In The Literary Game, I repeatedly mention the simple three-step process necessary for success in the literary world:
- Get to writing.
- Have your work edited.
- Find appropriate places to publish.
However, in truth, no matter how excellent an editor or publishing consultant you choose to work with, all your efforts will probably be for naught if you are not well-read.
Reading more is one of the most critical things that you can do to become a successful writer. Without a truly voracious love for the written word, your work will likely be stale and not publishable. There are exceptions, but they are VERY rare, and you are probably NOT the exception.
Personally, as an author, I take it as an affront when writers do not read at all. I view those individuals as carpetbaggers. While some writers read more than others, as dependent on their lifestyle and other factors, it is important that all writers actually read, both to improve their own work and to support the profession as a whole.
My own writing tends to bridge the gap between literary fiction and alternative literature. If you write in either genre, getting familiar with a few of these books is essential. Also, if you write in a different genre, but just want a good read, consider the following:
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil – This isn’t a novel, but rather a recollection of the original 70s punk scene from the figures who lived it.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers – Four outsiders in a small southern U.S. town search for acceptance and a reprieve from their alienation.
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor – Like all of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories/novellas, this one is dark and saturated with religious themes.
Cathedral by Raymond Carver – In my opinion, this is the best collection of Raymond Carver’s short fiction.
The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson – A young American journalist goes to Puerto Rico, makes a barebones salary, gets drunk, gets laid, and tries to avoid being killed by the locals.
Women by Charles Bukowski – The red pill of male-female interactions told only as Bukowski could.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis – “I had to stop reading this because I started seeing people as meat.” – My friend Ben. That about says it all.
NW by Zadie Smith – Two best friends navigate cross-cultural issues in modern day England.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – The best prose writer alive.
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shtenygart – For those sad bastard moments.
Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth – Neurosis encapsulated.
Taipei by Tao Lin – Hipster life in the 21st century.
Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale by Chuck Kinder – The story of two hard-partying, life-wrecking buffoons who eventually make it as successful writers.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – Perhaps the best book written in the 21st century.
The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem – From outcast white kid in a slowly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood to liberal arts college party boy to young professional. No, I cannot relate to this story in any way!
The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight – An entire movement was born out of this book (Islamic punk).
Demonology by Rick Moody – An incredibly sharp collection of short fiction.
Junky by William S. Burroughs – Easily William S. Burroughs’ most accessible work.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov – Satan comes to Moscow. Not going to make a Putin joke.
A Crackup at the Race Riots by Harmony Korine – This is postmodern writing done by the director of Gummo and Spring Breakers.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole – One of the funniest books I have ever read.
Skagboys by Irvine Welsh – Explore how the lads of Trainspotting became junkies.
Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley – An interesting fictional look into the world of tobacco lobbying.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – A Greek-American family’s story as told through several generations, including through the life of a hermaphrodite.
Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon – Within 24 hours, your wife divorces you and you’re fired. What else can you do but drive across America talking to people? The finest travel writing I have ever read and a personal inspiration to me as both a writer and free spirit.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn – Carnies are people too.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf – If you like sparse prose, Haruf was the master.
Black Hole by Charles Burns – In this graphic novel, a weird sexually transmitted disease is spread in suburban Seattle in the 1970s.
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney – Writing in the 2nd person that is actually good!
Ghost World by Daniel Clowes – A quote from the character Enid Coleslaw: “These stupid girls think they’re so hip, but they’re just a bunch of trendy stuck-up prep-school bitches who think they’re ‘cutting edge’ because they know who ‘Sonic Youth’ is!”
Publisher, The Literary Game