Don’t let your bookshelf go hungry this Christmas

This time of year’s all about starting new books while you sit in your favourite armchair in front of the fire (okay, maybe a bit twee). So to help you find a good one, we’ve done a book round-up of the reads we think teach us something about writing. A few of us at The Writer have recommended our favourite recently(ish) published books just in time for Christmas. So here they are.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Our Ed says, ‘It’s a lesson in caring. It’s a book about life, crafted with painstaking thought and tender love. It shows that the deeper you think, the more you know your subject and the more power your words will have.’

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

Abby says, ‘It’s an exercise in writing as many four letter words and graphic sex scenes as possible, whilst still making you feel sympathy for every single character. Tsiolkas channels the narrative of each chapter through a different person so you get acquainted with the intimate (and often dirty) mindsets of everyone involved in the story. But, no sooner are you on the side of the narrator than he jolts you into another psyche altogether.’

On Writing by Stephen King has been recommended by two of us.

Rosh is ‘mostly indifferent about Stephen King – I’ve never read his fiction. But this book really got me thinking about how I write – whether that’s a short story (which is how he started) or other things. ‘One of the main things I took away was to write, write, write and keep writing. Sounds obvious, but his obsessive dedication to writing is what helped him become one of the best-selling authors in the history of time.’

And Emma says, ‘Stephen King stole my heart a long time ago – and probably did something horrible with it, knowing him. But this book’s a cross between a memoir and a writing how-to. Begrudgingly praised by critics (being prolific and popular is a sin in the literary world), it’s a fascinating read, giving insights into King’s writing process, his slightly lopsided psyche and how writing saved his life after he was run over and almost killed in 1999.’

Metamaus by Art Spiegelman

Jan’s suggestion’s for the comic book lovers out there, ‘In the comic books Maus and Maus II, Spiegelman grappled with how his parents survived the holocaust, and how he couldn’t relate to his father. (For good measure, there were Jewish mice, Nazi cats and Polish pigs.) They were brilliant and so is this 25th anniversary making-of extravaganza. With humour, humility and intellect Spiegelman covers his influences, his research and his unease about success. A great lesson in how words and pictures combine to make comics a unique and underrated art form.’

My Grammar and I (or should that be ‘me’?) by Caroline Taggart and J.A. Wines

Ana’s staying true to her job title (editor) and recommends this book because, ‘It’s the best grammar book I’ve come across. That makes it sound like I’ve read masses of grammar books – I haven’t. But I’ve skimmed plenty, and this is one of the few that made me stop skimming and start reading. It’s easy to get around, clearly written and just plain helpful.’

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks

Rosie thinks by ‘writing in simple, understandable language, Faulks brings the reader into the story. He writes from the point of view of each character and puts in lots of description. This helped me paint the picture and really get absorbed into the book.’

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Miranda says, ‘This book makes you feel like you occupy the mind of Thomas Cromwell as Mantel charts his career from humble beginnings to Henry VIII’s right hand man. It’s on an epic scale – from the making of Britain to the flux of Tudor society. And yet it’s personal, the characters are all three dimensional. ‘You see the emotional destruction caused by Henry’s decision to divorce Catherine. You feel Cromwell’s pain at losing his wife and children to the plague. You learn that Cromwell loved Wolsey and wore his ring after his death. A critic said, “After reading this book I’m suspicious that Hilary Mantel is Thomas Cromwell.” This book teaches you how history should be written but I suspect no one else could achieve close to this.’

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Miranda also says ‘I know this isn’t a recently published one, but I was astounded when I put this two-brick-sized book down after devouring it voraciously – first that I'd read it so quickly and second that I'd enjoyed it so much. This book could teach you a lot about writing. It's probably one of the best plots ever as it touches on the big themes of love and fidelity, revenge and forgiveness, youth and age, and the human condition. But it also shows you how to keep a fresh and fast pace (despite its humungous size) which helps add layers to the story. And it shows you how to make a story relevant to the times without blinding you with history. It should be law to know this book.’

And for the hungriest bookshelves:

If you’ve gnawed through those already, we’d recommend The Exploding Boy and other tiny tales by our very own Nick Parker. The Guardian liked it enough to review it. Then you can have a bit of John Simmons’ Room 121: A Masterclass in writing and communication in business. And to make it a nice round number of three, Neil Taylor’s Brilliant Business Writing will do the trick. Okay, that’s it, no more plugs. Have a great Christmas and see you in the New Year.

By Jo

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