Five Books Every Writer Should Read — What Are Your Top 5?

The QOne way we, as writers, can improve our writing is to read and study great writing. Whether that’s a reference book on how to write better or a great novel or memoir that hooks us with great twists and turns that are so addictive that we forget to drink our morning coffee (OK, well, maybe not THAT addictive).

I want to build a list of books here that all writers can bookmark and thumb through at any time. So I officially challenge you to post 5 books that you think every writer should read in the comments section of this post.

Without further ado, here’s my list:

  1. Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
  2. Damn Fine Story – Chuck Wendig
  3. The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed the Game of Baseball – Scott Gray
  4. Dave Barry Slept Here – Dave Barry
  5. Save the Cat – Blake Snyder

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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16 thoughts on “Five Books Every Writer Should Read — What Are Your Top 5?

  1. Richard

    1. Jane Eyre by C. Bronte
    2. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
    3. Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe
    4. Slaughterhouse Five by K. Vonnegut
    5. True Grit by Charles Portis

  2. Glenna Jenkins

    Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. Superbly written. An excellent commentary on the classist British society of pre-Victorian times.
    Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Madeline Thien. The story shifts back and forth between Vancouver, during the 1990s and China, during the Cultural Revolution. Superb writing. A good presentation of the life of a family struggling to cope with Chairman Mao’s insane cultural experiment. Winner of the 2017 Mann Booker prize.
    The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje. If you haven’t read anything by this award-winning writer, this novel would be a good place to start. His prose is breath-taking.
    Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Simply a great book. An examination of social norms and the expectations of women (or lack thereof) during the Victorian era.
    Atonement, by Ian MacEwan. MacEwan has been called Britain’s best living writing. Read Atonement and you will find out why.

  3. Purabi

    5 of my favourites are:

    The Alchemist – By Paulo Coelho (allegorical, inspirational, absorbing – it has sustained me over the years with its powerful message that you can go after your dream, only make sure that you are strong enough to sustain all kinds of hardships that will surely come your way.)

    Do not say we have Nothing – by Madeleine Thien (intergenerational saga, family relationships, and the ability to bring art and music into a war-torn world, to find beauty amidst hardship. Writers will learn to write how to begin with the end. Beautifully crafted.)

    Little Women – by Louisa M. Alcott (I was twelve when I first read the book and my desire to be a writer was born then. From to time I still pick it up to read and lose myself in the world of these unforgettable characters and their resiliency.)

    Gone with the Wind – by Margaret Mitchell (a story of survival through the slow awakening of the courageous character of a spoilt southern belle. Great character development.)

    The Red Tent – By Anita Diamant (We learn how women lived, loved and lost in Biblical times. A story of courage and survival amidst tremendous odds. Once again, powerful character development.)

  4. Suzanna Myatt Harvill

    1. Stephen King On Writing
    2. Anything by James Lee Burke
    3. The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing
    4. Gone With the Wind
    5. Anything by Frank Yerby

  5. Elise Holland

    Fantastic list! Save the Cat has been a TBR of mine for a while now Brian. I need to pick up a copy!

    Here are my top 5:
    DIY MFA – Gabriela Pereira
    Writing Down the Bones – Natalie Goldberg
    The Great Gatsby – Fitzgerald
    Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen
    New: Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: the Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published – Windy Lynn Harris

  6. ReathaThomasOakley

    Great lists.

    Because almost weekly I read a great book, I had to go way back to books that after the first reading so impacted me that I’ve never forgotten, and that I’ve read again and again.

    The Bible, King James Version
    Before I could read I was mesmerized hearing the words spoken. In addition to the beauty of the language there are universal stories, instructions for life, and messages for the ages.

    Grimms Fairy Tales
    More universal stories, most with a moral, told with humor, colorful language and settings. My first introduction to romance and magic.

    Little Women
    My first long book, as well as first book with girls as the stars. My introduction to character and plot development. I’ve probably read at least a dozen times.

    The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, Sir James George Frazer
    First read in high school, still have a copy found in a used bookstore over fifty years ago. I would just randomly open and be amazed.

    The Elements of Style, Strunk and White
    A copy has been on every desk I’ve ever used, and now is also on my Kindle. I’ve given copies to staff who assisted with grants and publicity. It never goes out of style.

  7. LisaHer

    Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    The Enchanted – Rene Denfeld
    My Grandmother Told Me To Tell You She’s Sorry – Frederick Backman
    The Jungle Books – Rudyard Kipling
    The Shack – Wm. Paul Young

  8. writer_sk

    Thanks for the recommendations. I’ve read “Catcher..” but will re-read. Am interested to check out the others.

    My recommendations would be:

    Stephen King “On Writing” and just reading the classics.

    I like reading the screenplays to movies.

    ~Sarah

  9. soozequeue

    1. Rebecca – Daphne DuMaurier
    2. The Godfather – Mario Puzo
    3. The Prince – Machiavelli
    4. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – Fannie Flagg
    5. The Art of Dramatic Writing – Lajos Egri

  10. Cindy M. Bell

    This would be much easier if it were 5 per category!!

    Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer (will fire up your imagination while teaching fiction concepts)

    The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life by Priscilla Long (practices to help you become prolific)

    Spellbinding Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Achieving Excellence and Captivating Readers by Barbara Baig (can lead you to your unique voice)

    The Road by Cormac McCarthy (masterful voice / tone / imagery)

    The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (magical story / incredible imagery)

  11. McFarchie

    1. On Writing – Stephen King
    2. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
    3. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – Raymond Carver
    4. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
    5. Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

  12. Sasha A. Palmer

    1. Dandelion Wine — Ray Bradbury
    2. Favorite Poems of Emily Dickinson — originally published in 1890 as “Poems”
    3. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant — Anne Tyler
    4. The Suitcase — Sergei Dovlatov
    5. The Little Prince — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

    1. Sasha A. Palmer

      I’ve picked just one reason for each book, it was almost as hard as to pick just five books.

      1. Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury — language: “The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered…”
      2. Favorite Poems of Emily Dickinson — freedom of expression, uninhibited by conventions
      3. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler — “wickedly good writing”: “This writer (Anne Tyler) is not merely good, she is wickedly good.” — John Updike
      4. The Suitcase, Sergei Dovlatov — raw sincerity
      5. The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry — unpretentious wisdom

  13. EL Drayton

    I think explaining WHY you feel those 5 books are a “Must Read for Writers” would be helpful as well? I own and have read a few on your list but I’d love to know why you feel those are a “Must Read” over the millions of other books written? Thanks.

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