Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Ten

On the 2010 Authors website we're each supposed to make a list of top 10s. It can be top 10 anything, but all the good topics have been taken (chocolate, movies, etc.). I flirted with the idea of doing Top 10 Reality Shows of all-time since I'm one of the preeminent scholars on this subject, but admitting to loving Paradise Island above all might just lower my credibility with these literary folks. My time to post a list has come, so I chose:

Top Ten — Favorite books on/about writing. I know! Titillating!

1. Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See - This great book comes with a bonus: an embarrassing back-story in which I give the book to someone, it ends our budding friendship, I write about it on my blog, she finds the post and makes a comment on the blog entry, and I respond. If you like awk-ward, you’ll love this post.

2. The Elements of Style Illustrated – This is the Strunk & White classic, updated with amazing paintings by Maira Kalman, the illustrator responsible for quirky kids books like Sayonara, Mrs. Kackleman and Max Makes a Million. A great gift book for writer friends.

3. Red Herrings and White Elephants: The Origins of the Phrases We Use Every Day by Albert Jack – I absolutely love books about the origins of clichés. This is because I am a dork.

4. On Writing by Stephen King - Though I’m not a big fan of his fiction, this book is fantastic. It’s entertaining and informative and his anecdotes are great—King has had a very interesting career and he has really worked for all the success he’s had. (But I still say shame on him for criticizing Stephenie Meyer; that’s what critics are for. Shouldn’t there be a code of honor among writers?)

5. Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market by Alice Pope - In addition to being the ultimate reference on the market, there are really great interviews and articles by authors, illustrators, and publishing people and lots of great how-to stuff.

6. Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions by Harry Shaw - This is an old book with a groovy 70s cover, but it’s one of those I keep on my desk for spontaneous learning. Like if I’m stuck on something I’ll open it up to a random page, learn the difference between, say, a dais and a lectern, and close it again. Sometimes the information even sticks; i.e. one of those things is a raised platform.

7. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss – This is the funniest book on punctuation you will ever read. And we all know how high that bar is!

8. The Best American Short Stories of xxxx (insert any year between 1915 and 2008 here) – I always look forward to this collection. Edited by a different writer each year—2008 is Salman Rushdie—this is a survey of great writing. It’s interesting to go back and read stories from past years; you definitely see subtle changes in theme and style attributed to both the editor who picks the stories and trends. Good stuff.

9. Scholastic Children's Dictionary - I’ve stolen this one from my daughter. In addition to being a pretty decent little dictionary, the back matter includes reference info on random bits you may or may not have learned in middle school (Braille and American Sign Language alphabets, international flags, info on presidents, etc.)

10. The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner – Betsy was a poet, then an agent’s assistant, then an editor, and now she’s an agent married to a publisher. This book includes lots of comforting info on why writers are neurotic. In addition to having a varied perspective on the publishing industry, she is also an incredible writer. I enjoyed this book as much for the information as I did for her writing.

If you could only recommend ONE book to writers, what would it be?


Paul Äertker said...

I wouldn't go so far as to call this list "Titillating!", but it's definitely a keeper. I agree with you on Stephen King: I'm not a fan, but the writing book is great. My favorite in you list, however, is the fact that you have a TV so old you don't have a problem writing on the screen!

jennie said...

OMG, when you asked me yesterday what my favorite book on writing was, and I said I'd never read one, I didn't KNOW WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT (as usual).

So, YES!, I love EATS, SHOOTS... and also MAKING A LITERARY LIFE. And two that aren't on there: THE MLA HANDBOOK and Rand McNally's WORLD ATLAS.

But. Is it bad if I think King's criticism of Meyer is funny?

Suzanne Young said...

HAHA! DUDE, now I know why I like you! I was obsessed with Paradise Island!!!! hahaahhaahhaahahaha

I think all writers should read... um... actually, I'm not sure I've ever read a book on writing. But I'd love to check out the Stephen King one!

Hardygirl said...

I love Anne Lamont's Bird by Bird.

And . . . oh wait, you said ONE. So that's it.

I guess I'm going to have to break down and get the Stephen King book. It seems to make EVERYONE's list. And, I agree about his remarks about Meyer--reminds me of the age old warning about not throwing stones if you live in a glass house . . .


Katie said...

How about Writing the Breakout Novel? That was very interesting. And I'm a bird by bird girl too. Great Post Christy!

Tyler said...

If I had one, I'd have to go with Browne and King's Self Editing for Fiction Writers. It's loaded with great advice about craft.

I've been wanting to check out that Stephen King one forever, just never got around to it. I've heard great things from everyone who's read it, though.

Suz, NEVER read a book on writing? Curse you and your "natural talent" ;)

Paul Äertker said...

Just took your great list to the bookstore (B&N) and spent an hour flipping through. I loved Making A Literary Life. The best recco on your list. And no, I didn't buy. I was at B & N! Thanks for sharing.

smeade said...

I loved Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Very inspiring and motivating.

PJ Hoover said...

I'll go with Tyler and say Browne and King's Self Editing for Fiction Writers though Fiction First Aid is a very close second!

Christy Raedeke said...

Ooooh, I'm excited to get these recommendations. I've never heard of "Self Editing for Fiction Writers" but am excited to check it out! Thanks for sharing, everyone.

Carrie Harris said...

I'm stuck on Paradise Island. It's one of my guilty pleasures too. ;)

Robin said...

Writing Down the Bones--practical and inspirational (I went to see Natalie Goldberg speak in Atlanta once and she sat on top of her table and taught us all how to meditate.)

Stephen King's On Writing--no doubt, the best.

Now I think I'm going to have to check out that punctuation book. I LOVE funny punctuation!!!


Maggie said...

I've been lurking (and enjoying your blogs) for awhile now but this post was irresistible, so I had to add a comment.

My all time favorite book on writing is If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland. It's been around a long time but it has been inspirational to me.

Restricting this to one book is hard! Couldn't we just have one (or two) more?

Jame said...

A writing friend suggested the Alice Pope blog and first try I bump into a 10'er! Funny.

Anyway, this blog looks great---can't wait to read more.

I can't seem to pick a favorite book on writing. Writing Down the Bones started it all for me; I also think On Writing is Stephen King's masterpiece; and Bird by Bird gets me through the long haul. I'm not picking just one, am I?

Jane Singleton Paul said...

I made a note of your top ten books on/about writing and of those suggested in the comments to your post. I have the day off from teaching and my afternoon at Politics and Prose (local bookstore) will be spent looking at the ones I don't know but whose descriptions intrigue me... Carolyn See, Betsy Lerner, and more. This was a great post to share with writers. My latest inspiration for writing.. and for life (!) was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

Christy Raedeke said...

Thanks for the great suggestions, everyone! I've got some reading to do...

And welcome, Maggie, Jame, and Jane!

Maggie said...

Christy, I ordered the Carolyn See book. Couldn't resist your endorsement. It shipped today so I should see it soon.

Anonymous said...

I am not a fan of Mary Higgins Clark, but her book on writing did really hold my interest, as she described her trials at having any time for writing with small children in the house. She was so disciplined to get up so early in the morning to have some solitude for writing. I could never be that disciplined, and after many rejections, as most writers can identify with, she did make a fantastic career for herself.

Christy Raedeke said...

Maggie, let me know how you like it! Carolyn See is very, very funny - makes for a quick read.

Miles Inada said...

This list is scandalous! And titillating! Mimosa!!!