugely educational thread in which he throws out reading and writing exercises, his own personal brand of literary theory, guidance for novelists and short story writers, and information on the publishing industry.

This thread is one of the best places for the inexperienced and unpublished author to start. It is highly unsystematic though, and makes for good reading alongside Stephen King’s more structured On Writing, assuming King’s approach to work works for you.

You can find the thread with all the non-Jim posts boiled off here.

Writing About Writing (Blog)

Fitting in with Uncle Jim’s pragmatic, writing-is-a-craft-slash-job-and-18th-Century-ideas-about-the-artist-as-genius-are-perpetuated-by-morons-now-drop-and-give-me-1000-words-you-maggot approach, Writing About Writing is maintained by prolific blogger and floppy haired swear-machine Chris Brecheen, whose blog broadly fall into variations on ‘Write Every Day’ and ‘Pay Attention to Social Issues When Writing’. If that’s likely to trigger you, then maybe don’t click here.

Also, if you need a relentless pit-bull to remind you to put in some BIC time the Writing About Writing Facebook feed is a wonderful pun-factory 90% of the time, but does a great line in ‘Shouldn’t You Be Writing?’ memes.

Nico Muhly’s Blog (Blog)

If modern classical music is your jam, you will probably get more out of Nico Muhly’s blogs than I did. But it’s always interesting to hear from creatives at work and Muhly is a first-class human-being to spend some reading time with, regardless of your level of musical sophistication/babarism.

Read his ramblings here.

Guardian’s 10 Tips series (Guardian Online)

At the risk of giving away a great deal about my political leanings here I do have to recommend two series from the Guardian online.

Firstly, their 10 Tips series in which writers collect their wisdom into 10 pithy bits of advice. Will Self’s advice is a particular joy, and Elmore Leonard has gained a certain amount of memetic traction (find them here.)

The other is their series of articles in which writers either describe a typical or recent writing day (click here for that) Facinating to see how people organise their time, especially if you are the sort of person who loves a good life hack… speaking of which.


It’s not exactly about writing, but for ways of organising your life (so that you have the discipline, methods, and time management to actually do the writing you should be doing if you want to be a writer) there are few places on the internet that work better.

I’d recommend giving it a quick search for ‘Getting Things Done’ and ‘Bullet Journals’ to start with.

Click here to check them out.

I’ll follow up next week with a list of things to watch, and to listen to with your other earholes.

See ya then.

Leave a comment

Filed under Doing, Reading, Writing

Reading Roundup


I’ve rather fallen behind in my monthly reading book review posts. So here’s a quick update.

I’m tracking my reading a little closer over on GoodReads. Which is where I have lifted most of the stuff below. For the other month’s you’ll just have to make do with a simple list and a yes/no/maybe answer to the question ‘Would I recommend?’:

November Reading:

  • Mean Free Path by Ben Lerner. Maybe.
  • A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R R Martin. Yes to fans.
  • The Martian by Andy Weir. Yes.
  • The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Maybe but not before his more important works.

December Reading

  • The Hustler by Walter Tevis. Yes but only after seeing the movie.
  • Classics: A Very Short Introduction by Mary Beard and John Henderson. Yes, highly.
  • Russian Literature: A Very Short Introduction by Kelly Catriona. No.
  • Marquis de Sade: A Very Short Introduction by John Phillips. Maybe, if you are interested in hearing the rosiest possible case for the Marquis.
  • History: A Very Short Introduction by John H. Arnold. Yes.

January Reading

I got one big classic off my plate by finishing listening to the Big Read audiobook of (1) Moby-Dick; or, The Whale.

I also listened to Jezza Irons reading Eliot (who is the bestest) on the BBC, since he read several complete collections I can count the following books as read via my earholes:
(2) Prufrock and Other Observations
(3) Poems
(4) Four Quartets

For entertainment I read Peter Watts existentially challenging hard sci-fi novel (5) Blindsight which was fun and full of interesting non-fiction ideas, whereas (6) Geography: A Very Short Introduction – which is actual non-fiction – did not.

The only other proper classic I’ve got through this month was the rather uninteresting (7) Theogony/Works and Days by Hesiod, the far less interesting or fun coeval of Homer.

Further Reading

Since 2016 came and went with most of my reading goals incomplete. Other than reading a decent 99 books (well over my goal of 82), and though I would normally aim one higher for the following year I don’t feel that’s realistic.
2016 was an ideal year from a reading standpoint, and this year reading is going to have to take a back seat to writing goals so, although I will nominally be aiming for 100, I’ll be happy if I get 60ish.
I want to make sure I read more non-fiction, especially science. I’ve missed that from my reading over the last year or so. I’ll aim for twelve substantial non-fiction texts and see how many insubstantial ones I can fit in around that.
I’m also going to continue with my overview of the Classics with a focus on the British novel. I still have these books to go from my original list.

