After much planning and picking, I’ve decided not to post about my top 10 non-fiction books at the end of the month.
It struck me as far too personal a choice in terms of topic. Every book I picked was about writing, psychology or animals. If you were hoping for my self-help book tips, well the one I’ve recommended to many people that I think can help everyone is Maximum Willpower by Kelly McGonigal, and I was so impressed with it the first time I read it that I’ve already blogged about it.
So instead I thought I could write about something readers of this blog might actually be interested in; Top 10 things to do to feel like a writer. Just because you haven’t been published, or not enough to make any real money, doesn’t mean you can’t feel like a writer.
This list will be the things that have given me that little writer-flutter in my belly. They are the things that keep you slogging it out even when you think you’ll never get there.
The new Top 10 starts tomorrow!
Okay, due to the overwhelming response of one (and that was a text message) I’m going with non-fiction books. I like to always be reading one non-fiction and one fiction book, no idea why, I guess it’s just one of my loveable quirks. And just as I read all different types of fiction, my non-fiction preferences run from evolutionary theory to he’s just not that into you-type books. So this will be an eclectic mix.
To pick my non-fiction books I’ll often look to the references of previous non-fiction books I have enjoyed. Part of me would really like to write a self-help program made up entirely of reading great non-fiction books. This won’t be that list, because some of the books here won’t necessarily contribute to making you a better and more rounded person, but I hope that many will. I will credit some for great leaps forward that I have made.
Something that I really believe about the self-help type books is that you cannot just read them once to get the benefit. If you are anything like me you get super motivated while reading it, but that influence drops off exponentially as soon as you stop reading them. So for these books I’ll let you know that they have made it to my annual reader list. Don’t worry, he’s just not that into you is not on that list.
I know I’m going to miss a whole heap of great books, so I should put in a rider that these books are the ones that are front of mind for me. They are the ones I read again or remember often.
Finally, your own preferences are going to massively shape what non-fiction you read. I LOVE palaeo-zoology and evolution, but that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so I’m only going to include one (maybe two) in this list. You might like war planes or something that I find a bit nods-ey, so apologies for those not making the list. I guess this is my blog, so you get to find out about me 🙂
So, starting next month, the last post of the month will be my top 10 (at the moment) non-fiction books.
When I started the top ten list I only had 9 authors picked out. I figured the tenth would be revealed long before I got to the final entry. The day before this entry went live I still didn’t know who I was going to pick. I had four in the running, but two were scriptwriters, so I figured they could be part of a new list. That left two novelists…
I’ve picked Michael Crichton because I think his stories are the closest to what mine might one day be. Michael Crichton immersed himself in the science of his stories and made sure they always sat true to what was known at the time, and he did it in an engaging and entertaining way. I’ll never forget learning about dinosaur DNA trapped inside mosquitoes in amber and a few years later seeing a movie based entirely on that discovery. I loved it.
Anything that makes science, and more specifically biological or environmental sciences, mainstream is wonderful in my opinion. If you can educate people without them even realising it as they join you in a fantastical journey in a novel, then I think you have something of which to be truly proud. I try, no doubt clumsily, to do it in my work.
Michael Crichton died in 2008. I think it is tragic that we won’t get to see his spin on all the new and amazing discoveries that are happening in the world of science today. I’m sure there would have been many more blockbusters that could have come out of the pages of the science journals.
I know a lot of people criticise writers who take content from ‘nature’ or ‘science’ and turn it into a story, but the fact is most people don’t read ‘nature’ and ‘science’, it is authors like Michael Crichton who translate these discoveries into a language the average person can understand. That is top ten worthy in my eyes.
Occasionally I’ll put out a call to friends for favourite books. One of those books was Jennifer Fallon’s ‘Lion of Senet’ and I had it suggested to me by two different friends at the same time. That made me curious, so I read the book.
Usually I try not to read a series back to back, I figure a reader normally has to wait a year between books for the author to write them, so I should put a few weeks breathing space between them. With these books I could not wait, I HAD to know what was going to happen next.
