The best books that were composed by ear

Why am I passionate about this?

As a poet, my main gift is related to my first ambition, to be a musician. I like to talk, I like to listen, I like the sounds of words and I like to hear (for example) what Emily Dickinson and William Butler Yeats have to say.


I wrote...

The Sounds of Poetry: a Brief Guide

By Robert Pinsky,

Book cover of The Sounds of Poetry: a Brief Guide

What is my book about?

With no terminology or “scansion” or fancy theory, The Sounds of Poetry actually examines, with specific examples, the melodies of sentences in poems. Also, the harmonies and rhythms.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems

Robert Pinsky Why did I love this book?

Williams, late in his life, can look out the window or at the newspaper and open his mind and eye and breath to catch the truth of the thing in verse-music.

Very early in his life, he memorized a lot of poems, so as a New Jersey improviser he didn’t have to think about the sounds. He composed as an athlete runs, jumps, throws, etc. I can hear him.

By William Carlos Williams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This collection makes available work of one of our greatest American poets in the last decade of his life. The first section, Pictures from Brueghel, contains previously uncollected short poems, while the second and third parts are the complete texts of The Desert Music (1954) and Journey to Love (1955), originally published by Random House. In these books, Dr. Williams perfected his "variable foot" metric and achieved full mastery of the "American idiom" which was his lifelong first concern. Among the poems of this period is the long "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" which W. H. Auden has called "one of…


Book cover of The Bean Eaters;

Robert Pinsky Why did I love this book?

When Brooks says “ballade” or “blues” she speaks with the authority of one who can hear—can allude to music without needing to copy it.

Composing the sounds before the record-keeping act of merely writing the words. She doesn’t need the added music of actual song: she embodies the music in the sentence-sounds. (And the harmonies and discords and rhythms of speech.)

By Gwendolyn Brooks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Bean Eaters; as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.

Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. To ensure a quality reading experience, this work has been…


Book cover of Straight Life: The Story Of Art Pepper

Robert Pinsky Why did I love this book?

An artist—a wonderful horn player—speaks his candid, clear-eyed, eloquent account of his life: self-destructive, immensely creative.

If the horn is broken, if the player is just out of prison, if he’s drug-riddled... all that might be bad for himself or others, but he improvises with his back to the wall, to get out of it. And in speech as in music, a great improviser.

By Art Pepper, Laurie Pepper,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Art Pepper (1925-1982) was called the greatest alto saxophonist of the post-Charlie Parker generation. But his autobiography, Straight Life , is much more than a jazz book,it is one of the most explosive, yet one of the most lyrical, of all autobiographies. This edition is updated with an extensive afterword by Laurie Pepper covering Art Pepper's last years, and a complete and up-to-date discography by Todd Selbert.


Book cover of The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Robert Pinsky Why did I love this book?

Bad writing often feels written. This book feels and is spoken. A magnificent speaker finds a good listener in Alex Haley.

Told in the first person by Malcolm Little, who later is called “Detroit Red” and later (in prison) called “Satan” and becomes Malcolm X and, eventually, Malik Shabazz: a great American story. From misery and injustice and mistreatment and crime and leadership to his ultimate interest in history and philology. 

By Malcolm X, Alex Haley,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Autobiography of Malcolm X as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

ONE OF TIME’S TEN MOST IMPORTANT NONFICTION BOOKS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

In the searing pages of this classic autobiography, originally published in 1964, Malcolm X, the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement. His fascinating perspective on the lies and limitations of the American Dream, and the inherent racism in a society that denies its nonwhite citizens the opportunity to dream, gives extraordinary insight into the most urgent issues of our own time. The Autobiography of Malcolm X stands as the definitive statement of a movement…


Book cover of The Art of the Heist: Confessions of a Master Thief

Robert Pinsky Why did I love this book?

Like most calm, ordinary, cautious people, I enjoy movies and books by and about reckless, clever criminals.

Myles Connor, rock star and felon, may or may not know all about, or played a role in, the famous art theft from Boston’s Isabella Gardner museum. He talks an extremely good game.

By Myles J Connor, Jenny Siler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Art of the Heist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“One of the most beguiling criminal memoirs ever written. . . . A rare gem of a book.” — T. J. English, New York Times bestselling author of Havana Nocturne

How did the son of a decorated policeman grow up to be one of Boston’s most notorious criminals? How did he survive a decades-long feud with the FBI? How did he escape one jail sentence with a fake gun carved out of soap? How did he trade the return of a famous Rembrandt for early release from another sentence? The Art of the Heist is a roller-coaster ride of a…


You might also like...

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

Book cover of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

Mark Doherty Author Of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a highly experienced outdoorsman, musician, songwriter, and backcountry guide who chose teaching as a day job. As a writer, however, I am a promoter of creative and literary nonfiction, especially nonfiction that features a thematic thread, whether it be philosophical, conservation, historical, or even unique experiential. The thread I used for thirty years of teaching high school and honors English was the thread of Conservation, as exemplified by authors like Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Edward O. Wilson, Al Gore, Henry David Thoreau, as well as many other more contemporary authors.

Mark's book list on creative nonfiction books that entertain and teach through threaded essays and stories

What is my book about?

I have woven numerous delightful and descriptive true life stories, many from my adventures as an outdoorsman and singer songwriter, into my life as a high school English teacher. I think you'll find this work both entertaining as well as informative, and I hope you enjoy the often lighthearted repartee and dialogue that enhances the stories and experiences.

When I started teaching in the early 1990s, I brought into the classroom with me my passions for nature, folk music, and creativity. This book holds something new and engaging with every chapter and can be enjoyed by all sorts of readers, particularly those who enjoy nonfiction that employs wit, wisdom, humor, and even some down-to-earth philosophy.

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

What is this book about?

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration follows the evolution of a high school English teacher as he develops a creative and innovative teaching style despite being juxtaposed against a public education system bent on didactic, normalizing regulations and political demands. Doherty crafts an engaging nonfiction story that utilizes memoir, anecdote, poetry, and dialogue to explore how mixing creativity and pedagogy can change the way budding students visualize creative writing: A chunk of firewood plunked on a classroom table becomes part of a sawmill, a mine timber, an Anasazi artifact...it also becomes a poem, a song, an essay, and a memoir. The…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Malcolm X, the blues, and jazz?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Malcolm X, the blues, and jazz.

Malcolm X Explore 8 books about Malcolm X
The Blues Explore 44 books about the blues
Jazz Explore 128 books about jazz