It may not be true in every case, but judging from the number of books on creative writing, it’s difficult to achieve that esteemed state without first having been a reader. In any instance, it is an interesting and entertaining subject, whether you intend to write or not, from the broad sweep to the minute, which in this context means vocabulary. (Writer’s Quiz: Find the redundancy in this paragraph.)

  • Encyclopedic in scope and heroically audacious, The Novel: An Alternative History is the first attempt in over a century to tell the complete story of our most popular literary form. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the novel did not originate in 18th-century England, nor even with Don Quixote, but is coeval with civilization itself. After a pugnacious introduction, in which author Steven Moore defends innovative, demanding novelists against their conservative critics, the book relaxes into a world tour of the premodern novel, beginning in ancient Egypt and ending in 16th-century China, with many exotic ports-of-call.

On Writing by Stephen King: Book Cover

  • “Long live the King” hailed “Entertainment Weekly”upon the publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery.

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer: Book Cover

  • In The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing, Norman Mailer discusses with signature candor the rewards and trials of the writing life, and recommends the tools to navigate it. Addressing the reader in a conversational tone, he draws on the best of more than fifty years of his own criticism, advice, and detailed observations about the writer’s craft.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: Book Cover

  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is Ann Lamott’s step-by-step guide to writing and managing the writer’s life, covering each portion of a written project, addressing such concerns as writer’s block and getting published, and offering awareness and survival tips. Anne Lamott is author of the novels Hard Laughter, Rosie, Joe Jones, and All New People as well as Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year.

The Secret Miracle by Daniel Alarcon: Book Cover

  • The world’s best contemporary writers—from Michael Chabon and Claire Messud to Jonathan Lethem and Amy Tan—engage in a wide-ranging, insightful, and often- surprising roundtable discussion on the art of writing fiction in Secret Miracle: The Novelist’s Handbook edited by Daniel Alarcon. Drawing back the curtain on the mysterious process of writing novels, The Secret Miracle brings together the foremost practitioners of the craft to discuss how they write. Paul Auster, Roddy Doyle, Allegra Goodman, Aleksandar Hemon, Mario Vargas Llosa, Susan Minot, Rick Moody, Haruki Murakami, George Pelecanos, Gary Shteyngart, and others take us step by step through the alchemy of writing fiction

Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky: Book Cover

  • In David Lipsky’s view, David Foster Wallace was the best young writer in America. Wallace’s pieces for “Harper’s” magazine in the ’90s were, according to Lipsky, “like hearing for the first time the brain voice of everybody I knew: Here was how we all talked, experienced, thought. It was like smelling the damp in the air, seeing the first flash from a storm a mile away. You knew something gigantic was coming.” Then “Rolling Stone” sent Lipsky to join Wallace on the last leg of his book tour for Infinite Jest, the novel that made him internationally famous. Amid everyday events, Wallace tells Lipsky remarkable things—everything he can about his life, how he feels, what he thinks, what terrifies and fascinates and confounds him—in the writing voice Lipsky had come to love. Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace is the product of that adventure.

The Making of a Story by Alice LaPlante: Book Cover

  • The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing is a fresh and inspiring guide to the basics of creative writing—both fiction and creative nonfiction. Its hands-on, completely accessible approach walks writers through each stage of the creative process, from the initial triggering idea to the revision of the final manuscript. It is unique in combing the three main aspects of creative writing instruction: process (finding inspiration, getting ideas on the page), craft (specific techniques like characterization), and anthology (learning by reading masters of the form). Succinct, clear definitions of basic terms of fiction are accompanied by examples, including excerpts from masterpieces of short fiction and essays as well as contemporary novels. This impressive volume was edited by Alice LaPlante, who teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University and Stanford University.

We can turn now to a look behind the curtain, or under the hood, whatever your preference.

A Little Book of Language by David Crystal: Book Cover

  • With a language disappearing every two weeks and neologisms springing up almost daily, an understanding of the origins and currency of language has never seemed more relevant. In A Little Book of Language, a narrative history written explicitly for a young audience, expert linguist David Crystal proves why the story of language deserves retelling. From the first words of an infant to the peculiar modern dialect of text messaging, A Little Book of Language ranges widely, revealing language’s myriad intricacies and quirks. In animated fashion, Crystal sheds light on the development of unique linguistic styles, the origins of obscure accents, and the search for the first written word. He discusses the plight of endangered languages, as well as successful cases of linguistic revitalization.

The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel by Robert J. Ray: Book Cover

  • The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel: A Step-by-Step Guide to Perfecting Your Work by Robert J. Ray, a follow-up to Ray’s The Weekend Novelist will guide writers of all levels through the next phase in crafting their novel: the rewrite. You’ve finished your first draft—congratulations! Think it’s ready for publication? Think again. The next stage is all about revising and reworking your manuscript—fine-tuning the plot, adding or improving subplots, and fleshing out characters; in short, addressing important structural issues that make or break a novel.

A New Handbook of Literary Terms by David Mikics: Book Cover

  • A New Handbook of Literary Terms offers a lively, informative guide to words and concepts that every student of literature needs to know. David Mikics’s definitions are essayistic, witty, learned, and always a pleasure to read. They sketch the derivation and history of each term, including especially lucid explanations of verse forms and providing a firm sense of literary periods and movements from classicism to postmodernism. The Handbook also supplies a helpful map to the intricate and at times confusing terrain of literary theory at the beginning of the twenty-first century: the author has designated a series of terms, from New Criticism to queer theory, that serves as a concise but thorough introduction to recent developments in literary study.

The Insect That Stole Butter by Julia Cresswell: Book Cover

  • Drawing on Oxford’s unrivalled dictionary research program and language monitoring, The Insect that Stole the Butter? Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins captures the often odd and unexpected stories behind many of our most curious expressions, offering a rich account that far exceeds what can be found in a general dictionary. Indeed, this alphabetically organized resource edited by Julia Creswell contains a wealth of information on the history of English words, in a delightful roadmap tracing the curious twists and turns that words take as their meanings evolve over the centuries. We learn, for instance, that “:abracadabra,” just a fun word said by magicians today, was once believed to actually be a magic word that was supposed to be a charm against fever and was often engraved on an amulet worn around the neck.

Ad Infinitum by Nicholas Ostler: Book Cover

  • The Latin language has been the one constant in the cultural history of the West for more than two millennia. It has defined the way in which we express our thoughts, our faith, and our knowledge of how the world functions, its use echoing on in the law codes of half the world, in the terminologies of modern science, and, until 40 years ago, in the liturgy of the Catholic Church.  In his erudite and entertaining book called Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin, Nicholas Ostler shows how and why Latin survived and thrived even as its creators and other languages failed. Originally the dialect of Rome and its surrounds, Latin supplanted its neighbors to become, by conquest and settlement, the language of all Italy, and then of Western Europe and North Africa.  After the empire collapsed, spoken Latin re-emerged as a host of new languages, from Portuguese and Spanish in the west to Romanian in the east, while a knowledge of Latin lived on as the common code of European thought, and inspired the founders of Europe’s New World in the Americas.

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