MFAs Recommend Books (and more) for Writers

So you want to be writer? Well, we all know writers have to read, but what to read? Where to start? Right here at No Dead White Men, of course.

While we love the recommended reading lists we get from our lecturers, Writers in Residence and visiting writers, we wondered what a reading list for writers by MFAs would look like. So we’re starting off the new year, welcoming 2013 with a list of books we think writers should read. This is by no means an extensive list – mostly because I’ve limited them all to one book/story/poem/collection each. Oh, the cruelty of editors. On that note, here is the 2012-2013 MFA cohort’s incomplete, completely biased suggested reading list for other aspiring writers:

Recommended Reading for Writers by the MFAs

Citlalli: Down the Rabbit Hole – by Juan Pablo Villalobos. “This novel is told from the point of view of a young boy whose father is a powerful Mexican drug lord. Surrounded by exotic animals and incredible luxuries the young boy perceives the reality he is living.”

Amy: Hocus Pocus – by Kurt Vonnegut. “Written on whatever scrap of paper the author had to hand at the moment, this stylised novel is pieces of brilliance pasted together by dark humour and vicious wit as the main character realises he has killed exactly as many people as the number of women he has had sex with.”

Jeanette: The Trick is to keep Breathing – by Janice Galloway. “Brilliant, sad. It’s not as difficult as it seems”

Emma:The Painted Bird – by Jerzy Kosinski. “So many how-to books reference this book for its vivid imagery, for which it is a brilliant guide. It gives so much more.”

Vivienne: How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs if You Ever Want to Get Published – by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. “If you’re like me, you’d never consider reading a ‘how to write’ book for pleasure because they’re too dry and technical. How NOT to Write a Novel is among the funniest books I’ve re-read this year with 200 extracts of educationally bad fiction.”

Beatrice: Suite Francais – by Irene Nemirovsky. “This great, between the wars novelist wrote her final masterpiece while in hiding from the Nazis in a French village. It describes the flight from Paris with knife-like precision – but also immense compassion. Moving, astounding and incredibly honest.”

Lucy: Adventures in Form: A Compendium of Poetic Forms, Rules and Constraints – edited by Tom Chivers. “I would urge anyone writing poetry, or anything else, to read this – it is choc full of feats of poetic-form wonderment – experimental, refreshing, inspiring an thought-provoking. Get it while it’s hot!”

Simon: Underworld – by Don DeLillo. “A sprawling, non-linear, postmodernist doorstop (over 800 pages) that has been acclaimed as one of the best American novels of the twentieth century. The very best of DeLillo’s writing can be found in the 50-odd pages of the Prologue, set against the backdrop of the 1951 ‘Shot Heard ‘Round the World’, where there are sentences that will leave you breathless.”

Danny: Catch-22 – by Joseph Heller. “A moral masterpiece. The greatest novel of the 20th century. And sidesplitting.” **Editor’s note: Yes, this one made the holiday read list, too, because Danny thinks it’s just that good.

Alaa: – by various authors. “This isn’t a specific book but has hundreds of short stories and they are absolutely amazing! Their diversity and skill are worth the read.”

Dorin: Cloud Atlas – by David Mitchell. “Because he writes six intertwining/connected stories in a very creative way. He kind of goes beyond what we would consider how a novel or story should be and it is very intriguing and successful.”

Catherine: And Then We Came to the End – by Joshua Ferris. “This book inspired me as a writer – mainly because the author is young, he had a career before writing and the book he wrote is an original take on office life – in both style and content.”

Ryan: The Adventures of Augie March – by Saul Bellow. “Bellow offers not only homage to the Chicago of the Great Depression but to life in all its ambivalent beauty. The novel is a story about any things: adventure; coming of age; self-discovery in an age of uncertainly; love. Oh, and falconry.”

Carol: The Alchemist – by Paulo Coelho. “For its simplicity and symbolism.”

Sinéad: The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life – by Ryszard Kapuscinski. “This book is a masterclass in nonfiction, but fiction writers and even poets can learn from his economy of language and lush but engaging description. Kapuscinski paints a beautiful, honest, fearless picture of Africa, its people, its politics and his time there with flawless imagery and compelling prose.”


As always, we would love your feedback. What do you think of our recommendations? Will you take any of them? What would you add to the list?


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