Andi Cumbo - Writer, Editor, Online Writing Courses, Classes & Lessons

Writing Books – My Top Ten

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When someone asks me what my favorite books are, I do the same thing most book lovers do – go completely blank, get a little huffy because, really, how am I supposed to pick, and then acquiesce because, well, any excuse to talk about books is a good excuse.

My shelves of book on writing.

My shelves of books on writing.

But if you give me a parameter – my top ten books for children, or my top ten books to read in the cabin, or my top ten books about penguins – well, then, I get giddy because now I not only get to talk about books but I get to think about them in new ways.

So I’m going to try something new here and write a top ten list for various types of books, and I need your help. What categories of books would you like to have recommendations for? Books about moms, books about coffee, books by women of color, books that made you want to travel.  Share your list request below, and I’ll do my best to pull together my top ten – or ask wiser friends to give theirs – each Friday through the first week of September.  Sound okay?

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Here’s something I get asked a lot – what books do you recommend for writers?  My top ten is below:

1. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose – A lot of us struggle with how to read models of our craft. We don’t know how to analyze a text or break it apart to see why we think it works or doesn’t work.  This book is a great introduction to that process.  Plus, it reminds us all that if we want to write, we need to read LOTS of the forms we want to create ourselves.

2. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott – Lamott gives wisdom about our craft with a wit and an honesty that draws you in and leaves you not only willing to follow her advice but also wanting to be her friend.  It is this book, perhaps more than any other, that both inspired me and encouraged me in my ability to do this writing thing.

3. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison – If you want to write with an eye to our time and our culture – as I think it’s wise for all writers to do, even if we don’t address those things directly – this book is a must-read.  It will guide you as you read more canonical texts and as you read contemporary ones, and it will shape your awareness of yourself as a writer in a time and place.

4. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King – Part memoir, part guide, King’s book will give you hope at the same time it gives you a wide-open look at the hard-work, sacrifice, and unceasing dedication that is requires to be a successful writer, no matter how you define that term.

5. Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg – Before Steven Pressfield was writing about resistance, Natalie Goldberg had already named that process by which we sabotage our work with our own thoughts – she calls it “wild mind.” This book will give you language for your own struggles as well as compassionate, thoughtful, complex wisdom on how to manage your own fears and get to work.

6. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke – If you’re looking to be caught breathless and to cry at the soft kindness of someone who knows and who speaks truth and hope to you, Rilke’s work is one you need to carry in your glovebox, handbag, or briefcase. I keep my copy on the bookshelf nearest my desk for moments when I need to read things like, “Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe.”

7. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard – Dillard speaks with a solidness and confidence about writing that I would love to emulate. She will inspire you, but she will also confront you – and writers – as all humans – need both. A short book but an important one.

8. The Writing Warrior: Discovering the Courage to Free Your True Voice by Laraine Herring – In a culture that sometimes puts advice and financial success above truth and authenticity, Herring’s book is a reminder that is strength in writing just what we need to write. Plus, she teaches us how to use our bodies to find our authentic voices. A powerful, beautiful book.

9. Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd – There’s something about hearing the story of how a writer came to be a WRITER that inspires us all. This book combines that story of Kidder’s career with practical wisdom about what it means to write in the 21st century culture and marketplace.

10. The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life by Dinty W. Moore – Worth having just for the amazing quotes Moore has gathered, The Mindful Writer will help you explore what makes you want to write, what drives you to keep going, and what it means to have perspective on your work and your place in the larger world.

So how about you? What writing books do you love?  And what categories of Top Ten lists would you like to see?

This post is part of the Super Summer Reading Program. I hope you’ll join us, and if you’re already reading away, feel free to share your list so far in the comments below. 

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Author: Andi

I am a writer, editor, and writing teacher whose most recent book, The Slaves Have Names, tells the story of the people who were enslaved on the plantation where I was raised. When I'm not working, my husband and I are working to make our small farm - God's Whisper Farm - a retreat here at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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