Toward the end of 2020, I started taking writing more seriously but at the same time, I was struggling with a cripplingly high level of imposter syndrome. I really felt like I was bad at writing and was constantly wondering what it even takes to succeed in the creative endeavor of writing. What if I wasn’t as good as I thought I was? How do you even become a writer? What if I fail? Or worse, what if I actually succeed? Furthermore, I was losing my love of books and reading. I used to devour books when I was a kid. I re-read the entire Harry Potter series (that’s nearly one million words) in a month when I was 16. Yet, I remember reading maybe just 2 or 3 books in all of 2020. So as 2021 began, I decided to actively read more books. I was focused mostly on books that could teach me how to be a better writer, what it takes to be a great writer, and how to pursue creative endeavors. I ended up reading 9 books in 2021, which is not a lot but is certainly more than what I read in 2020. Also, half of these books are quite short and can easily be read in a day or two. So, here’s the list of 9 books I read in 2021, plus 1 book I read in 2020 (but I had to include it here because it is just so good and actually goes with the general theme).
1. On Writing by Stephen King
This book is part memoir and part master class on writing, and anyone who wants to be a writer should definitely read it. A real page-turner that provides out-of-focus snapshots of Stephen King’s life and how he went from an aspiring writer to a best-selling author. The second half of the book gives actual advice on how to write better. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to write better. But reader beware, you won’t be able to stop reading once you start. Considering Stephen King has written over 60 novels and 200 short stories, we can all agree he knows what he’s talking about. This was the 1st book I read in 2021 and it only increased my love and admiration of the art form and I felt encouraged to write. To anyone who wishes to write, Stephen King says, “Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”
2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
This is a beautifully written book which is also partly a biography and also a writing class. But even if you don’t want to be a writer, I think you should still read it. It is full of brilliant life/writing advice, hilarious, and just beautifully written. I look at my copy now and I have earmarked about 90% of the pages and I have highlighted text on almost every page. This book is a gem.
3. No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg
This is a very short book, basically a collection of many inspiring speeches that Greta Thunberg, the then 15-year old climate activist, gave at many different venues, including the United Nations.
4. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
I think anyone who wants to pursue any creative field and feels like they’re not good enough should read this book. It is an inspiring read and contains a lot of advice about how to get started. Everyone starts by stealing a little bit from the people they admire until they find their own voice. It’s important to start and it’s okay to steal, but steal like an artist. The main point? Just do it. Just get started.
5. Show your Work by Austin Kleon
This book builds upon “Steal like an Artist” and talks about the importance of putting your work out there for people to see and how to actually do it, even if you don’t feel like it’s good enough.
6. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
This is a short, yet brilliant book about overcoming what Pressfield defines as Resistance. The reason we don’t get that important project done is not that we are lazy but because we are fighting Resistance. Resistance takes many forms, for some it’s fear, and for some perfectionism. It teaches you about what Resistance really is, what type of life it can lead to, and how to finally overcome it. A brilliant book and I highly recommend it. As Pressfield writes at the beginning of the book, “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance”. I should re-read this one.
7. Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield
This book is the next chapter after “The War of Art”. Once you have beaten Resistance, how do you transform yourself from an amateur to a professional in your field? This book answers that question. An amateur works with inspiration, a pro works with discipline.
8. No Man is an Island by Ruskin Bond
This book is a collection of short stories by Ruskin Bond, an Indian author of British descent. The stories feel like they are short snippets from Bond’s own life, showing the importance of friendships in his life and trying to tell us how he sees life. As Bond writes in And Now We Are Twelve, “Life isn’t a bed of roses, not for any of us, and I have never had the comforts or luxuries that wealth can provide. But here I am, doing my own thing, in my own time and my own way. What more can I ask of life? Give me a big cash prize and I’d still be here”.
9. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
This has become one of my favorite novels that I’ve ever read. On the surface, it is the story of a man who is stuck inside his own head. He loves watching movies and prefers to daydream about them instead of living his actual life. Underneath, though, it is a musing on existentialism but in a more optimistic and poetic way. He is aware of the fact that he should, as an adult, get out of his own head and get his life together but can’t quite do that, not unless he has completed his search. The search for what exactly? The search for something. The search he must undertake if only he can get away from the everydayness of life, as he puts it. He can’t quite define it yet, but he is searching for something that would make things clear for him, and he could go on to actually live his life. Meaning? Purpose? Something else? This is the story of that search. It is quite a unique book as it makes you feel like Binx Bolling (the protagonist) is directly talking to you, or you are reading his mind as he goes through his days. Written in the 1960s, the book has been regarded as a classic, yet is not as popular as it should be. Ryan Holiday calls it a “good Catcher in the Rye, but for adults”. And I agree. For those lost in life, The Moviegoer by Walker Percy might just be the existential pondering that you need. Maybe then your own search will finally be complete. In Binx Bolling’s own words, “What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple; at least for a fellow like me. So simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.”
10. This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
“This Boy’s Life” is a memoir by Tobias Wolff, told as snippets of his life as he remembers them: a collection of memories. A mixture of sad and funny, poignant yet hopeful. It is a tale of a mother and son, figuring their way out in life through the unkind circumstances they constantly find themselves in. For those lost in life, this beautifully written memoir provides insight into how one can find themselves. As I read through it, I remember crying and laughing. As I turned the last page, I couldn’t help but feel hopeful and optimistic. “When we are green, still half-created, we believe that our dreams are rights, that the world is disposed to act in our best interests, and that falling and dying are for quitters. We live on the innocent and monstrous assurance that we alone, of all the people, ever born, have a special arrangement whereby we will be allowed to stay green forever.”, says Tobias Wolff. I mean, that’s just beautiful writing.
And that’s the list. If you’re looking for a book to read, hope you find something on this list. If you have any recommendations, feel free to send those my way.
Until next time.