Last minute gift ideas: none better than books. So, what does a writer read?
Depends on the writer, however, I’ll list some of the books that I’ve found enjoyable in many different ways – fiction, non-fiction, philosophy and poetry. Some of them have been in my personal library for decades.
Fiction first (in no particular order):
“The Waves” by Virginia Woolfe (I love this novel for its imagery).
“The Plague” by Albert Camus (granted, “The Stranger” is a shorter read, and is the often-assigned text in literature courses, however, “The Plague” has particular significance in the HIV/AIDS era, though it was written long before.
“Moby Dick” (abridged version) by Herman Melville. Unless you’re really interested in the full details of whaling, or the life of a merchant marine, which Melville was (no better example of writing from experience than this book), get the abridged version. By the way, Camus – who did win a Nobel Prize for Literature – said that if the prize had been available in Melville’s time, Melville should have received it.
“The Moon and Sixpence” by W. Somerset Maugham
“The Return of the Native” by Thomas Hardy (I read all his novels, this one stuck with me the most).
“Sybil” by Benjamin Disraeli (yes, the former Prime Minister of England during the reign of Queen Victoria; before that position, he was a well-known writer). Particularly noteworthy given the 99% and occupy movements.
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. As the person who recommended I read it said, read it once, then several years later, read it again, and you’ll know how much you’ve grown as a person. She was right.
“Life of Pi” by Jann Martel. Great example of a book that was done good justice by the film adaptation, and it will leave you thinking at the end.
“The Once and Future King” by T.H. White – a retelling of the Arthurian legend. A long read, which I devoured over Christmas vacation when I was 13.
Science Fiction (because I’m writing it, and again, in no particular order):
“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley. Short work, prescient in its philosophy, and written by a woman who was only 19 at the time. Based on a nightmare. Considered by some to be the first science fiction novel.
“Star Diaries” by Stanislaw Lem. Much more humorous than his novel “Solaris”, this will introduce you to many concepts, including the galaxy where predacious potatoes are in orbit in space. Yes, that’s what I said – predacious potatoes….
Dystopic Science Fiction (because I consider these books a must read for anyone alive in this day and age):
“1984” by George Orwell
“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
“A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess (you thought the movie was chilling? The novel even more so, and best for mature readers only)
Non-fiction (in no particular order):
“Blue Highways” by William Least Heat Moon – an odyssey of travel across the US on minor highways.
“Gastronomical Me” by M.F.K. Fisher – a collection of essays about her forays into food and cooking in post WWII Europe
“A Natural History of the Senses” by Diane Ackerman. For the life of me, I don’t know why bookstores insist on categorizing this book as erotica. It’s really not at all, the mention of sex (in the section about the sense of touch) is in no way titillating or offensive. It really is about how we need, and use, our five senses.
“In the Spirit of Crazy Horse” by Peter Matthiessen. It’s a long read, but it’s worth it, especially if you never knew about the standoff at Wounded Knee, or only took the media’s word about what happened.
“Letter to My Father” by Franz Kafka. It really is just that: a letter he meant for his father to read. Short, succinct, painfully honest. Anyone who has been bullied or cares for those who have been will gain great insight from this tome.
“Flint and Feather” by E. Pauline Johnson (Canadian Mohawk poet) – probably need to find this used.
“Duino Elegies” and “Sonnets to Orpheus” by Rainer Maria Rilke – the first book of poetry that made me realize how powerful poetry could be.
“Sonnets to the Portuguese” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
"Spleen and Ideal" by Charles Baudelaire
any collection of poetry by Rumi
"Daodejing" by Lao Tsu, translated by Red Pine
"The Gay Science" by Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by Walter Kauffman
Of course, if your last minute book gift is for someone who likes sci-fi/fantasy AND detective fiction? Consider my ebooks...2.99 each for 3 novelettes per volume, The Casebook of Elisha Grey is sure to transport the reader to another time and place that, strangely, may seem somewhat familiar....
image: illustration by Kay Nielsen from "East of the Sun West of the Moon" collection of stories