As the saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.” For me, it has been a fun and surprising process of really sorting through books to find the ones that have inspired me to write more, more often and, hopefully, better. These last five were not a surprise.
The final five were never that difficult to find. These are the books my mind constantly goes back to when thinking books, in general. I use them in conversation over and over as books that consistently stand out as remarkable and close to my heart. While these books differ wildly in subject matter, style and focus, they all have one thing in common: they broke new ground in memorable ways. I think every person can gain something from reading these classics that are, each in their own way, a clear and honest reflection of life.
And now the top five…
5. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is the quintessential coming of age book and Holden Caufield, the main character, is the quintessential young boy growing up and dealing with complicated life issues who distorts almost everything so he can make sense of his changing world. Brilliant!
4. The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor
Flannery O’Connor is the best short story writer in history. Of course, this is only my humble opinion. She is scary and shocking and engaging. O’Connor offers sticky final lines that have left me in chills. Not figuratively, literally in chills. For the record, I am not alone in the opinion of her work. Now when I read her, I keep a notebook nearby for all of the bits of inspiration she brings up in me. In many ways, this is the number one on my list.
3. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird is included here, in part, because as a recent MFA grad this book was part of numerous conversations about writing. Lamott creates a world where writing is not just an option, but a must. So the book can feel a little like therapy, in a good way. However, Lamott is also hilarious, as in the laugh-out loud variety. She figured out a way to lead a horse to water and make it drink. The best book on writing ever.
2. Letters from the Earth by Mark Twain
In Letter from the Earth, Twain take on James Fenimore Cooper, the Bible and humanity and rips them all to shreds. The criticisms are harsh, but thought provoking, sober and funny. The book and Twain’s commentary is heresy long before heresy became a thing to do. I now look at this collection of writing as his search for truth and greatness. After having read LFTE multiple times, I always come away with the desire to push myself, and my writing, further. I love Twain.
1. The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers
I have read numerous scholarly books and frequently note how the author has a great idea but has not yet learned how to express the idea in a simple way, because the author has not given the idea enough space to grow and flourish, the writing meanders. This is usually when a book becomes dense and overly complicated, or when the writer wanted the reader to know how smart they are. The Power of Myth does the exact opposite.
By the time Moyers was interviewing Campbell, Campbell was at the end of his life (the book came out posthumously) and he had been studying and teaching myth and for over fifty years. The result is a simple expression of someone who had mastered his subject and could discuss its nuances with confidence and ease in a way that invited the reader take secret knowledge from a silver platter. While there are numerous references to mythological characters, Campbell talks about his real subject, life, in an enthusiastic and inspiring way. If there was one book I would want on a desert island this would be it. If there were one book I would recommend to anyone, at any point in life, this would also be it.
I know there were a ton of other worthy books. So the search for great inspiration continues.
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