Though I’ve listed my favorite books in my profile, favorite books are different from important books, particularly when it comes to writing. So, here are some authors and books that should be studied for what they bring to the craft of literature:
J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter Series
While this series includes many memorable characters and is one of the most fun books (or series of books) to read in modern memory, the one thing that separates this series from other books is its intricate plot. You want a master class on foreshadowing and plotting, so that nothing sounds contrived, but flows naturally from what came before? Read this series, and stand in awe, for Rowling did this not just in one book, which is hard enough, but in seven.
Honore de Balzac, Eugenie Grandet
Eugenie Grandet (with an accent grave on the first “e”) is considered one of Balzac’s best novels, if not his best. Its main features are its three-dimensional characters and attention to detail. While I have not read any of Balzac’s other works, he is well-known for these traits in all of his writings. Charles Dickens also is known for his memorable characters, and indeed, he was influence by this earlier French master.
Natsumi Soseki, Mon
Another character study, this time concerning the two main characters in the novel. The story itself seems to be secondary to these two characters, though there is a plot. The plot, however, springs from the characters, so much so that we feel we are watching real people reacting to the world around them, rather than reading a manufactured story. Oh, and in English, the author is known as Soseki Natsumi.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Interested in creating a manufactured world in which to place your characters, one with its own history and geneologies? Or looking for how to write a strong narrative? Look no further than this masterful work. This was the first book that I remember reading, not that I don’t remember anything I read before it, but the impact of all I read before this work was so much less.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Despite an overabundance of “ly” words, this work is best-studied for the lyrical aspects of its narrative, especially the closing pages of the work. I’d give my right arm (well, maybe not–it’s my writing arm, after all) to be able to write something as masterfully as Fitzgerald did in those closing pages.
Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes
Irish authors tend to have lyricism down to a science. The lyricism in this book is different from the lyricism found in The Great Gatsby, but one in which the words themselves, like in the former selection, make the story a joy to read.
Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
There may be better American writers than Mark Twain, but few match his storytelling abilities. Along with Huck Finn, be sure to read his short stories and the three other books that made his career: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I still have yet to read the last one, but of the other two, Tom Sawyer can be uneven at times, the best parts focusing on the main story of the book, dealing with Injun Joe; while the Prince and the Pauper is one of the best-plotted of Twain’s novels.
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
The first few paragraphs of Wilde’s only novel describe its setting in terms of sights, sounds, and smells so well that he is able to transport the reader there with much fewer lines than Balzac uses to describe the town of Saumur at the beginning Eugenie Grandet, but more effectively. I have only to pick up the book again to smell the flowers in Basil’s garden.
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying
Faulkner uses techniques similar to Wilde in bringing his world to life in vivid detail. Instead of smelling flowers, I can still hear wood being sawed whenever I think of that novel. Plus, Faulkner uses multiple voices to tell a story in a way that isn’t gimmicky, with each one starting where the other one left off.
I could go on with other examples, but these are the most vivid in my mind. So I’m curious: which books would you put on this list, and why? Or, feel free to comment on books that affected you greatly.