Writers are constantly seeking inspirations around them for writing. And what could be better than reading and exploring “Books”. Reading books can be the best medium for improvising the fundamentals of one’s writing. Australian writer, DBC Pierre, author of Vernon God Little has shared his recommendation of some best books for writers.
“Reading is the foundation of writing for any writer.” – Dipesh Karki
Writing a novel from scratch, which is to say without training, was such an unexpected odyssey that I was prompted to recall the discoveries in my new book, Release the Bats – as much to remind myself where the power lay as to pass the keys on to others trying their luck. I didn’t read a lot before writing a novel, but I realise now that certain books helped set me up. Writing fiction means writing vibrant human characters, and luck is with us in terms of research, as we haven’t essentially changed since we came down from the trees. So the best grounding for a fiction writer must be one that explores human nature with gloves off. There’s nothing like literature from ancient Rome bemoaning consumer culture to show that nothing is new, or literature from Habsburg Italy telling how to hire nuns for sex from the mothers superior of convents to put Fifty Shades in perspective. Which is to say that if we haven’t figured ourselves out by now, there’s still time: we’re not going anywhere.
So my choice of books for writers is slanted towards those that expose our colors. For balance, I throw in a couple on writing as well.
- Daily Rituals by Mason Currey (To generate early inspiration and feel part of a club)
Writing can make you feel like a weirdo if you don’t already – but feeling like a weirdo is useless psychology for the job, hence this little book. Mason Currey has carefully compiled the daily habits and personal foibles of 161 great writers, artists, scientists and thinkers, including one who stood on his head to cure creative block. By the end of this book, our carpet-glue habit looks normal.
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and EB White (To know how many rules we’re about to break)
The rules of modern writing have been around for a century, and this tiny volume is where they spent all that time. William Strunk Jr, professor of English at Cornell University, first printed the book privately for his students at the end of the first world war. Although it’s been updated, it still smells of chalk and tweed, and still inspires us to do things properly, if only via a sense that we might be shouted at if we don’t.
- Distinction by Pierre Bourdieu (To grasp the difference between one character and another)
This is strictly speaking a sociology text, but don’t be put off by its density, its diagrams or its tables: it’s a gold mine. Apparently, no judgment of taste is innocent, meaning that everyone is some kind of snob. Here, Bourdieu literally maps the kinds of snob we are, from the food we serve our friends and the knick-knacks on our dressers to the way we value pregnant women and sunsets. Although it’s modelled on the French bourgeoisie, we can still see all our colleagues and neighbours – if not ourselves – inside.
- The Chambers Dictionary (To worship at a shrine)
Sure, all the words are online, but the 2.37kg of this physical dictionary are a stunning daily reminder of what we’re doing and what our toolbox looks like. Thinking isn’t writing, ideas aren’t writing; only writing is writing and we should make it exist in reality, which means ultimately not on a screen. Words behave differently when they sit in fresh air, and the Chambers rounds them up on silky paper. If you’re serious about this, carry the thing around, browse it at random. It’s a living zoo for writers, and the battery life is second to none.
- Instant Analysis by David J Lieberman (To skip the degree in psychology)
A character’s struggles in a book will always have their psychology. We don’t need a PhD in order to write them, we just see the symptoms around us and describe them as they appear. But there’s an edge to be gained from looking deeper, if only to prevailing simplifications. Lieberman’s book tackles 100 common complexes (“Why do I do favours for people I don’t even like?”) in a couple of pages each. Obviously we’ll also see ourselves in there, but there’s nothing like naked horror to get the day started.
- The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (To discover what villains are born knowing)
Originally an instruction manual for princes, this realpolitik masterwork teaches who should be trusted and how to destroy them if they can’t be. The scary thing about The Prince, no doubt responsible for its longevity – 500 years and counting – is how snugly it fits any level of human powerplay,, from an average Thursday night for a courting teen to that lonely, bitter man on the wheelie-bin committee.
- Satyricon by Petronius Arbiter (To get over the feeling that modernity is new)
Few things can change one’s perspective on human history like seeing how familiar and modern this work from Nero’s time is. Better yet, it’s from a decadence just like ours, brimming with risky sex, pretentious food and self-concern.
- Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay (In case Brexit didn’t show why pure democracy should be sparingly used)
No matter the strength of hero or the scale of glory we plan to write about, it never hurts to see how bizarre we can be en masse. Written in beautiful 19th-century prose, this book is a forensic jaunt through history’s strangest crazes.
- The Black Book by Lawrence Durrell (For a smell of literary gasoline igniting)
It’s one thing to hear of passion and midnight oil, another to see it spilt through a book. These were the pages where 24-year-old Lawrence Durrell found his true voice – it’s worth reading them just to see what that means. One for inspiration.
- Tender Is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald (To see what can happen when it all comes together)
Of all the books I could recommend to show writing in full flight, I pick Tender because it also comes with the unlikely extra shine of an underdog. The Great Gatsby is accepted to be Fitzgerald’s greatest work, but this is secretly his best, a connoisseur’s choice. Which, according to Bourdieu, makes us snobs.
A version of this article appears on The Guardian. | Author: DBC Pierre (#dbcpierre)