The Best Writing
“Books, like friends, should be few and well-chosen.”
The books offered here are few and well-chosen – a curated list of some of the finest offerings in fiction (and a few nonfiction works).
The following is not an exhaustive list. These are the books that I have on my shelf. These are books that I have read again and again.
For me, the hallmark of a good story is whether or not I will pick up a book and read it again. There are some works that I have read – and enjoyed – so many times that I can recall and recite lines from the book with ease. In fact, there is a game that I like to play with my students. I will hand them one of these books and tell them to flip to any page in the book and read a line or two. It doesn’t matter which page. After they read, I will tell them what is happening on the rest of the page. Most are dumbfounded at this seeming feat of memorization. It is not memorization. It is simply that the author has told a tale that I love to experience again and again. And I have. That is the hallmark of good writing.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein (Note: there is a reason this is at the top of the list.)
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
Time Enough for Love by Robert A Heinlein
Glory Road by Robert A Heinlein
Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein
The Warlock in Spite of Himself by Christopher Stasheff
The Life of Johnny Reb by Bell Irvin Wiley
Reflections on the Civil War by Bruce Catton (and any other book he’s written about the American Civil War)
Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horowitz
A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
The entire Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander
The Days of the French Revolution by Christopher Hibbert
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle
Clearly, I am a fan of science fiction and history.
Here are some things to consider about my list: Herriot was a veternarian by trade. Heinlein had no formal training as a writer. Catton was trained as a journalist.
What does this tell you about great writing? The very best writing?
It does not come from university training. It does not come from people who earned an M.F.A. in creative writing.
Which of the above listed books do I recommend adding to your library? Considering that not everyone agrees with my literary sensibilities, there are a few books that I think anyone interested in learning how to write well should own. And read. And study.
These books are as follows:
Stranger in a Strange Land
All Creatures Great and Small
A Day No Pigs Would Die
Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations
So why are these books on my bookshelf? Because of the universal nature of the themes.
What is the essential story in Stranger in a Strange Land? It is the story of Jesus.
What is the essential story in the Prydain series? It is the story of a boy becoming a man.
What is the essential story in A Day No Pigs Would Die? It is the story of a boy becoming a man, and a story about the love between a father and a son.
What are the stories found in All Creatures Great and Small? Love, loss, hope, humor, and so much more. This book makes me smile and Herriot’s command of the language is a delight to behold.
These are universal stories. This is why these books are on my shelf. They are filled with humanity – the full depth and breadth of the human experience. From the joys to the sorrows and all that lies in between. Our humanity is a gift and the very best stories reflect this humanity.