The best books about the writing life

Shane Joseph Author Of Circles in the Spiral
By Shane Joseph

Who am I?

I have been a writer for more than twenty years and have favored pursuing “truth in fiction” rather than “money in formula.” As author Edward St. Aubyn quotes: “Money has value because it can be exchanged for something else. Art only has value because it can’t.” I find books about writers are closer to my lived experience and connect me intimately with both the characters and their author.


I wrote...

Circles in the Spiral

By Shane Joseph,

Book cover of Circles in the Spiral

What is my book about?

A psychological thriller, a black comedy, a libidinous romp, a tortured past coming full circle, a writer dealing with looming irrelevance and the dreaded “block” – what is this book really about? Circles in the Spiral threads all these spiraling themes into a tale of redemption set during a fake news campaign to sabotage the Canadian Federal Election of 2019.  

Most importantly, it is a novel about second chances, a theme that plays out consistently in the author’s work.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Page Fright: Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers

By Harry Bruce,

Book cover of Page Fright: Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers

Why this book?

Without having to query Google that serves up writers in a single file, this book is a delightful repository of the entire “who’s who” of literature, particularly of little-known factoids, served up as a rich smorgasbord that you want to devour without end. It proves that “the pen is the tongue of the mind,” even though “writing is a dog’s life,” and is a comfort to writers to know that others, more famous than them, have skirted the edges of penury, fame, and madness. You will also laugh a lot, in relief, I think.

Page Fright: Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers

By Harry Bruce,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A witty round-up of writers' habits that includes all the big names, such as Dickens, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Hemingway
At public events readers always ask writers how they write. The process fascinates them. Now they have a very witty book that ranges around the world and throughout history to answer their questions. All the great writers are here — Dickens, dashing off his work; Henry James dictating it; Flaubert shouting each word aloud in the garden; Hemingway at work in cafés with his pencil. But pencil or pen, trusty typewriter or computer, they all have their advocates. Not to mention the…


A Writer's Notebook

By W. Somerset Maugham,

Book cover of A Writer's Notebook

Why this book?

An incredible recounting by an author who remained current for over two centuries and in several art forms – plays, films, novels, and short stories. Orphaned at ten, and giving up a promising career in the medical profession to become a writer in his early twenties, Maugham reached the pinnacle of success and wealth in this perilous profession. In this collection of sketches, vignettes, and anecdotes, he looks back on his life at the Biblical age of “three score and ten” and accepts his shortcomings, mistakes, and secrets. His only lament: that there were four more novels left to write – the unreachable star that had been his guiding light throughout life. Five years later, he had finished three…

A Writer's Notebook

By W. Somerset Maugham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Writer's Notebook as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Filled with keen observations, autobiographical notes, and the seeds of many of Maugham's greatest works, A Writer's Notebook is a unique and exhilarating look into a great writer's mind at work. From nearly five decades, Somerset Maugham recorded an intimate journal. In it we see the budding of his incomparable vision and his remarkable career as a writer. Covering the years from his time as a youthful medical student in London to a seasoned world traveler around the world, it is playful, sharp witted, and always revealing. Undoubtedly one of his most significant works, A Writer's Notebook is a must…


Lost for Words

By Edward St Aubyn,

Book cover of Lost for Words

Why this book?

A comedy that exposes “prize-based meritocracy” in the literary profession, where prizes lead to best-sellers, where sponsors influence outcomes to promote their own image instead of works of artistic merit, and where writers sell their souls, and bodies, for that elusive prize. The literary stereotypes are present: nymphomaniacal ingenues, insomniacal agonizers, paradoxical theorists, opportunistic editors, and self-published authors with money to burn – all weaving and bobbing around each other to gain personal advantage.

St. Aubyn presents this story in elegant prose, moving the plot brilliantly, while exposing the underbelly of the literary establishment, in which the result of all this finagling is mediocrity.

Lost for Words

By Edward St Aubyn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lost for Words as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Each of the judges of the Elysian Prize for literature has a reason for accepting the job. For the chairman, MP Malcolm Craig, it is backbench boredom, media personality Jo Cross is on the hunt for a 'relevant' novel, and Oxbridge academic Vanessa Shaw is determined to discover good writing. But for Penny Feathers of the Foreign Office, it's all just getting in the way of writing her own thriller. Over the next few weeks they must read hundreds of submissions to find the best book of the year, and so the judges spar, cajole and bargain in order that…


Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991

By Salman Rushdie,

Book cover of Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991

Why this book?

A series of essays and observations by one of literature’s most incendiary writers, written during the decade of his greatest creativity which ended in a life-changing fatwa. Rushdie takes aim at diverse subjects such as racism in Britain, religious fanaticism and literature, the cult of individualism, writers conferences, and trivia about other writers. He holds a candle for the colonial writer who infused the English language with a multitude of thoughts, words, and phrases, and claims that the novel should be subversive, not representative. He also punches back at accusers and justifies his most vilified novel, The Satanic Verses, as a work of dissent not of abuse or insult, and explains its imagery and symbols.

Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991

By Salman Rushdie,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Containing 74 essays written over the last ten years, this book covers a range of subjects including the literature of the perceived masters and of Rushdie's contemporaries, the politics of colonialism and the ironies of culture, film, politicians, the Labour Party, religious fundamentalism in America, racial prejudice and the preciousness of the imagination and of free expression.


The Last Word

By Hanif Kureishi,

Book cover of The Last Word

Why this book?

A story about a biographer who pokes into the corners of a Nobel-winning author’s salacious life to write an exposé is juicy enough, but what happens when the latter uses the opportunity to write a counter-exposé on the former? Unstructured in plot and other novel-craft, this book is laden with pithy quotes on the writing life. The biographer and his subject are libidinous, adulterous, and self-absorbed, a testament to the fact that a writer has to be appreciated separately from their work. Also on display are the strategies employed by the publishing industry to keep the reputation and marketability of a once best-selling author alive, long after their effective shelf-life. 

The Last Word

By Hanif Kureishi,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Mamoon is an eminent Indian-born writer who has made a career in England -- but now, in his early seventies, his reputation is fading, his book sales have dried up and his new wife has expensive tastes. Harry, a young writer, is commissioned to write a biography to revitalise Mamoon's career. He greatly admires Mamoon's work and wants to uncover the truth of the artist's life, but Harry's publisher seeks a more salacious tale of sex and scandal to generate headlines. Meanwhile, Mamoon himself is mining a different truth altogether -- but which one of them will have the last…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in satire, writing, and dark comedy?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about satire, writing, and dark comedy.

Satire Explore 102 books about satire
Writing Explore 48 books about writing
Dark Comedy Explore 82 books about dark comedy

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Naked Lunch, Good Omens, and Wizard of the Crow if you like this list.