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Best Books for Writers

From the newly published to the invaluable classic, our list of essential books for creative writers.

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by Marie Arana, editor

Published in 2003 by PublicAffairs

This collection of essays includes highlights from ten years of the ​Washington Post's Writing Life column, each paired with an author biography by Marie Arana, former editor in chief of the Post's Book World section. Writers such as Julia Alvarez, John Banville, Jimmy Carter, Michael Chabon, Anita Desai, Joyce Carol Oates, Jayne Anne Phillips, and Carl Sagan ​reflect​ on the​ir​ experiences—from how they got started, to reflections looking back on a lifetime of writing—​and share valuable advice, insightful concerns, and a wide range of creative habits.

by Christopher Bram

Published in 2016 by Graywolf Press

Whether it's War and Peace, Wolf Hall, or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, historical narrative has long offered literary treasures for readers—in addition to important lessons for creative writers. Drawing on the work of Gabriel García Márquez, David McCullough, Toni Morrison, Leo Tolstoy, and many others, acclaimed author Christopher Bram (Gods and Monsters, The Notorious Dr. August) examines various strategies of incorporating and dramatizing historical detail in both fiction and nonfiction. Bram's close reading of both successful and flawed passages from classic literature illustrates how authors working in different genres treat major subjects such as slavery and the Civil War, offering valuable insights that writers can draw on for their own historical narratives.

by Lorin Stein and Sadie Stein, editors

Published in 2012 by Picador

In this anthology, twenty contemporary short story writers introduce their favorite Paris Review short stories and authors. The book includes pairings such as Joy Williams's "Dimmer" introduced by Daniel Alarcón, Jane Bowles's "Emmy Moore's Journal" introduced by Lydia Davis, Jorge Luis Borges's "Funes, the Memorious" introduced by Aleksandar Hemon, and Donald Barthelme's "Seven Garlic Tales" introduced by Ben Marcus. Each introduction explores the form and craft, and the ways in which the writers have been influenced and inspired by the author they celebrate.

by Richard Cohen

Published in 2016 by Random House

In How to Write Like Tolstoy, Richard Cohen has assembled a compendium of techniques, obsessions, quotes, and exemplary passages by acclaimed prose writers including Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Jonathan Franzen, David Markson, Gabriel García Márquez, and Francine Prose. Each of the twelve chapters focuses on a different element of craft, such as beginnings, point of view, dialogue, writing about sex, and revision, resulting in a book that illuminates for readers the range of perspectives in the writing of great literature.

by Travis Kurowski, Wayne Miller, and Kevin Prufer, editors

Published in 2016 by Milkweed Editions

Thirty-six years after Bill Henderson's The Art of Literary Publishing: Editors on Their Craft (Pushcart Press, 1980) shared the insights of some of the most successful editors of the last century, such as Maxwell Perkins, John Farrar, James Laughlin, and Theodore Solotaroff, this new anthology showcases an even wider range of perspectives on the current state of literary publishing, attempting to answer some of the questions raised by Henderson's classic volume. From industry veterans to digital mavericks, including agents, editors, authors, and reviewers such as Erin Belieu, Sven Birkerts, Jessa Crispin, Gerald Howard, Richard Nash, Chris Parris-Lamb, and Daniel Slager, the voices collected in Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century offer a discussion of the role of books, bookselling, and literary publishing for the future.

by Colm Tóibín

Published in 2015 by Princeton University Press

In this book, novelist Colm Tóibín's close readings chisel down Elizabeth Bishop’s almost monolithic masterpieces to their personal cores. Moreover, readers will see, poem to poem, how much Bishop’s gift for restraint and observation have impacted Tóibín’s writing. The result is not only a valuable study of a master poet, but a testament to how one writer can become a compass, and an engine, for another.

by Laraine Herring

Published in 2016 by Shambhala Publications

"Instead of reacting to the block, I encourage you to stop and look at it. Listen to it. Touch it. Find out what its gifts are, what it's offering you." Laraine Herring presents a new perspective of writer's block, sharing strategies for transforming the feeling of being stuck into an opportunity to challenge oneself. Herring encourages writers to take a closer look at the writing process, channel creative energy through meditation and breathing exercises, and provides innovative writing techniques and prompts.

by James Salter

Published in 2016 by University of Virginia Press

As the first Kapnick Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia​, James Salter delivered these three lectures just months before his passing: "The Art of Fiction," "Writing Novels," and "Life into Art." Now compiled in this book, readers will be inspired and heartened by ​Salter's candid thoughts on the inevitable rejection, criticism, and struggle with best practices that accompany the writer's life. Salter also shares the books and authors that informed him throughout the years, and his personal beliefs in the value of the written word.

by Leonard Koren

Published in 1994 by Stone Bridge Press

​"I have since come to believe that wabi-sabi is related to many of the more emphatic anti-aesthetics that invariably spring from the young, modern, creative soul: beat, punk, grunge, or whatever it's called next."​ ​In this book, artist and writer Leonard Koren introduces the concept of the Japanese tradition of wabi-sabi​: the beauty of incomplete, imperfect, impermanent things​.​ ​Readers and writers interested in a new perspective on artistic practice will find inspiration in Koren's application of wabi-sabi to contemporary, Western approaches to the creative process, and the focus on transcending conventional ways of observation.

by Noah Lukeman

Published in 2000 by Touchstone

In The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, Noah Lukeman, president of Lukeman Literary Management Ltd., dispenses valuable advice concerning both the creative and practical challenges of writing. From how to strengthen the foundational elements of a narrative or sentence, to how to avoid common, but at times overlooked, mistakes that sink a manuscript into slush-pile oblivion, this is a comprehensive guide and reference for crafting a book that aims to rise to the top.

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