Tag Archives: novels

My 50 Favorite Novels

Introduction

I thought I’d have a little fun today and compile a list of my 50 favorite novels.

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First off, the rules.

I didn’t include any short stories, short story collections, poetry collections, screenplays, plays, nonfiction (creative or otherwise), or graphic novels. Every book on this list is a novel (well, there is one novella).

Also, this is a list of my 50 favorite novels, not a list of the 50 best novels in terms of literary merit. Nostalgia, my own personal taste, and the fact that I’ve only read a smidgen of the novels that have been written limit this to a very arbitrary list.

Without further ado, the list!

My 50 Favorite Novels

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  1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  2. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
  3. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  4. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  5. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  6. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  7. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
  8. The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
  9. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
  10. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  11. Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale by Chuck Kinder
  12. Skagboys by Irvine Welsh
  13. Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
  14. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  15. Native Son by Richard Wright
  16. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
  17. Women by Charles Bukowski
  18. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  19. 1984 by George Orwell
  20. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  21. The Plague by Albert Camus
  22. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  23. The Godfather by Mario Puzo
  24. The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson
  25. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
  26. The Group by Mary McCarthy
  27. Drop City by T.C. Boyle
  28. The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight
  29. The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  30. Junky by William S. Burroughs
  31. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
  32. Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley
  33. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  34. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
  35. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  36. NW by Zadie Smith
  37. The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini
  38. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  39. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  40. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  41. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
  42. The Fall by Albert Camus
  43. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  44. The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis
  45. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  46. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
  47. Plainsong by Kent Haruf
  48. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
  49. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  50. Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Feedback

Now, here’s where I turn it back to you with a few questions:

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How many of these novels have you read?

Do you hate any of the books on this list? Why?

What’s on your list of 50 favorite books?

Comments and feedback are always appreciated!

Fighting the good fight with you,
Alfonso

Your Protagonist Is The Alpha

In literature, when writing your protagonist make sure that they are “active.”

What do I mean by active? I mean that your protagonist, whatever situations s/he may be facing, must take action to attempt to solve them. Your main character cannot be a passive onlooker. Be they of heroic, antiheroic, or villainous qualities, the character who is the primary focus of your book needs to move things forward through aggressive actions.

I want to get into a bit of an aside…in April 2013, I quit my job as an educator at Monroe College. I loved working at Monroe. I had a great rapport with students and colleagues alike. The administration was quite high on me, wanting to promote me. I enjoyed the culture of the institution. However, I was determined to make it as a writer and when the initial catalyst arrived—my first publication in a literary journal—I set out on a new path, taking action to get my writing published and delving into the worlds of acting, filmmaking, and entrepreneurship. I have faced many challenges along the way, but regardless, I continue to push forward on my path until I have achieved everything I set out to do.

Now if someone someday might view me as an inspiration for the lead character in their book, I can work as a protagonist because I always have a bias towards action in my own life, working to move things forward through all obstacles. Your protagonist needs to do the same.

Of course, there are exceptions. You can choose to write a book about a character paralyzed by inaction; however, most writers write active protagonists and should remember to make sure that their lead character is always pushing the plot forward through their actions.

The takeaway: Make sure that your protagonist is a doer. S/he is not someone merely acted on by others. S/he is the one leading through their actions.

Six Different Ways To Write Your Conclusion

The beginning of your novel is easy. The ideas flow out and you’re writing at least 3,000 words a day.

The middle of your novel starts to become arduous, but you still know where you’re going with your story. Maybe you’re down to about 1,000 words a day.

Now you’re at the finish line and it has become a nightmare because you have no idea how to artfully end your book. Sound like a situation you’ve faced before? If so, read on for a few different ways to conclude your novel or short story.

  1. Open-Ended – In this approach, readers determine what happened because the writer intentionally leaves the ending open to interpretation.
  2. Traditional – A clear-cut ending with no ambiguity. Readers know exactly what happened and why.
  3. Back To The Beginning – The writer revisits the same/similar image or situation as at the beginning of the story.
  4. Thoughts – A character, usually the protagonist, sinks into reflection.
  5. Dialogue – Characters have a conversation.
  6. Symbolism – Details that allude to something important are presented.

Which approach have you used in your novel/s or short stories? Why did you choose that approach? 

 

30 Books You Must Read If You Want To Become A Literary Badass

In The Literary Game, I repeatedly mention the simple three-step process necessary for success in the literary world:

  1. Get to writing.
  2. Have your work edited.
  3. 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 BukowskiThe 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!”

In success,
Alfonso Colasuonno
Publisher, The Literary Game

 

Six Ways to Write Creatively

If you’re an aspiring writer, you may find yourself drawn to one specific type of creative writing. This post intends to be a quick guide to different types of writing. Feel free to play around and see what may happen if you try a different direction.

Poetry

If you have a background as a musician, write lyrics, or rap, you may want to try poetry. Contrary to what you may have heard, it doesn’t have to rhyme. In fact, rhyming poetry is pretty much passé. If you can make your writing have a musicality to it, give poetry a try!

Short Fiction

Have you tried to write a novel and got stuck somewhere along the line? Are you a part of the ADHD generation? Try short fiction! Just keep in mind that short fiction requires a different approach from a novel. In short fiction, you aren’t telling a whole narrative, but merely presenting a snapshot. If brevity is a strong point, give short fiction a try!

Novels

Do you have patience? If your answer isn’t an unequivocal yes, beware of the novel. The novel is often seen as the only “real” type of writing by many aspiring writers, but that’s simply not true; all creative writing has merit. While practically all writers love reading novels, please note that this is an ambitious goal. If you have the patience, desire, and organizational skills to tackle a novel, then go for it!

