Two Lists of Books for Language Lovers

Apropos of the end of the year, and at the invitation of this blog, I’ve come up with two top-ten lists related to creativity in general and writing in particular.

The first is a list of my favorite books on the creative process:

10. Drawing Projects: An Exploration of the Language of Drawing by Mick Maslen and Jack Southern
Though it focuses on drawing, this is really a book about seeing the world differently, a useful practice for any creative work.

9. Voice Lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer by Nancy Mairs
Mairs blends memoir and academic essay to explore her journey as a writer and the influences that directed that journey.

8. Letters of Anton Chekhov translated by Hichael Henry Heim with Simon Karlinsky; selection, commentary, and introduction by Karlinsky
Letters revealing insights into the thoughts of one of the greatest writers from one of the world’s great literary traditions

7. Making Movies by Sidney Lumet
Not only does this book give incredible insight into the complex process of film-making, it reminds me of how essential craft is to art.

6. and 5. Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation and Crossing Unmarked Snow: Further Views on the Writer’s Vocation, both by William Stafford.
These books of poetry, prose, and interviews by the poet of power and simplicity make good writing seem like breathing. And they encourage me to breathe more deeply.

4. The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing by Richard Hugo. Hugo tries to remind us of the importance in writing of letting go.

3. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp
One of the greatest American choreographers lays out her creative process in a way that translates to a variety of arts, including writing

2. One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers by Gail Sher
With the simplicity one would expect for a Zen Buddhist, Sher presents small, concentrated nuggets of wisdom about writing and about life.

1. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke and translated by M.D. Herder. “…(B)e patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now see the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.”  Enough said.

And here is my second list, again loosely ordered, of multigenre books, that is books using various genres of writing (prose fiction and nonfiction, poetry, drama, etc.) within the same work:

10. The Bible
Whatever your views on its divinity, it presents an astonishing range of literature and passages of tremendous spiritual, narrative, and poetic force.

9. Talkin’ and Testifyin’: The Language of Black America by Geneva SmithermanThe book combines the research and analysis of a sociolinguist with the dialogue, humor, and music of Black English Vernacular; enlightening and entertaining.

8. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua
Like Smitherman, Anzaldua weaves academic writing with narrative and poetry, and adds in Spanish as well. Memoir, history, poetry, and theory all in one fluid package.

7. Cane by Jean Toomer
A leading light of the Harlem Renaissance of nearly 100 years ago, Toomer’s book plumbs the Black experience in the early 20th century.

6. The U.S.A trilogy (The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money) by John Dos Passos
This is a monumental work made up of three novels in which Dos Passos creates a panorama of the early 20th century using multiple characters, voices, and genres, including written “Camera Eye” and “newsreel” snippets. Until I read this, I didn’t know a writer was allowed to do these kinds of things.

5. and 4. Blue Horses Rush In and The Women are Singing both by Luci Tapahonso
This Navajo poet draws on her heritage and experiences from the reservation and beyond, from contemporary times to the late 19th century.

3. At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid
Kincaid’s debut book that blurs the boundaries between prose and poetry and does things with form that I would never have imagined.

2. The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje
Before he became famous for The English Patient, Ondaatje presented this exporation of the mythos of Billy the Kid throught the kaleidoscopic perspectives of various people who knew him and of Billy himself.

1. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
Forget what I said about loose numbering. This is probably my favorite work of fiction and my vote for the great American novel.

I’d love to hear your suggestions for either of these lists. Enjoy!

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