The best novels of beauty and grit among the hardships of life

Tom Stewart Author Of Immortal North
By Tom Stewart

Who am I?

I only want to write beautiful literary fiction. I hope to rip out your heart, but while it’s in my care and before I return it, I aspire to inflate it. The struggle and the discipline. The goalpost of perfection. Hurt & Happy. Joy & Suffering. Light & Dark. Coarse & Smooth. Refined & Crude. I want to polish and weave. I want to render and affect. I write, as well, for my own exploration and understanding of the world. I aspire to move you by writing the toils and treasures of our shared human experience. 

I wrote...

Immortal North

By Tom Stewart,

Book cover of Immortal North

What is my book about?

He’s known as the trapper and his family has a long history in these isolated woods. Now it’s just him and the boy, and he’ll raise him in the world he knows, the forest, where threats take recognizable forms: harsh weather, peak predators, the encroachment of civilization at odds with their lifestyle. But for those lands and minds with an unsettled past, other dangers may lurk in the woods where father and son hunt the timber. One fateful day their woodland life is violently broken—shouldn’t those guilty of such injustice be held to account? Though at times gritty even violent, there is raw grace in these pages like veins of gold running through black quartz.

The books I picked & why

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The Road

By Cormac McCarthy,

Book cover of The Road

Why this book?

I believe if you want to show the brightest light, you should surround it with pitch dark. McCarthy writes a bleak tale that truly illuminates the love between a father and son. In the obscurity of dusk and ash, their bond becomes palpable. On exhibit is humankind’s grit, moments of joy amidst hardship, and hope. As always, his prose is stunningly gorgeous. Cormac McCarthy is one of the very best writers in the history of the craft. I read him, in part, to educate myself as an author.

Into the Wild

By Jon Krakauer,

Book cover of Into the Wild

Why this book?

A tragic coming of age story. I like how the young man puts his beliefs on the line, how he pursues beauty and dares to live by his own values and within his unique conception of the world. I’ve always found McCandless’ final quote interesting, “Happiness is only real when shared.” I no longer believe that is true, not totally, but it’s thoughtworthy. Into the Wild and my first book have their parallels.

The Old Man and the Sea

By Ernest Hemingway,

Book cover of The Old Man and the Sea

Why this book?

Ernest Hemingway ties Cormac McCarthy as the two authors that have most significantly influenced me. His prose is beautiful while being sparse. He writes without pretense, and with his unique writing of internality his stories become authentic glimpses of character. He describes scenes vividly using few words by employing our own memory banks to the topic. He captures life so very well. This story is timeless and imagistic. I’ve read it many times and have many more reads in me. Hemingway, McCarthy, Marquez, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky, these are the writers that I consider my teachers—I hope my work is never derivative of, only inspired by them.

War and Peace

By Leo Tolstoy, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Book cover of War and Peace

Why this book?

Given both its breadth and depth, I can always come back to this novel. There are many interesting philosophical ideas, the history is fascinating, and I love how each character lives very differently. The constant question of what gives life value and how to meet our death, and seeing perspectives change for those who are privileged to live out long lives. A masterwork. In my personal life, philosophical questions are not abstract concepts, and life is worthy of deep thought. The novel is a great place to navigate life’s big questions. If I’m fortunate enough to have your readership, you’ll see this in my work as well.

Man’s Search for Meaning

By Viktor Frankl,

Book cover of Man’s Search for Meaning

Why this book?

If to people I love I could only give a single book, this would be it. I’ve read it three times and will revisit it until I die. Imprison a man in hell on Earth where the souls of his loved ones rise from the smokestacks of the crematorium within his sight. His friends die starving and beaten in the mud. What’s left of human dignity? Is there anything redeeming? Is there a chance for forgiveness, or even beauty or love? This tragic account of an appalling time is one of the greatest books ever written. I improve as a writer by improving as a human. This book does that.

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