I also have a list of  books I started ages ago and never finished. I’d like to cross some of them off as well. They are:

The highest priority list I am working on is research for the novel I am working on. These include books that are stylistically similar to my novel, deal with similar themes, have historical information in them that I need, or which I think will be otherwise helpful to my thinking about the novel I am working on.

I’ve trimmed the list a little from last year, there were a few that just didn’t feel as necessary as they did when I first made this list and as with the other lists have knocked off those I finished in 2016. I’ve also added The Sacred Willow, another Xmas gift:

I also want to read the following Shakespeare works. Although I have seen or listened to performances of these nine plays, I haven’t actually read them. So for completion’s sake, I’m gonna do that this year. Then I have read the lot.


1 Comment

Filed under Reading

The Best Books For Writers – Part 4: Books on Reading


Previously on… 

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


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.

Coming soon…

Part 5 – Books on Art and Arting in General



Filed under Reading, Writing

February Reading Round-Up

A pitiful showing after last months many many books. There are instead just a few including and limited to:

Photo on 29-02-2016 at 18.38.jpg

Caution: may contain paper.

Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, who is a massive sexist.

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels, who taught me that if you want your theories to become the most important political philosophy of the 20th-Century the trick is to come up with really memorable metaphors.

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare, who is a massive racist.

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, whose chapter titles are funnier than most modern rom-coms.

Falling Man by Don DeLillo, who doesn’t seem to know anyone except weirdos and scary children.

Novel Without A Name by Duong Thu Huong, who writes the most poignant story of cow molestation I’ve ever read.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, who made me so unsure what truth even is.

Reviews and ratings here.


Leave a comment

Filed under Reading

Reading List

I mentioned in my last post that one of my reading projects is to plug the literary gaps left by doing a science degree. The list is below, but I’ll caveat it first by saying that this isn’t meant to be comprehensive, the vast canon of things that exist is way too extensive. Given that I’ve other reading demands (research, style, erotic fulfilment) I figure that I am being optimistic even with my list of about 40 titles. Especially when those titles include Tom Jones and Middlemarch.

It’s also tailored to my particular reading history: there is no Dostoevsky on the list because I have read a fair amount of him fairly recently, no Sterne because my copy of Tristram Shandy is on loan indefinitely, and no Tolstoy because: Too. Many. Words. And I may need to read War and Peace as research for my current novel.

There’s also a bias towards the European tradition, although, particularly for foundational texts  like the Gita and The Qu’ran, I’ve tried to have a variety. This is because, being an English speaker, that is my cultural canon. I’ll be reading more world literature in future, I promise.

Your thoughts please in the comments:

August ‘15 (Ancient)

(X) Dammaphada – Anon

(X) Baghavad Gita – Anon

(/) The Old Testament – King James Authorised

September ‘15 (Greek)

( ) The Apocrypha – King James Authorised

( ) Lysistrata – Aristophanes

(X) The Oresteia – Aeschylus

(X) Electra – Euripides

(X) Antigone – Sophocles

October ’15 (Roman)

( ) The Aeneid – Virgil

( ) The Metamorphoses – Ovid

( ) The New Testament – King James Authorised

November ’15 (Early Medieval)

( ) The Qu’ran

( ) Tales From 1001 Nights – Anon

( ) Speaking of Siva – Various

( ) Inferno – Dante Alighieri

December ’15 (Late Medieval)

( ) The Saga of the Volsungs – Anon

( ) Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer

( ) Decameron – Giovanni Boccacio

January ’16 (Renaissance)

( ) Monkey – Wu Cheng-En

( ) Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes

( ) Oorinoko – Aphra Behn

( ) Tale of a Tub – Jonathan Swift

February ’16 (1700s)

( ) Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe

( ) Wailing Ghosts – Pu Songling

( ) Tom Jones – Henry Fielding

( ) The Sorrows of a Young Werther – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

March ’16 (Early 1800s)

( ) Emma – Jane Austen

( ) Eugene Onegin – Alexander Pushkin

April ’16 (Early Mid 1800s)

( ) Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

( ) Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

( ) Moby Dick – Herman Melville

May ’16 (Late-Mid 1800s)

( ) Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

( ) Fathers and Sons – Turgenev

(/) The Toilers of the Sea – Victor Hugo

June ’16 (Late-1800s)

( ) Middlemarch – George Eliot

( ) Germinal – Emile Zola

( ) Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

July ’16 (1901 – 1918)

( ) Nostromo – Joseph Conrad

( ) The Rainbow – D H Lawrence

( ) Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce


Filed under Reading