January 20, 2013


WRITING TIPS: The 5 Books Every Writer Needs

I once groused to the writer and actor George Savino that I possessed too many books – more books, even, than fit at the time into my many bookcases. “I know why we keep books,” George explained quietly. “It’s so we can display them as Knowledge Trophies.” Since George’s bulls-eye observation I have done a better job of giving away finished books, and while I still have a long way to go I also now pass along George’s advice when I am invited into college classes to discuss writing. “There are only five books every writer needs to keep,” I announce somewhat dramatically, but it always grabs the students’ attention. “’The Elements of Style’ by Strunk and White because it’s the best grammar and style book you’ll ever read. ‘The Art of Fiction’ by David Lodge because it’s the best book on form you’ll ever read. ‘Reading Like a Writer’ by Francine Prose because she dissects the tools every wordsmith uses to construct a story – words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue, details and gesture. The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide,’ by John McNally (pictured here) because he provides sound, practical, candid advice without bravado or romance on what it takes and what it means to be a working writer. And a touchstone book – a book that will remind you why in the hell you fell in love with writing. For me, “The Thin Man,” by Dashiell Hammett, does the trick. No story starts faster. No story is more tightly written.

2 Comments:

Blogger Robin Tuthill said...

Michael,
I've just discovered your blog posts and really appreciate your particular Chicago take on literature.
I feel inspired by your "touchstone" book to share my touchstone book. But that is hard to do because there are many books that made me fall in love with reading, which, no doubt, led to my becoming a writer. The first books I recall reading was "The Bobbsey Twins" series when I was about six years old, followed by "The Hardy Boys," "Nancy Drew" and "Cherry Ames" during my elementary school years. Thus began a lifetime of reading.
I've been moved, opened, deepened, directed, and inspired by so many books. So I'll go with my "first flash" when I think of a touchstone book -- "A River Runs Through It." Maclean had me at the first line: "In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing."
Such poetry!
I thought the film made by Robert Redford was especially good, too, and one of the few films made from a book that was not a disappointment.
Thanks for providing the springboard to these memories.
Robin Tuthill

February 15, 2013  
Blogger Michael Burke said...

Robin -- And a warm thanks to you for reminding me about "A River Runs Through It." I've seen and loved the movie, but I've not yet read the book. That first line; poetry, indeed!

February 15, 2013  

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