An adage has plagued the lifestyle of a writer: success comes from being married to the work. Perhaps there’s some truth to it; writers are notorious for unrequited or failed relationships. We can’t seem to balance writing and extracurricular romance without it ending in heartache. It seems that writing hates sharing (now I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger).
But, if you really do want to put a ring on your work, are you ready for the commitment that goes along with it? (Maybe you need a wedding planner?)
And everyone knows the rhyme: you need something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue as talismans for good luck in a marriage. And writing certainly requires luck. Yet, those ‘somethings’—the works and authors inspiring and molding your own work—do help.
(Alright, great metaphor, but what’s the point?)
You, a writer, can metaphorically marry your work; you can shunt society; you can even say vows to your pen and paper/computer (actually, that might not be legal) but without your carefully selected talismans, are you truly ready for commitment? My answer is no (sorry), but I can offer my own talismans: the authors and works I look to for writing guidance.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Disclaimer: I hated this novel as I was reading it and my dearest aspiration is to never be like the main character, Holden Caulfield. But—of course there’s a ‘but’—it is also a story, and writing style, that has hung around in my mind long after finishing it. Salinger taps into the mind of an angst ridden teenager as he deals with social, familial, and cultural expectations pressing down on him, restraining his identity, in an era long before it was cool to have too-long, swoopy bangs. Holden is a protagonist to abhor; Holden is a protagonist to identify in.
But then, isn’t that also our relationship with ourselves?
Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro
A thoroughly heartbreaking novel set in a world horrifyingly similar to our own. I would try to summarize more, but then there’s the risk of spoilers. If you feel so inclined to read anything on this list, let it be this novel. It’s a masterwork.
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
I’ve read and admired David Sedaris’ work since stumbling across him sophomore year of high school. It’s surprising: rarely do I venture into the realm of nonfiction but, for Sedaris, I make an exception. You should, too. Born in New York, raised in North Carolina, and surrounded by an eccentric family, he finds humor—and surprisingly poignant moments—in his everyday life. But, then again, his everyday life is rather extraordinary. Often self-deprecating, Sedaris’ writing describes a life of adventure living in Paris, London, and surviving a hectic childhood. He’s relatable, he’s funny, and he’s what we all desperately wish we could be: cool.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
This is a study into the thoughts of a young Ernest Hemingway with his older self acting as tour guide. Rarely are readers allowed into the precious and vulnerable mind of a young writer—especially a literary master like Hemingway—making this read impossible to pass up. Studded with a constellation of the brightest stars in the Modernist era, the book is filled with the youthful resurgence of a roaring Paris reborn after a world war but tainted with the foreknowledge of the older, authorial voice. Hemingway is at his best when writing what he knows, and he certainly knows himself.
I qualify this book as ‘something borrowed’ because I have checked it out multiple times from my hometown’s library. I’m sure the librarians judge me (I don’t blame them).
Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianne Wynn Jones
Pretending I don’t have a special place in my heart for children’s literature would be a ludicrous lie that frankly no one ought to believe. Pretending I don’t adore the master craftsman that is Mrs. Wynn Jones would be an even larger lie. The cleverness, the sophistication employed in weaving an enjoyably magical world for both children and adults, characterizes all of her novels. She creates ambitious female heroines, male heroes with emotional depth, and plots with more twists than a curly fry (I’m hungry; sue me) that seldom few adult literary works tackle with such finesse. Besides, reading children’s literature keeps the imagination well feed; after all, who is more creative than a child?
(I count this as my “something blue” because my copy has a mostly blue cover. I recognize this might be cheating.)
This is a modest list of books you must read in your lifetime—but, then again, who am I to know what you must read? The point of reading is to discover what characters, thoughts, ideas resonate with you; what needed to be read and studied closely by you. Perhaps my ‘talismans’ are what you need. Perhaps they aren’t. The only way to know is to read, and read, and then read some more.
I wish you all the luck in the world on your impending nuptials.