Creative Nonfiction

Is your life so interesting that you don’t need to even make things up? Why not try writing creative nonfiction? In creative nonfiction, you take the same approach as you would to a novel or short fiction, but the difference is you draw from your own real experiences. Remember this though, just because it happened doesn’t mean it’s interesting. Make sure to write in the same way you would approaching something fictional!

Screenplays

Be honest, do you prefer watching a good movie to reading a good book? If so, you might want to try writing a screenplay. Remember that writing a screenplay is different from a novel or short fiction, as you are writing with a focus on the visuals. If you’re less a “pure” writer and more of an all-around creative, you may want to give writing a screenplay a try!

Plays

Do you have a flare for the dramatic? Are you an actor? Do you find writing dialogue to be remarkably easy, but description and introspection to be harder to execute? Try writing a play! Just remember to keep focused on the fact that this will take place on a stage and write accordingly.

Writing Beyond Novels

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To all the writers currently at work on a novel or who have already written a novel (or two, or three, etc.), I applaud you.

Writing a novel is a war of attrition. It’s you versus every test of your patience. If you’ve completed a novel, again, congratulations.

I’m certainly not against writers who choose to write a novel. I just want to remind them that there are many ways to present their ideas.

Call it a gut feeling, but I imagine that many aspiring writers (perhaps subconsciously) believe a novel to be a mark of validation offering the status of a “real writer.” I don’t believe this to be the case.

There are many literary forms that can capture an idea. A novel is certainly the longest form. When you get a great idea, it may be perfect for a novel. If so, go right ahead and write a novel. However, your idea may work much better as short fiction, a play, or a screenplay, perhaps even a poem. You can take the fictional aspects out and turn it into creative nonfiction. You can even take the creative aspects out and turn it into pure nonfiction.

But it’s not just that. Aspiring writers should be aware of the fact that writing is all around and goes beyond novels, beyond all traditional forms. Writing is everywhere. Writing includes the cover letters that you write when applying for jobs (or for publication in literary journals, for that matter). Writing includes the comedy routine that you perform at a local open mic. Writing includes the blog posts that you share with our community on WordPress.

Yes, go ahead and write your novel. It’s a wonderful undertaking. I have the highest respect for all writers who work in the form. Just please, don’t think that novels are the only form that you should work in.

Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear from readers with dissenting opinions. Do you believe novels have more value than other forms of writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Can’t Get Your Novel Published?

Platform.

Do you know what this word refers to in conjunction with the publishing industry?

Platform is the reason why Lena Dunham landed $3.7 million for her book proposal. If you want to sell a manuscript, more than the quality of your content (though it should certainly be up to snuff), you need to develop a reputation. If you’re thinking that your reputation is going to come from your book, you’ve got it backwards.

There are many ways to develop your platform. If you have public exposure in some way, you’re already set. Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to most of us and it can be hard to generate (I’ll leave that to others far more qualified than I am if your intent is to get famous). However, a solid portfolio of writing in other forms can do wonders for establishing a ready-made audience eager to read your book (which any publishing company would love).

A novel is a huge undertaking. I certainly think all writers should attempt one, but consider the following diverse forms as a way to gain exposure and increase your chances of selling your idea for a book:

Poetry – Whether it’s traditional or free-verse, avant-garde or transparent, there are tons of poetry journals that always are seeking quality expression.

Short Fiction/Flash Fiction – Scale back your world building and capture a photograph. That’s the art of the short story. Again, there are tons of literary magazines that are always in search of quality fiction. Regardless of your style, there’s a market for everything (of quality).

Plays – Why not write a play, send it to a contest, or work with your local theatre to have it staged?

Screenplays – Think with an eye for the visual. There are some excellent television programs and films that are quite a bit more literary than most fiction (e.g. Mad Men, my favorite program). If you want to sell your script, there’s an excellent book written by Blake Snyder called Save The Cat! that gives an insider’s view into what kind of scripts sell in Hollywood and how to write them.

Nonfiction – Do you have expertise in a subject? It’s so easy to write an E-book and publish it on the Web. While fiction can be harder to attract an audience, with nonfiction there’s always a built-in audience for just about every topic.

Freelance Journalism – Yes, the pay is terrible, but your name can get out there with some rather influential people.

Make Time To Write

Writers, by nature, are quite imaginative. We usually have plenty of ideas floating around in our heads. Shouldn’t those great ideas be taken out of the aether and translated onto the page?

Most of us are aware of NaNoWriMo. I love the idea! However, many writers believe it’s impossible to find time to write on a regular basis, let alone complete a whole novel in a month. Many feel that writing a novel is a process that takes years. I don’t. I firmly believe that you can take the NaNoWriMo challenge and pass it with flying colors.

3,000 words a day, every day, will lead to 90,000 words at the end of a standard 30-day month, about the perfect size for a novel. Would it be ready to send a publisher afterwards? No, that’s not likely at all, but the idea would be on the page and after a bit of shaping may soon enough be ready for publication.

Most emerging writers are not fortunate enough to have the financial means to get by without a day job until their work takes off. Many of us have children, families, jobs, girlfriends or boyfriends, social lives. We have plenty of things going on in our lives. Still, through devoting just two hours a day, every day, to writing, I know that your novel can be completed in virtually no time.

It’s simple—once you have your outline prepared, just write. Your first draft won’t be perfect, but it will be complete. Let go of perfection in the immediate. You can worry about that later. For now, all you have to do is write and soon you’ll be on your way.