Here’s a link to an interesting article in The Guardian from DBC Pierre. These 10 books helped him to write and as one of those books was the wonderful, Vernon God Little, it may be worth taking a look.
Has anyone else read any of the 10 books below?
1. To generate early inspiration and feel part of a club:
Daily Rituals by Mason Currey
Writing can make you feel like a weirdo if you don’t already – but feeling like a weirdo is useless psychology for the job, hence this little book. Mason Currey has carefully compiled the daily habits and personal foibles of 161 great writers, artists, scientists and thinkers, including one who stood on his head to cure creative block. By the end of this book, our carpet-glue habit looks normal.
2. To know how many rules we’re about to break:
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and EB White
The rules of modern writing have been around for a century, and this tiny volume is where they spent all that time. William Strunk Jr, professor of English at Cornell University, first printed the book privately for his students at the end of the first world war. Although it’s been updated, it still smells of chalk and tweed, and still inspires us to do things properly, if only via a sense that we might be shouted at if we don’t.
3. To grasp the difference between one character and another:
Distinction by Pierre Bourdieu
This is strictly speaking a sociology text, but don’t be put off by its density, its diagrams or its tables: it’s a gold mine. Apparently, no judgment of taste is innocent, meaning that everyone is some kind of snob. Here, Bourdieu literally maps the kinds of snob we are, from the food we serve our friends and the knick-knacks on our dressers to the way we value pregnant women and sunsets. Although it’s modelled on the French bourgeoisie, we can still see all our colleagues and neighbours – if not ourselves – inside.
4. To worship at a shrine:
The Chambers Dictionary
Sure, all the words are online, but the 2.37kg of this physical dictionary are a stunning daily reminder of what we’re doing and what our toolbox looks like. Thinking isn’t writing, ideas aren’t writing; only writing is writing and we should make it exist in reality, which means ultimately not on a screen. Words behave differently when they sit in fresh air, and the Chambers rounds them up on silky paper. If you’re serious about this, carry the thing around, browse it at random. It’s a living zoo for writers, and the battery life is second to none.
5. To skip the degree in psychology:
Instant Analysis by David J Lieberman
A character’s struggles in a book will always have their psychology. We don’t need a PhD in order to write them, we just see the symptoms around us and describe them as they appear. But there’s an edge to be gained from looking deeper, if only to prevailing simplifications. Lieberman’s book tackles 100 common complexes (“Why do I do favours for people I don’t even like?”) in a couple of pages each. Obviously we’ll also see ourselves in there, but there’s nothing like naked horror to get the day started.
6. To discover what villains are born knowing:
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
Originally an instruction manual for princes, this realpolitik masterwork teaches who should be trusted and how to destroy them if they can’t be. The scary thing about The Prince, no doubt responsible for its longevity – 500 years and counting – is how snugly it fits any level of human powerplay,, from an average Thursday night for a courting teen to that lonely, bitter man on the wheelie-bin committee.
7. To get over the feeling that modernity is new:
Satyricon by Petronius Arbiter
Few things can change one’s perspective on human history like seeing how familiar and modern this work from Nero’s time is. Better yet, it’s from a decadence just like ours, brimming with risky sex, pretentious food and self-concern.
8. In case Brexit didn’t show why pure democracy should be sparingly used:
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay
No matter the strength of hero or the scale of glory we plan to write about, it never hurts to see how bizarre we can be en masse. Written in beautiful 19th-century prose, this book is a forensic jaunt through history’s strangest crazes.
9. For a smell of literary gasoline igniting:
The Black Book by Lawrence Durrell
It’s one thing to hear of passion and midnight oil, another to see it spilt through a book. These were the pages where 24-year-old Lawrence Durrell found his true voice – it’s worth reading them just to see what that means. One for inspiration.
10. To see what can happen when it all comes together:
Tender Is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald
Of all the books I could recommend to show writing in full flight, I pick Tender because it also comes with the unlikely extra shine of an underdog. The Great Gatsby is accepted to be Fitzgerald’s greatest work, but this is secretly his best, a connoisseur’s choice. Which, according to Bourdieu, makes us snobs.
Great list! I confidently predicted that Vernon God Little was “too good to win the Booker Prize” a matter of days before it did so.
Hope the muse is with you, best wishes, Paul
I loved Vernon God Little – some of the descriptive passages are gorgeous. I can’t remember the words but there’s a bit, near the beginning of the book, where he likens a woman’s hair to solidified smoke.
The ‘muse’ is being a bit of a bastard at the moment, but I’m trudging on.
How goes the work with you?