The 76 Authors You Need to Read to Become a Writer According to Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons is a writer you might know, and he once said something about writing and reading that has stuck with me ever since.

His best-know books are The Terror, Summer of Night, Drood (personal favorite) and Carrion Comfort. 

The Terror was recently made into a fantastic, if somewhat slow, TV-series, and the book is an example of the sort of thing I myself aim to write; well-written and just subtly supernatural.

Mr. Simmons says that to improve the quality of your writing, you should improve the quality of your reading first.

“We may not really be what we eat, as the saying goes, but – as writers – we are, always, inescapably, what we read. Read mediocre work and make it your literary model, and someday your writing may rise to the dubious level of mediocrity. Study the best literary models and – while you may never equal them and even if you can just stay in the ring for one or two rounds with them — your own writing will benefit immeasurably from it.

Dan Simmons

I tend to agree with him. Hence, the following list of books he feels every writer should read (shamelessly lifted from his forum*).

The list is mostly books that we refer to as classics, most written by dead white guys. Some of these I’d never heard of (Tristam Shandy? My Antonia?) but most are books whose names you’ve heard plenty of times and are maybe, like me, always planning to read.

While I don’t think anyone needs to read all of these to become a good writer, I do think that writers should know most of them and read at least some.

Dan Simmons’ reading list for aspiring writers

1) All of Shakespeare’s plays
2) Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY
3) Chaucer’s CANTERBURY TALE
4) Cervantes — DON QUIXOTE
5) Daniel DeFoe — ROBINSON CRUSOE and MOLL FLANDERS
6) Jonathan Swift — GULLIVER’S TRAVELS
7) Samuel Richardson — CLARISSA
8) Henry Fielding — TOM JONES
9) Laurence Sterne — TRISTAM SHAND
10) Oliver Goldsmith — THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD and SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
11) Jane Austen — PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, MANSFIELD PARK, EMMA, and PERSUASION
12) Stendahl — THE RED AND THE BLACK
13) Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley — FRANKENSTEIN
14) Balzac — PERE GORIOT
15) Nathaniel Hawthorne — THE SCARLET LETTER
16) Charles Dickens — A TALE OF TWO CITIES, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, DAVID COPPERFIELD, and BLEAK HOUSE
17) Anthony Trollope — BARCHESTER TOWERS, THE WARDEN
18) Charlotte Bronte –JANE EYRE
19) Emily Bronte — WUTHERING HEIGHTS
20) George Eliot — MIDDLEMARCH, SILAS MARNER, THE MILL ON THE FLOSS
21) Gustave Flaubert — MADAME BOVARY, SENTIMENTAL EDUCATION
22) Fyodor Dostoevsky — CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
23) Leo Tolstoy — ANNA KARENINA
24) Mark Twain — HUCKLEBERRY FINN
25) Emile Zola — THERESA RAQUIN
26) Thomas Hardy — THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE, THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE, TESS OF THE d’UBERVILLES, JUDE THE OBSCURE
27) Henry James — THE AMBASSADORS and THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY
28) Joseph Conrad — LORD JIM, HEART OF DARKNESS, and NOSTROM
29) Edith Wharton — THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY, and ETHAN FROMME
30) Rudyard Kipling — KIM
31) Willa Cather — MY ANTONIA and A LOST LADY
32) Herman Hesse — STEPPENWOLF and MAGISTER LUDI
33) Upton Sinclair — THE JUNGLE
34) Stephen Crane — THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE and MAGGIE
35) E.M. Forster — HOWARDS END and A PASSAGE TO INDIA
36) Virginia Woolf — MRS. DALLOWAY and TO THE LIGHTHOUSE
37) James Joyce — THE PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN and ULYSSES
38) Franz Kafka — THE CASTLE and THE TRIAL
39) D.H. Lawrence — SONS AND LOVERS, THE RAINBOW, and WOMEN IN LOVE
40) Sinclair Lewis — ARROWSMITH and BABBIT
41) F. Scott Fitzgerald — THE GREAT GATSBY and TENDER IS THE NIGHT
42) William Faulkner — THE SOUND AND THE FURY, SANCTUARY, LIGHT IN AUGUST, ABSALOM, ABSALOM!
43) Ernest Hemingway — THE SUN ALSO RISES, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA
44) John Steinbeck — THE GRAPES OF WRATH and OF MICE AND MEN
45) Nathanael West — MISS LONELYHEARTS
46) George Orwell — 1984 and ANIMAL FARM
47) Graham Greene — BRIGHTON ROCK
48) Robert Penn Warren — ALL THE KING’S MEN
49) Richard Wright — NATIVE SON
50) William Golding — THE LORD OF THE FLIES
51) Albert Camus — THE STRANGER and THE PLAGUE
52) Bernard Malamud — THE FIXER and THE TENANTS
53) Saul Bellow — HERZOG, MR. SAMMLER’S PLANET and HUMBOLDT’S GIFT
54) Walker Percy — THE MOVIEGOER
55) Carson McCullers — THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER and THE BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE
56) Anthony Burgess — THE ENDERBY CYCLE, NOTHING LIKE THE SUN, and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
57) Iris Murdoch — THE GOOD APPRENTICE
58) William Gaddis — THE RECOGNITIONS
59) Stanley Elkins — THE DICK GIBSON SHOW
60) Jose Saramago — THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST
61) Norman Mailer — THE NAKED AND THE DEAD and ANCIENT EVENINGS
62) James Baldwin — THE FIRE NEXT TIME, THE PRICE OF THE TICKET, and GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN
63) Flannery O’Connor — THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY
64) Gabriel Garcia Marquez — ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA
65) Ursula K. LeGuin — THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS
66) Jack Vance — THE DRAGON MASTERS, THE DYING EARTH tales, and THE LANGUAGES OF PAO
67) Toni Morrison — BELOVED
68) Philip Roth — THE ZUCKERMAN tetralogy, SABBATH’S THEATER and PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT
69) John Fowles — THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN and DANIEL MARTIN
70) Cormac McCarthy — BLOOD MERIDIAN and ALL THE PRETTY HORSES
71) Don DeLillo — WHITE NOISE and UNDERWORLD
72) Thomas Pynchon — GRAVITY’S RAINBOW, V,THE CRYING OF LOT 49, and MASON & DIXON
73) Herman Melville — MOBY DICK
74) Marcel Proust — IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME
75) Homer — THE ILIAD and the ODYSSEY
76) Virgil — THE AENED

I’ve read only some of the books on this list and am pretty sure you don’t need to read them all. But you do need to know of them, and read at least a few. Dickens, Conrad and, of course, at least a few of Shakespeare’s plays.

Missing, in my opinion, are Shirley Jackson’s WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, Hemingway’s short stories, Raymond Carver’s CATHEDRAL

So. What do you think of the list? Pretentious bullshit or a worthy challenge?

*I am not linking to the forum as it has, sadly, devolved into an alt-right, Republican apologizing frat-boy party. Mr. Simmons, it seems, is growing paranoid and intolerant with age.

1 thought on “The 76 Authors You Need to Read to Become a Writer According to Dan Simmons”

  1. Yeah definitely the quality of books you read will have a big impact on the way you’re able to write. No so sure about the list…certainly you need a few of the older classics but ALL of them? Surely a bit of mix would be good. Regardless interesting to read this . thanks

    Like

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