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Writer’s Reading List: 10 short pieces (365 Creative, January 15)

January 15, 2012

I think it goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: if you write, you must read.

I am a big fan of reading lists. One of my fave books, in fact, is Clifton Fadiman’s The Lifetime Reading Plan, which I see has been updated since I got my copy.

Stories connect us, whether or not we’re writers. Whether or not we’re even readers. Stories thread through us, helping us make sense of the world and ourselves. Stories help beget new stories.

When I’m stuck, I read. I pull up a favorite writer and refuel. I look for lyrical language, amazing characterization, keen insight. Inspiration.

Following is a list of 10 of these. They’re in no particular order and they’re all short–stories and essays.

I think they should be required reading for everybody. Especially writers.

Enjoy, and please share your thoughts! Is there a pivotal short story or essay that every writer should read?


1. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, by James Thurber
“We’re going through!” The Commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking.

2. Interview with a Lemming, by James Thurber (Yes. I love Thurber so much I had to list him twice.)
The weary scientist, tramping through the mountains of northern Europe in the winter weather dropped his knapsack and prepared to sit on a rock.
“Careful, brother,” said a voice.

3. Sweat, by Zora Neale Hurston
It was eleven o’clock of a Spring night in Florida. It was Sunday.

4. A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor
The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida.

5. High Tide in Tucson, by Barbara Kingsolver
A hermit crab lives in my house. Here in the desert he’s hiding out from local animal ordinances, at minimum, and maybe even the international laws of native-species transport.

6. Let there be High Water, by Hampton Sides
Thirty-three years after Glen Canyon Dam strangled the West’s most celebrated river, the Grand Canyon gets its first regularly scheduled flood. Only Jehovah could have done it better.

7. Havasu, by Edward Abbey
One summer I started off to visit for the first time the city of Los Angeles. I was riding with some friends from the University of New Mexico. On the way, we stopped off briefly to roll an old tire into the Grand Canyon.

8. This is the Life, by Annie Dillard
Any culture tells you how to live your one and only life: to wit as everyone else does.

9. The Clan of One-Breasted Women, by Terry Tempest Williams
I belong to a Clan of One-Breasted Women. My mother, my grandmothers, and six aunts have all had mastectomies. Seven are dead.

10. The Ranson of Red Chief, by O. Henry
It looked like a good thing: but wait till I tell you.

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