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Read These 50 Books Before You Write Your First Fiction Novel

Stacked.

Stacked.

Most of these recommendations come with the territory of “living in a society flush with books.” They are a given, yet I want to assume that, if you want to write a fiction novel, you are out-of-this-world stupid and in need of guidance.

The links are to free copies online where available, otherwise it’s an Amazon link. E-books in reality are inferior to print because, as I’ve said before, they will disappear after the dolphin apocalypse. But for now they are fine.

Your favorite novel isn’t on here because it sucks, but make sure you scroll down to the end of the list before airing a complaint.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
The Grapes of Wrath
My Antonia
Winesburg, Ohio
Les Misérables
The House of the Seven Gables
American Gods
The Iliad
The Red Badge of Courage
The Pilgrim’s Progress
The Moviegoer
Lord of the Flies
Beowulf
The Sound and the Fury
Love in the Time of Cholera
Watchmen
The Secret Garden
The Prose Edda
Dune
Catch-22
Great Expectations
Crash: A Novel
The Velveteen Rabbit
The Divine Comedy
Pride and Prejudice
Pale Fire
The Satanic Verses
The Canterbury Tales
The Heart of Darkness
Moby Dick
On the Road
The Scarlet Letter
1984
Ulysses
A Tale of Two Cities
Fahrenheit 451
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Time Machine
Don Quixote
Crime and Punishment
Paradise Lost
Anna Karenina
The Hobbit
The Great Divorce
Babbit
A Christmas Carol
Siddartha
The Bhagavad-Gita
To Kill A Mockingbird
Far From the Madding Crowd
Jude the Obscure

As a mandatory bonus, read these non-fiction books. They will give you a sliver-sized sampling of what and how people throughout history have thought, and knowing how people think is a good idea if you’re going to write about them.
The Bible
The Summa Theologica
Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects
The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson & Henry David Thoreau
Apology, Crito, and Phaedo of Socrates
The Qu’ran

You’ve all of read those like I told you, and you’ve written your first novel. The bad news is that you’ll have to throw that first manuscript away because it will be nigh unreadable. The good news is that you’ll never write something so horrible again.

This is the best way to get all the kinks out. Now read these 50 books, then go write your real first novel.

The Poetic Edda
The Chronicles of Narnia
Thus Spake Zarathustra
Howards End
Naked Lunch
All Quiet on the Western Front
Absalom, Absalom!
A Prayer for Owen Meany
The Great Gatsby
Slaughterhouse-Five
The Pickwick Papers
Rabbit, Run
Doctor Zhivago
The Stranger
The Invisible Man
Flowers for Algernon
The Dark Knight Returns
H.P. Lovecraft The Complete Collection
Frankenstein
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
The Count of Monte Cristo
Tess of the d’Urbervilles
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Idiot
A Confederacy of Dunces
The Metamorphosis
Native Son
The Stand
Catcher in the Rye
Animal Farm
The Old Man and the Sea
Gulliver’s Travels
Robinson Crusoe
Stranger in a Strange Land
Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales
Wuthering Heights
Little Women
Anthem
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Brave New World
The Republic
The Odyssey
War of the Worlds
Flatland
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Trial
Lolita
The Lord of the Rings
The Man Who Was Thursday

Photo by Bravo_Zulu_.

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Amazon’s New Book Cover Maker Might Invoke My Gag Reflex

Via mine own two eye-orbs and then Tobias Buckell here, Amazon hopes to make all those unedited conspiracy theory e-books look a little more credible.

More info here, but here’s a screenshot from that post:
amazon_book_cover_designer_i_stole_this

Eh. It’s a step forward from what amateur writer-cum-designer people can come up with, but nothing beats what professional designers can do, especially those that focus on book art and layout.

In my mind, I’m comparing this to a theoretical CD cover designer, which I have not come across but I’m sure exists somewhere, languishing from disuse now that digital media and Google images are normalized. Any band who is worth their weight in weird haircuts would not use a template for a CD cover.

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E-Chapbooks and Prison

Paul, seen here writing his chapbook to the Colossians.

Paul, seen here writing his chapbook to the Colossians.

From a correspondence with Matt, who runs Safety Third Enterprises:

The other day a friend of mine let me see the “chapbooks” his students made. He teaches English lit at a prison. The rules were books could only be put together through found items at the jail. What was done and written in the books is beautiful. A book held together with cut parts of a boot, a scroll that when unraveled is the length of a living room. There is strength in the physical presentation.

….

The one long scroll had the lord’s prayer written in 20 some-odd languages. There is no internet access in this type of prison so this student had to go to books, and probably other people, to write and translate it. It analyzed the prayer as a poem. The Russian version was my favorite.

I had initially thought that chapbooks, products more from indie presses than larger publishers, were more warm to print publishing than e-books, but Matt says indie publishing changes like every other market.

That prisons embrace physical forms of writing isn’t surprising, since they are bound (heh) by circumstance to use material mediums than computer screens. But it’s the limitations than form part of the message.

I still haven’t read any e-books, but I’m open to it. I’m just too stuck on reading protracted stories on two real pages in front of me.

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Another Case for Physical Books

These aren't the Droids™ you're looking for.

I posted before about the kinda-sorta-in-a-way superiority of physical books as opposed to e-books. It felt like a conflict of interest as I’ve released an e-book of my own, but since a physical book(let) of a short story has been actualized (more on that later) I won’t feel the cognitive dissonance as harshly.

