Best Books for Writers

From the newly published to the invaluable classic, our list of essential books for creative writers.

by James Wood

Published in 2015 by Brandeis University Press

In this slim volume adapted from lectures presented at the Mandel Center for the Humanities at Brandeis University and the British Museum​, James ​Wood demonstrates that fiction is exemplary of George Eliot's claim that "Art is the nearest thing to life." ​Throughout four concise chapters, Wood ​explores the value and relevance of fiction—and its readers, writers, and critics—​by​ draw​ing​ connections​ to​ his own life. ​Additionally, there are examples from works by writers including Walter Benjamin, John Berger, Aleksand​a​r Hemon, Rachel Kushner, Marilynne Robinson, ​and​ Eudora Welty. 

by Dinty W. Moore

Published in 2010 by Writer's Digest Books

“Always be careful to bring your reader along on your journey. Writing is indeed a solo act, but the result is meant to be shared.” In this comprehensive guide, Dinty W. Moore leads readers through the elements of the personal essay, including how to move past “journaling” and write for an audience, and offers advice on developing routines and publication strategies as well as over a hundred writing prompts for writers at all stages of their craft.

by Helen Vendler

Published in 2015 by Harvard University Press

"There is no ready and easy way to take the measure of a lyric: it must be seen in itself and as part of an individual oeuvre and as part of a literary tradition..." ​In this volume of over twenty-five essays and reviews, ​critic Helen Vendler explores a diverse range of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American, English, and Irish poets, including Elizabeth Bishop, Lucie Brock-Broido, Mark Ford, Seamus Heaney, and Langston Hughes. Readers will appreciate Vendler's in-depth analyses of specific elements in each poet's work as well as her examination of how these poets are situated within the larger framework of a culture's literary tradition. 

by Marie Arana, editor

Published in 2003 by PublicAffairs

This collection of essays includes highlights from ten years of the ​Washington Post's Writing Life column, each paired with an author biography by Marie Arana, former editor in chief of the Post's Book World section. Writers such as Julia Alvarez, John Banville, Jimmy Carter, Michael Chabon, Anita Desai, Joyce Carol Oates, Jayne Anne Phillips, and Carl Sagan ​reflect​ on the​ir​ experiences—from how they got started, to reflections looking back on a lifetime of writing—​and share valuable advice, insightful concerns, and a wide range of creative habits.

by Christopher Bram

Published in 2016 by Graywolf Press

Whether it's War and Peace, Wolf Hall, or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, historical narrative has long offered literary treasures for readers—in addition to important lessons for creative writers. Drawing on the work of Gabriel García Márquez, David McCullough, Toni Morrison, Leo Tolstoy, and many others, acclaimed author Christopher Bram (Gods and Monsters, The Notorious Dr. August) examines various strategies of incorporating and dramatizing historical detail in both fiction and nonfiction. Bram's close reading of both successful and flawed passages from classic literature illustrates how authors working in different genres treat major subjects such as slavery and the Civil War, offering valuable insights that writers can draw on for their own historical narratives.

by Lorin Stein and Sadie Stein, editors

Published in 2012 by Picador

In this anthology, twenty contemporary short story writers introduce their favorite Paris Review short stories and authors. The book includes pairings such as Joy Williams's "Dimmer" introduced by Daniel Alarcón, Jane Bowles's "Emmy Moore's Journal" introduced by Lydia Davis, Jorge Luis Borges's "Funes, the Memorious" introduced by Aleksandar Hemon, and Donald Barthelme's "Seven Garlic Tales" introduced by Ben Marcus. Each introduction explores the form and craft, and the ways in which the writers have been influenced and inspired by the author they celebrate.

by Richard Cohen

Published in 2016 by Random House

In How to Write Like Tolstoy, Richard Cohen has assembled a compendium of techniques, obsessions, quotes, and exemplary passages by acclaimed prose writers including Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Jonathan Franzen, David Markson, Gabriel García Márquez, and Francine Prose. Each of the twelve chapters focuses on a different element of craft, such as beginnings, point of view, dialogue, writing about sex, and revision, resulting in a book that illuminates for readers the range of perspectives in the writing of great literature.

by Travis Kurowski, Wayne Miller, and Kevin Prufer, editors

Published in 2016 by Milkweed Editions

Thirty-six years after Bill Henderson's The Art of Literary Publishing: Editors on Their Craft (Pushcart Press, 1980) shared the insights of some of the most successful editors of the last century, such as Maxwell Perkins, John Farrar, James Laughlin, and Theodore Solotaroff, this new anthology showcases an even wider range of perspectives on the current state of literary publishing, attempting to answer some of the questions raised by Henderson's classic volume. From industry veterans to digital mavericks, including agents, editors, authors, and reviewers such as Erin Belieu, Sven Birkerts, Jessa Crispin, Gerald Howard, Richard Nash, Chris Parris-Lamb, and Daniel Slager, the voices collected in Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century offer a discussion of the role of books, bookselling, and literary publishing for the future.

by Colm Tóibín

Published in 2015 by Princeton University Press

In this book, novelist Colm Tóibín's close readings chisel down Elizabeth Bishop’s almost monolithic masterpieces to their personal cores. Moreover, readers will see, poem to poem, how much Bishop’s gift for restraint and observation have impacted Tóibín’s writing. The result is not only a valuable study of a master poet, but a testament to how one writer can become a compass, and an engine, for another.

by Laraine Herring

Published in 2016 by Shambhala Publications

"Instead of reacting to the block, I encourage you to stop and look at it. Listen to it. Touch it. Find out what its gifts are, what it's offering you." Laraine Herring presents a new perspective of writer's block, sharing strategies for transforming the feeling of being stuck into an opportunity to challenge oneself. Herring encourages writers to take a closer look at the writing process, channel creative energy through meditation and breathing exercises, and provides innovative writing techniques and prompts.