In looking back over the past few years, I notice a troubling drop off in the number of books I've been reading. The culprit is obvious. There's just too much good TV out there. But I believe that if you are novelist, you must read and you must read fiction. That is one of the most important places from which inspiration comes. (Those writers who say they don't read so that they aren't "influenced by other writers' style?" I usually find that their style is in dire need of positive influence.) I am a writer because I love to read, and I was stymied on my new novel because I'd been reading so little.
I went off the the MacDowell Colony and for a week I did nothing but read and walk in the woods (and eat and eat and eat). Then for another week I wrote and read. If I'd had a full month there, I would likely have come home with a solid first draft.
Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
I don't usually read plays, but this is my very favorite play. I've seen it twice and both times it was astonishing. I read it because I admire its structure and was hoping to steal it.
The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
This was a reread, again in order to get tips on structure.
The Science of Evil by Simon Baron-Cohen
His research and his arguments are compelling, but invariably the desire to find a genetic cause for criminality leads to frightening conclusions.
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Another reread. Everything I believe about Richard III I learned from this master's pen.
The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould
One shouldn't read Baron-Cohen without first fortifying oneself with Gould.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
One of my very favorite books as a child, also read for structure. Funny how I remember the search through the files as this protracted puzzle solved by extraordinary wit and tenacity. Turns out it's like a paragraph long.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Another reread, because for a moment I thought I might write a dystopian novel. Changed my mind, but this is, as ever, brilliant.
The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrére
The accent is in the wrong direction on his name, I know. But I don't think he'd mind, given the delightful games he plays with fiction and nonfiction.
God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Please let Ms. Morrison keep writing for a few more years at least!
A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
He was just a kid when he wrote this, and yet his depiction of an elderly woman is spot on.
Lives Other Than My Own by Emmanuel Carrére
I just love the way he plays with the concept of memoir.
The Mare by Mary Gaitskill
A wonderful novel by a master of the form.
Modern Gods by Nick Laird
Too much time has passed since Laird's last book, but this was worth the wait!
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Stunning. Visceral. Incredible.
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
I gobbled this up in a couple of hours!
The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
Rich and complicated and tragic.