The emergence of an Kindle Fire fulfilled a half-prophecy of mine: that it won’t be enough for consumers to have an e-reader that just displays book/document texts. Consumers will want to do a bunch of other things after breezing through the chapters of the latest Wizard Vampire Dragon Tattoo “sleeper”, and since functionality creep is an inevitability with popular gadgets the Fire’s arrival wasn’t a risky prediction.

It’s true that you could always read books on tablets, but the Fire is significant because it’s breaking open functionality on something that was formerly just meant for reading. It’s great that demand is being filled but what’s the use of e-readers if it ends up being just another tablet? It’s much harder to make that mistake with a book. There’s only a limited function set you can do with bound paper and ink, but with digital devices you can see and do nearly anything. There’s no mistaking a book for something else but with smartphone technology you’ll get anything.

Fahrenheit 451 predicted a lot of things accurately but one thing I think Bradbury missed. Book, before they were outlawed for being “confusing”, got dumbed down first. They won’t need to be dumbed down, you just need to have other forms of easy entertainment else available and books will become too tedious*.

Photo by RLHyde.

* I’m not poo-pooing e-readers at all and I don’t think they will destroy books, either digital or physical, like they did in Bradbury’s universe. I’m just pointing out the potential pitfalls of the technology that previously were not there with physical books. Maybe I shouldn’t make this disclaimer a footnote.

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An Extremely Subtle Reminder of My Pending E-book, Bored in the Breakroom

An example of signage more obvious than this post.

On my way back from the optometrist this morning I walked up 4th avenue, which was one of the first streets on which I remember driving in Pittsburgh. It was some years ago after a job interview. 4th avenue starts (or ends) at PPG Place, a curious agglomeration of crystalline spires and shimmering glass. There was a subtle but marked hill as I turned onto 4th, and my Philadelphia-conditioned sense of urban outlay was charlie horsed: a hill, in the middle of a city? Get lost. But it really was there. As I walked through the gauntlet of obsidian windows today their warped surfaces reflected my unreliable memory.

Oh hey! Speaking of all that stuff, I mention PPG Place and 4th avenue in my e-book, Bored in the Breakroom. The content has been finalized and after a few more chess moves and a coordinated cough of server space it will be available soon. Matt didn’t shred it up too much, which either makes me think his standards are too low or that I may have hit the target somewhere on my first pass. He has more hair than I do, so who can really say?

If you are the reviewing type and are self-hating enough to read a collection of super short stories, contact me if interested. To translate that into normal author-blogger dialect: “GREAT NEWS! If’n you wanna read n’ review an ARC of my razzle dazzle N E W E – B O O K, send me a friendly email! K?”

Picture from jrmyst.

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Book Review: Nascence

currently: jus floatin here wit sum letters u kno hehe

Nascence is a compilation e-book of short stories by Tobias Buckell, who is perhaps best known for his installment in the Halo universe series of books. But this is not just any compilation – they are all unpublished stories that were rejected for publication. What also sets the e-book apart is Buckell’s autobiographical notes and his explanations behind the reason for their unpublished state.

The stories in themselves aren’t unreadable, really, but those who are at least a little experienced in fiction writing, particularly sci-fi and fantasy (and maybe even some who are not), may notice the unprofessional flubs that dot, and often are strewn generously in every paragraph, across a writer’s early work. This is not a subjective, preferential criticism coming from me — Buckell freely admits where his publication-killing mistakes sat with each story.

Still, as with any accomplished writer, there are hints from their amateur days of pockets of greatness, and these don’t pass by unnoticed. In “The Arbiter” there’s an outline of complex socio-political intrigue, and in “Closed Cycles” — a story that Buckell says is a conglomeration of “all of [his mistakes], at once, in a story” — there are some scenes and turns of dialogue that I found interesting.

This is an e-book more for aspiring sci-fi and fantasy writers more than casual fans of the genre or of Buckell himself. The real value seems to sit with Buckell’s frankness about the struggle with his craft, even as his career began to blossom. The retrospection isn’t something well-known writers tend to expose, either from the threat of deflating their reputation to simple sheer embarrassment (the account of his first experience being “published” and having crudely-drawn genitalia accompany his story makes for a good chuckle). I know little about writing this genre but there is great weight placed on different things, like believable world-building, that other genres do not need or emphasize as much. Buckell provides a good introduction into what the task is for a beginning sci-fi author.

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Hitting the Lights But Lighting a Candle

Things will go dim for a little bit on this here site while I finish up my acceptable e-book for suitable consumption and destruction by Mr. Of Good Speech. Speaking of e-books, Mike Duran has a recent post (about a recent post) which touched upon the growing hordes of free or low-cost e-books invading amazon. I don’t have an e-reader so I’m not predisposed towards checking them out but chances are if you’re a first-time fiction novel writer without an editor to reign in your silliness, your first book will be ghastly. Maybe even adequate, like I’m making mine to be.

Either way, I’m running through very short stories and tightening the screws, and writing a few more stories to round things out.

I will also be churning out a story for Power Line Prize contest, which is accepting entries that dramatize the current economic issue in the U.S.. There’s a $100k prize that I won’t win — I have it in the back of my head a story won’t evoke the level of emotion that, say, a short film would do. I think that contests would favor the more emotional, but who knows. I’ve barely read Power Line in the past (it seems too right-statist for my tastes), but after having read End the FedEnd the Fed - Ron Paul the issue interests me a little more.

Stay tuned.

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