“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” ~ Steven King
If you’re a writer—fiction writer, journalist, copywriter—very likely you were a bookworm as a kid. Me, too. As a teen I read five thick books a week—an indiscriminate mix of challenging literature, popular fiction and junk.
Today, aside from news, periodicals, blogs and the occasional business book, I read very little. No time, right?
A sorry excuse. So I’m making a—now public—affirmation to read more. Here’s what’s on my list of must-read fiction, non-fiction and re-reads:
10 Fiction books I want to read
- Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Held by terrorists in an unnamed South American country, a group of hostages form unbreakable bonds.
- Stories and Early Novels by Raymond Chandler. I need to read more sentences like, “The muzzle of the Luger looked like the mouth of the Second Street tunnel.”
- White Teeth by Zadie Smith. Three families in multicultural, post-World War II England—and the religious, cultural and class clashes they encounter.
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. My two eldest children tell me I need to get over my bourgeois self and revel in Nabokov’s virtuoso writing, rather than fume over Lolita’s despicable subject matter.
- The Lives of Animals by J.M. Coetzee. An aging author invited to lecture at a small liberal arts college holds forth on animal cruelty.
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. I’ve twice tried (and failed) to read The Great American Novel but my eldest son promised to reread Moby-Dick with me if I commit to 2-3 chapters a week.
- The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. A Bengali couple immigrates to the US and makes a new life far away from all things familiar to them.
- The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. One of the more readable and enjoyable post-modern novels, sez the pickiest literary critic I know, son #1.
- All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. A young German soldier fights in World War I trenches and returns to an alienating post-war civilian life.
- The Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. Autobiographical and semi-fictitious story of Miller’s life as a struggling writer.
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. The author finds meaning—and free choice—while imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp.
- Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson. Foundational work about an emerging discipline that plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The granddaddy of all self-improvement books.
- Good to Great by Jim Collins. I’m overdue to read this business management classic, constantly referenced in corporate communications copy I write.
- Black Elk Speaks as told by John Neihardt. Biography and visions of an Oglala Sioux medicine man, recorded in 1932 by writer, amateur historian and ethnographer Neihardt.
- Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. A field guide to fighting Resistance, that ol’ negative, procrastinating force Pressfield describes in The War of Art.
- On Writing by Steven King. Writing advice from an able and highly opinionated author.
- Writing to Deadline by Donald Murray. A practical guide to reporting, writing and delivering memorable non-fiction on deadline.
- Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar. Greedy, bullying asset managers gouge each other for a stake in the country’s biggest leveraged buy out.
- Maximum City by Suketu Mehta. A Mumbai native son returns to his city after a long absence and rediscovers Mumbai’s history and people.
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X (written with Alex Haley). Young African American man travels from Nebraska to Boston to Mecca—and from racist ideologue to spiritual leader to human rights activist.
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White. It’s only 105 pages and I could use the review.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read it too fast the first time.
- Collected Plays of Tennessee Williams. Williams’ Gothic settings, ravishing language and fallen characters break your heart.
- The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield’s teenage alienation resonates more deeply for my kids than it did for me at their age. Worth a reread at life’s midpoint.
10 non-fiction books I want to read
5 books I want to reread
Not only is education wasted on the young, books are, too. I’d benefit greatly from rereading many of the books I read before age 25. The following five books are just for starters:
What do you want to read?
Scanning my list, I see that—as with my current musical taste—I’m highly influenced by my children. O how the tables turn.
And you? Do you find time to read for professional improvement—and pleasure? What great books do you want to read or reread?
Photo of stacked books courtesy of indi.ca.