Author of 'The Cain File' – a Kindle Scout Selection

Ten books that made me want to be a writer

Who doesn’t read ‘top ten’ lists? There’s one going round at the moment where people rate their ten favorite books, and I was inspired to list the ones that influenced me as a writer. Here are ten by authors at the top of their game, whose stories reverberated, whose voices made me want to find one of my own. Books that made me say ‘I want to do that.’

10. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S. Thompson) – Many a true word written in jest. Wins the opening line award: ‘We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.’

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the_postman_always_rings_twice-cover9 The Postman Always Rings Twice (James M. Cain) – Cain was master of the breakneck-paced novel with scummy characters you love to root for.

8. The Stranger (Albert Camus) – Another terrific opener: ‘Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday.’ Who says you can’t tell vs. show? Fun Fact: Camus was influenced by James M. Cain.

7. The Dancer Upstairs (Nicholas Shakespeare) – The story of a South American detective trying to do the right thing in a country beset by corruption and civil war. And then he falls in love.

6. Strangers on a Train (Patricia Highsmith) – Anything Highsmith wrote is steeped in psychological turmoil. This was her first. Hitchcock was compelled to make it into an equally excellent film.

"My imagination functions much better when I don't have to speak to people." - Patricia Highsmith

“My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.” – Patricia Highsmith

5. God’s Pocket (Peter Dexter) – An orgy of wonderfully low rent characters, including one who drives around with a body in the back of a refrigeration truck and you just hope he gets away with it.

4 Killshot (Elmore Leonard) – Leonard pioneered the modern crime novel. This is his darkest and most powerful.Unknown

3. Of Human Bondage (W. Somerset Maugham) – 50,000 words too long but what words. Daring stuff for its time about a lost soul who falls for a woman of questionable morals. There’s a reason Maugham was one of the most popular writers of his era.

2. The Road (Cormac McCarthy) – I dare you not to be moved by this haunting tale of love between father and son during the apocalypse.

1. The Ginger Man (JP Donleavy) – One man’s battle against sobriety, decency and sanity. Hysterically funny and tragic at the same time. A masterpiece.

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Those are my ten. Did I miss a must-read gem? Feel free to let me know.

Viven los escritores!

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4 responses

  1. What a great list–I can definitely see the influences of some of these in your work! My list would be totally different given the kind of fiction I write. For me, William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf were huge. They taught me that you can tell a great story by bringing the reader really, really close to the protagonist… as in, inside his/her head.

    September 12, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    • Thanks, Audrey – If I had a top 20 list, ‘As I Lay Dying’ would have made it. I’ve read it no fewer than three times (first time just to understand it!) but I love Faulkner’s voice and the story. I remember reading an interview with Faulkner years ago and he said he thought that the hero of that book was Jewel, which I think would surprise many readers. I never forgot that as I write my own stories as I am drawn to ambivalent anti-heroes.

      September 13, 2014 at 7:58 am

  2. I can’t wait to work down your list. Been dying to get to Hunter S. Thompson for a long time. As most people my age, we’ve only been exposed to him through the movies. He was not part of school curriculum.

    I’m still reading Maugham little by little, and around every few chapters is a revelation. I’ve just passed the part where he gives up on painting. The way he describes the fear of being mediocre and wasting his life pursuing something he might never be extraordinary at really sums up all the fears of every writer. Will be posting on that soon. I think I could make 100 essays about the themes brought up in Of Human Bondage. A treasure!

    October 15, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    • Thanks for your comment, Chista. I find Maugham’s writing incredibly insightful, It doesn’t seem to age.

      October 15, 2014 at 9:24 pm

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