The best books for fiction writers who tell the truth

Who am I?

I was one of those kids who wanted to understand everything. Early on, I worked at a research laboratory and majored in biology. When studies in religion and philosophy offered an even deeper level of inquiry, I turned to archeology, anthropology, psychology, and linguistic analysis. Over the years, I was a counselor for people at the end of life, taught college philosophy, and a cultural approach to religion. I have traveled throughout western Kenya, Guyana, New Zealand, Alaska, and Labrador. I also listened for the stories of the people. Additionally, I have sailed for more than forty years. I write about what I know, and about what still puzzles me.

I wrote...

Shrader Marks: Keelhouse

By Rob Smith,

Book cover of Shrader Marks: Keelhouse

What is my book about?

What happens when the world is drastically altered? We can’t ask the dinosaurs who faced climate change when an asteroid struck near the Yucatan Peninsula. In our day, we face elevated sea levels with global warming. These are two different phenomena, but the survival may be the same. Like all animals, humans must revert to the basics of food, shelter, and sanctuary from despair.

Shrader Marks: Keelhouse follows sailing families who make the trek from the twenty-first century into the ice age. As a climate disaster drives the world to the brink of helplessness, this group takes an over-water journey that is also an inward voyage. Author Rob Smith draws on his knowledge of sailing, science, human psychology, and anthropology to weave a dystopian tale. His story shatters the idea that catastrophic climate change can be addressed by simple adjustments.

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The books I picked & why

The Power of Myth

By Joseph Campbell, Bill Moyers,

Book cover of The Power of Myth

Why did I love this book?

Anyone interested in knowing how mythology has shaped and captured the human quest for meaning would do well to read Joseph Campbell. The Power of Myth is particularly good as a summary oversight by a creative teacher and storyteller. It is a series of questions posed by journalist Bill Moyers. It manages to capture Campbell’s wit and insight as he makes a serious subject accessible to the curious reader. He sees in both ancient stories and modern theater, how words woven into stories, also open up the inner landscape of the human self.

As a university instructor in philosophy and religion, I attempted to follow Campbell’s example and help students escape the confines of literalism to understand the special use of language that is a myth. Couched in the guise of fiction, myths are always true, or, as Campbell says, “Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.” (p163)

By Joseph Campbell, Bill Moyers,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Power of Myth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • An extraordinary book that reveals how the themes and symbols of ancient narratives continue to bring meaning to birth, death, love, and war.

The Power of Myth launched an extraordinary resurgence of interest in Joseph Campbell and his work. A preeminent scholar, writer, and teacher, he has had a profound influence on millions of people—including Star Wars creator George Lucas. To Campbell, mythology was the “song of the universe, the music of the spheres.” With Bill Moyers, one of America’s most prominent journalists, as his thoughtful and engaging interviewer, The Power of Myth touches on subjects from…

Book cover of On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature

Why did I love this book?

C.S. Lewis is widely known for his children’s book series, The Chronicles of Narnia. His list of publications is, however, much longer. This little volume of essays gives a reader (or a writer) insight into how the form of a story shapes its meaning. For instance, he writes about stories for children and how some authors mistakenly think that children are only interested in childish things. He compares that to people who have the gift of being able to access the child that is still in them and speak with them in a shared experience. 

Of science fiction, he shares the difference between an author who is a creator of worlds, and one who rearranges alien props to make a pedestrian story appear clever. The key is a story that makes contact with the reader.

By C. S. Lewis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The theme of this collection is the excellence of the Story, especially the kind of story dear to Lewis-fantasy and science fiction, which he fostered in an age dominated by realistic fiction. On Stories is a companion volume to Lewis’s collected shorter fiction, The Dark Tower and Other Stories. Edited and with a Preface by Walter Hooper.

Watership Down

By Richard Adams,

Book cover of Watership Down

Why did I love this book?

Warning! This is not a book for the unimaginative. Welcome to the world of rabbits. I was willing to go down the rabbit hole on this one, and I discovered much more than the habits of the long-eared nibblers. Watership Down is really a cross-cultural adventure. It required me to look at the world through the alien eyes of a rabbit and experience a variety of communities. After a while, however, it becomes clear following a clan of rabbits through a wilderness to a new land, a reader begins to see the truths that Adams has to share.

Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and the others encounter communities centered on arts, military discipline, and narrowly shared world views. The values of the travelers are shared through stories told in moments of crisis and demonstrated their ability to find unlikely allies. The sharing of ideas, the recognition of the abilities of the weak, and a trust beyond the moment emerge as values that sustain communities, Lapine, or human.

By Richard Adams,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Watership Down as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the best-loved children's classics of all time, this is the complete, original story of Watership Down.

Something terrible is about to happen to the warren - Fiver feels sure of it. And Fiver's sixth sense is never wrong, according to his brother Hazel. They had to leave immediately, and they had to persuade the other rabbits to join them.

And so begins a long and perilous journey of a small band of rabbits in search of a safe home. Fiver's vision finally leads them to Watership Down, but here they face their most difficult challenge of all .…

Book cover of Frontiers II: More Recent Discoveries About Life, Earth, Space and the Universe

Why did I love this book?

Rule #1: Writers should write what they know. Many science fiction readers know Isaac Asimov as a prolific genre author. First and foremost, however, he is a scientist, a biochemist by training. In this book, Isaac and Janet Asimov share essays on diverse scientific subjects from life on earth to discoveries in space. For me, I searched the book for everything from the fate of the dinosaurs to the height of sea-level rise in case of a major melt-down of Antarctica and Greenland. 

In this book, imagination runs a parallel reality. It is a place where a writer or a reader will see a jumping-off place from the real world to dystopia. 

By Isaac Asimov, Janet Asimov,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Frontiers II as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A treasury of 121 tales from the authors of Frontiers contains remarkable stories about humankind, the secrets of planet Earth, the vast expanse of outer space, and the mysteries of the universe. 15,000 first printing. $15,000 ad/promo.

Book cover of Running from Safety: An Adventure of the Spirit

Why did I love this book?

Hang-gliding is a literal leap of faith. You jump from terra firma and hope that the wind rises beneath your airfoil. Running from Safety is the author’s leap of faith, and, by extension, the readers. “Have you ever met anybody…like the people in your books?”  This is the cryptic question that begins this life exploration. 

As a writer myself, I know that every character in my books is me. Bach knows this, too. But do we really learn from the collection of stuff we hold inside, stuff that is our history? The book begins when Bach is confronted by Dickie, his child-self. The boy asks for one thing: He wants his adult self to sign off on the meaning of life contained in his eight-year-old vision of maturity. Bach is appalled at his simple naiveté. What should you tell your younger self? 

By Richard Bach,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Running from Safety as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A half-mile up, suspended by nylon wings and the promise of good lift, life hanges on a pledge.  Richard Bach made that pledge, fifty years before, to return to the frightened child he used to be and teach him everything he had learned from living.  His promise went unfulfilled until one day, hovering between earth and sky, Richard encounters Dickie Bach, age nine--irrepressible challenger of every notion Richard embraces....

In this exhilarating adventure, Richard and Dickie probe the timeless questions both need answered if either is to be whole: Why does growing spiritually mean never growing up? Can we peacefully…

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