The 79 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 TALES

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 SHANDY

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 NOSTROMO

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.

One thought on “The 79 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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