The world-building was excellent and not your ‘typical’ fantasy, heading into non-European based worlds and where politics played a bit part in the stories. Her good characters did bad things, and the bad ones did good things. I like that in a book.
The funny thing is I must confess that I have not read a Jennifer Fallon book in over two years. I don’t know why that is, but when I was compiling my list of top ten authors at the beginning of the year I knew Jennifer had to be on it. I can so vividly remember loving the books so much, it makes me think it is time to pick up another one.
I think the closest I’ve come to declaring a favourite book is Markus Zusak’s ‘The Book Thief’. This was another book I came to thanks to the top 100 books I’m trying to read and it grabbed me from the first page through to the last. I loved that it was narrated by death and I loved it was presented through the eyes of a young girl despite the horrors it was showing us.
I have read some of Zusak’s other books (The Messenger and The Underdog) and the thing that struck me was the author’s amazing grasp of character. They feel so real, and I don’t know if it was just me, but they feel like they tap into a facet of yourself that resonates so personally that it is as if the author knows you. That is a great skill. So when that character development was married to such an amazing story, then you can see why I loved The Book Thief so much.
Markus Zusak is touted mainly as a young adult author, in fact The Book Thief was marketed as YA in the US, but like so many other young adult books, his stories can be enjoyed by everyone. He captures the pain of the teenage years so well that it was almost uncomfortable venturing back there. They brought back memories.
Just writing this review makes me want to go back and read his work again, I hope that sells it for you. It also makes me want to be a better writer. You can’t ask for more than that.
Robin Hobb was one of the guest authors at the first ever Spec Fiction convention I went to. I had never heard of her so I borrowed a book off a friend. It was fantasy, I had read a bit of fantasy but it hadn’t grabbed me. The book I borrowed didn’t grab me, it consumed me. One of the great joys of coming to a fantasy writer late is that you get to binge on full series, you don’t need to wait a year or three between books. And binge is exactly what I did.
The first series I read was the Farseer Trilogy, followed by the Live Ship Traders. They were both superb. Her world-building is colourful and logical, the characters are flawed but likable, and there is enough politics going on to keep it interesting, but not enough to get you confused. I loved disappearing into this world of no computers, no monthly pay packets and no crowded city commutes.
The only reason I didn’t finish (yet) the Tawny Man series is because a character I loved died, and each time I picked up the next book in the series I was reminded of that and started crying again. Yes, I cry sometimes just thinking about this character dying. I’ve never had a book do that to me so long after reading it before. I think I’m nearly ready to get over it, it’s been more than ten years now.
If you are looking for a true escape from the real world, then these are the books for you. They do have a little magic in them, but quite frankly if a fantasy book doesn’t have magic then it might as well be historical fiction as far as I’m concerned. Provided there are rules around the use of the magic, which Robin Hobb does apply, then I’m happy.
I discovered Jasper Fforde through my ongoing attempt to read through the top 100 books of 2007 (so far I’ve read 68 of them). The Eyre Affair has been a constant on the top 100 until recent years, but I’m sure it will be back because it is a great book. A really great book.
I was so in love with The Eyre Affair that I wanted to immediately buy Jasper’s entire back catalogue, so convinced was I that I would love them all. Fortunately I was poor, so instead I kept putting them on hold at the library and slowly made my way through every Fforde book I could get my hands on…
Until I got to The Well of Lost Plots. I did not enjoy this book. In fact it was so disappointing it made me afraid to pick up another Jasper Fforde novel. Maybe I just wasn’t clever enough to get it, I’m sure the idea of writing a book without a plot was a challenge that some people really did like. I did not. I like story and this book had no story. None. It was plot-less.
There is no doubting that Jasper Fforde is a very talented, intelligent writer. He did stuff in his books that left me in awe and made me wish I could write like him. As weird as this sounds he jokes about grammar and it is really funny. Better still, you have to know the grammar rule to realise it is a joke. Maybe that’s why I didn’t enjoy the Lost Plots?
