Outstanding Books for Writers

These books are taken from a handout presented by Orson Scott Card at a writers seminar. These books are not about writing, but they present information that is extremely useful to the writer of fiction. According to Card, no one should consider themselves educated without having read Guns, Germs, and Steel; at one level, one could say the same about all these books. At another level, these books present a variety of background material useful in developing character, in describing the milieu surrounding the action, and the motivation of the characters. But these books are not only useful in the realm of fiction, they are useful to the non-fiction writer as well, once again by providing a background of information that helps to illumine the situations we write about and the language we use to explain ourselves. (By the way, I'm embarrased to say I own only one of these books, but everytime I happen across the Card's handout, I'm reminded I have a lot to learn. This is my antidote to hubris---that at best I know only 20% of what I need to know.)

Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language (Available Used)

Douglas R. Hofstadter


The Lost Country Life: How English Country Folk Lived (Available Used)

Dorothy Hartley


Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Jared Diamond


Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language

Robin Dunbar


Almost Human: A Journey into the World of Baboons

Shirley C. Strum, George B. Schaller


Additionally, This book was recommended by Orson Scott Card as one of the finest on the craft of writing.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Anne Lamont


By the way, Orson Scott Card despises the book The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. The worst thing a writer can do is follow their dictates. Imagine, for example, if the Gettysburg Address had been edited according to the dictates of Strunk and White. All the passive voice would be gone, as would that final long, convoluted sentence---the one that so expressively links the death of the soldiers at Gettysburg not only to a renewed determination to win the war, but also links the deaths to the even greater struggle we find outselves still engaged in---the creation of a nation dedicated to full equality; and by eliminating the soaring language, it would sour the speech and sever it from its place in history.

If you are interested in finction writing, you might also want to read Orson Scott Card's book, Elements of Writing Fiction - Characters and Viewpoint. One of the most interesting parts of the writing class was hearing Card expound upon the different differences between the points of view (1st, 2nd, and 3rd, especially 3rd person limited narrative and 3rd person omniscient narrative. For example, in the book Shane, we see the entire story from the point of view of a small boy, who reports what he sees, even when he doesn't understand it. A book like Bright Lights, Big City is told entirely in the second person: "You apologize. You beg her pardon." And then their is third person, with its two modes: limited and omniscient. In 3rd person limited narrative, the story is told through the eyes of a single character, although when the demarcation is clear enough, the point of view can change. In third person omniscient, the narrator can tell us what the various characters did, said, felt, and how what motivated them, switching back and forth at will. The best book for this I know of is Card's book.