The best books about learning to write

Carl Vigeland Author Of October Calf
By Carl Vigeland

The Books I Picked & Why

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction

By J. D. Salinger

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction

Why this book?

One of four novella-length stories the legendary author of Catcher in the Rye published, this so-called introduction of the fictional author’s older, fictional brother—a literary conceit, as the portrait never gets past Seymour’s face—includes a long letter, ostensibly written by Seymour to his author-brother Buddy, which encompasses the best advice about writing that I know. "Were most of your stars out?" Seymour asks rhetorically...no, not asks...pleads.


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A Moveable Feast

By Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast

Why this book?

Much, though not all, of the book becomes the very feeling Hemingway describes, but the chapter, "Hunger Was Good Discipline," especially takes flight in its evocation of craft and creation, closing with a reference to Hemingway’s greatest short story, “Big Two-Hearted River” (Part I and Part II). It is as if we are reading the actual experience of writing the story…no, not reading, experiencing!


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Death in the Afternoon

By Ernest Hemingway

Death in the Afternoon

Why this book?

Officially a book about bullfighting, with so many digressions that they become the book, the finest such sections delve deeply into the art and practice of writing, most extraordinarily in the thrilling, moving final pages. It is also in this great book that for the first time in print Hemingway articulates his principle that you can leave something out of what you are writing if you know you are leaving it out.


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Swann's Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1

By Marcel Proust, Lydia Davis, Christopher Prendergast

Swann's Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1

Why this book?

Where to begin? Proust’s gigantic masterpiece is the proverbial gift that keeps giving, none more so than in its explication and then repeated “demonstration” of the very thing it describes, the sensory triggers of what Proust calls involuntary memory but that here become the emotional propulsion for this book about writing the very beautiful book (or books—it comes in six volumes) you are reading.


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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

By Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Why this book?

Though not a fan of his fiction, I recommend this “how-to” that King wrote after a near-death car accident for its entertaining, cogent advice. Beyond the numerous pieces of helpful, “nuts and bolts” guidance, the book also becomes an example of the very narrative the storyteller is teaching a writer how to do.


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