The best books for fiction writers who tell the truth

The Books I Picked & Why

The Power of Myth

By Joseph Campbell, Bill Moyers

Book cover of The Power of Myth

Why 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)

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On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature

By C.S. Lewis

Book cover of On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature

Why 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.

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Watership Down

By Richard Adams

Book cover of Watership Down

Why 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.

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

By Isaac Asimov, Janet Asimov

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

Why 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. 

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Running from Safety: An Adventure of the Spirit

By Richard Bach

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

Why 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? 

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