Sometimes it seems like I spend more time reading about writing than actually writing.
More time listening to people talk about books (at festivals, on podcasts, in book reviews) than actually reading.
I could beat myself up about this – and sometimes I do – but more often I just accept that I reading and writing are important to me. I enjoy the theory as well as the practice. As an inevitable result of my interest in words, many of the books on my shelves (Liatorp, Ikea – much admired and very cheap) are books about books. Books about writing. Books about words.
I love the early editions of Fowler’s Modern English Usage. His explanation of split infinitives is hilarious.* I enjoyed the best-selling Eats, Shoots and Leaves – The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss. And I enjoyed that it was best-selling.
The best book I’ve read recently about biography is Biography: a very short introduction by the incomparable Hermione Lee. Even her name sounds writerly.
- How to do Biography: a primer by Nigel Hamilton
- Writing Creative Nonfiction: fiction techniques for crafting great nonfiction by Theodore A Rees Cheney
- Story Craft: the complete guide to writing narrative nonfiction by Jack Hart
- How to write history that people want to read by Ann Curthoys and Ann McGrath
- Voice and Vision: a guide to writing history and other serious nonfiction by Stephen J Pyne
But to be honest, I can now tell you very little about any of these books. I hope when I originally read them some of what they had to say was absorbed and my prose improved as a result. Or maybe not.
These days I prefer to read the works of writers I admire. Partly because their work is always worth reading and partly so I can try to work out what they’ve done. How they’ve done it. Maybe even wonder about why they’ve done it.
Helen Garner. Janet Malcolm. Inga Clendinnen. Clare Tomalin. Hermione Lee. Victoria Glendenning.
What are your favourite books about writing?
Who are your favourite life writers?
Many thanks to fellow blogger Whispering Gums for suggesting this topic.
* Oh all right. I’ll blog about Fowler’s split infinitives tomorrow.