Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Non-Writing Book Recommendations

After my other list of books for writers, it makes sense to follow up with one that isn't primarily focused on writing, but can illustrate some important ideas and styles for writers to take note of. This isn't extensive, and it all comes down to my personal tastes, but I can guarantee you one thing: a book won't make it onto this list if I haven't read it - because there are already dozens of articles online with the same books on them as recommendations.

Paper Towns by John Green

Why? It is, in essence, a road-trip novel, and one that captures the experience so perfectly that it made me want to go on one myself. (Though, for the record, I don't actually have my a car of my own to do that with.) Don't attempt to write a road-trip book unless (a) you've been on one and (b) you've read a road-trip book. This one is my suggestion.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

One reason: a thought provoking but inoffensive exploration of suicide, and why one girl in particular took her own life. It's a very sensitive issue, and Asher manages to tread carefully, while covering the necessary ground - how the girl felt, how those she blames felt, their reactions to her death. It's not an easy read, in the sense that it's emotionally unsettling, but overall it's worth the experience.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

For it's treatment of racism, and the exploration of race through a child's eyes, it's a vital read. Why any school would ever ban this, I'll never understand. Bare-faced and daring, tense and unnerving, if you haven't read it, you need to.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Lawson's only book to date, this memoir of growing up in Texas explores a number of topics that many writers may never find themselves going through - and many more than writers are incredibly likely to experience. From a bizarre childhood to issues in parenting and motherhood, as well as an exploration of depression, Lawson somehow managed to create a book that was both hilarious and insightful, and, for a couple of chapters, heartbreaking.

One Red Paperclip by Kyle McDonald

The message from this memoir is simple: strange things are possible for ordinary people. If you think writing about suicide or racism or motherhood or road trips might present themselves as being too out-there for some readers, seemingly normal, but just a stretch too far with the imagination, then look no further than the Canadian who, through a series of trades, went from owning one red paperclip to owning a house. It's happened in real life - so who's to say whether or not you're pushing your luck with an idea? There are no limits in fiction, but especially not after Kyle McDonald pulled off this amazing feat.

The Commitments by Roddy Doyle

Why? The music. You don't necessarily have to like Soul music, but as a novel, it's a good example of how a band can come together, and how to include songs in a book. It also works as a great example of how a book can be written almost entirely using dialogue. Some of the colloquialisms may be difficult to understand for readers outside of Ireland, but there are always Irish readers out there who will happily translate for you.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

For an understanding of Asperger's Syndrome - albeit one that should be taken with a pinch of salt - Haddon's novel is a must read. A story of emotional difficulty, a search for meaning, and a seemingly impossible journey, it's ideal for writers trying to figure out how to make their characters different without making them weird. Even today, few writers include stories with autistic characters in the main cast - I've only ever seen one other character who fell into the category, in Cassandra Clare's latest novel, City of Heavenly Fire, and even then it isn't stated explicitly. If it doesn't challenge you to do something out of the ordinary with your protagonist(s), then nothing will. (Just, you know, be respectful of people who are actually going through the same things as your characters, and don't glorify what makes them different.)

Do you have any recommendations?

My list isn't comprehensive, but the books here present vast differences in stories and how they're told. I hope that, when you're working on your own ideas, these books might help highlight some key ideas for you to explore in a contemporary setting. (Or not.) Do you have any recommendations of your own? What books do you think writer should be reading?

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