Whatever may have become of my relationship with Jasper, I loved the nursery crime series, I loved the Dragonslayer series and The Eyre Affair will always rank in my favourite books of all time. And if you can, do what I did, read it both before and after you have read Jane Eyre, you’ll get a lot more out of it. Just don’t buy the entire back catalogue once you fall in love with it, limit yourself to one book at a time. Unless you are rich, then buy them all, authors need to make money too!
I’ve picked Kristin Cashore mainly for one book; Graceling. I don’t know what it was about this book that so captured me, but capture me it did. I’ve since re-read it several times and loved it every time. There are not a lot of books I can enjoy as much the second time I read them, but this one I did (and the third, and the fourth).
Like when I read Eoin Colfer’s books, I read Graceling and think I would like to write something like it one day. The other thing I’ve noticed with Graceling is that when I read it I can’t look at the structure or the word-smithing because I get too caught up in the story and characters. That’s the sign of a story-telling and I’m all about story.
It is probably no coincidence I have an affinity for YA writers given I’m mainly a YA writer when it comes to my novels, and Graceling embraces everything I love about writing YA. It covers mature concepts, relationships, even politics, without having to get graphic. Too many fantasy books written for adults have gore and violence to the extreme, sometimes getting lost in those things. But I’ll get off my soapbox now.
I know this book won’t appeal as widely as perhaps some others I’ve picked for this top ten, but I come back to it so often, with such affection, it would be a crime to leave it off the list.
Until the age of 14 I wanted to make movies when I grew up. At 14 I read my first Lois Duncan novel and after that I wanted to be a writer. It seems crazy to say this now, but I didn’t realise that there were people writing books out there that were as good as, or even better than movies.
My school library was pretty limited, and I didn’t have many people making recommendations besides my English teacher, so the books I had read were pretty boring or ‘safe’. I didn’t really see much point to reading.
Lois Duncan’s books made me sneak a torch to bed so I could read at night, I couldn’t wait to get back to them when I wasn’t reading. She explored ESP, telekinesis, astral travel and a heap of other topics that my English teacher would probably have preferred I stayed away from. I was hooked.
As an adult, I’ve gone back and read her work, and it is the strangest thing, I could feel the memory of the excitement of 14-year-old-me reading them. She made me love books and for that I will always be grateful to her, who knows what might have happened if I hadn’t picked up one of her books back then?
Interestingly enough, perhaps the best book of hers I read was the non-fiction story Who Killed My Daughter about her search for the people responsible for her daughter’s murder. If you are not into young adult fiction but you would like to read Lois, I’d highly recommend this book. There is paranormal stuff in the book, but it’s real and it is amazing.
I came across this author quite serendipitously. A friend saw a novel going cheap on a table of remaindered books, knew I liked science fiction, and so picked it up for me. This has been my lesson that seeing your book on the remaindered book table is not always a bad thing.
After finishing that first book it was only a short time until I had ordered most of his back catalogue online (the only place I could get him at the time). Like me, Robert J Sawyer is fascinated by evolutionary theory, and it creeps into all the books of his that I’ve read so far. I love that. Also like me, Robert J Sawyer has a cast of archaeopteryx hanging in his study, which I took as a sign that on some level we were kindred spirits.
I don’t know if having a deeper knowledge of the science behind his stories helps me to enjoy them more, but I don’t think so, I think they are entertaining in their own right. But as someone who has a bit of evolutionary theory and palaeozoology creeping into more and more of my stories, it seems a no-brainer that I would love Robert’s books.
However, even if evolution is nodsville for you, don’t let that turn you off. His novels are engaging, well paced and just a good read. You don’t have to have done university level biology to enjoy his books, but if you have, then I definitely think you would do well to pick one up and give it a go. I’d recommend starting with his stand-alone novels rather than his series.