Gut Rumbles

December 10, 2004

a serious question

Matt, the high school student mentioned below, flattered me by asking what good books he should read as he "mulls" becoming a writer. I'll talk about books for hours if anyone is willing to listen (or even if they're not), because reading is a WONDERFUL way to spend your time. That's good exercise for the mind.

Matt may not like what I have to say now, but the truth is, he's not yet ready for some of my favorite books. Once he gets some more life under his belt, I'll change this list, but for a young man in high school who has ambitions of being a writer someday, here is my list: (in no particular order)--- and these are not "GREAT" books--- just nice reads and good writing.

* Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salanger.

* Call of the Wild, by Jack London.

* A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, by Mark Twain.

* Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

* Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson.

* The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe.

* Treasure of the Sierra Madre, by B. Traven.

*The Norton's Anthology of Poetry.

*Carrie, by Stephen King.

I think that's a good start.


A damn good start. May I add "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" -- it introduced me to a completely different way of writing.

Posted by: john on December 10, 2004 08:12 PM

"the great shark hunt" hunter s. thompson

Posted by: mr. helpful on December 10, 2004 08:15 PM

Mr. Helpful, the boy ain't ready for Hunter S. Thompson yet.

Posted by: Acidman on December 10, 2004 08:24 PM

Yup. That's a good start. Once he finds his favorite flavour, the list is endless. That is the nice thing about books, there's always more coming.
Might try some Louis L'Amour. Great westerns.

Posted by: Wichi Dude on December 10, 2004 08:48 PM

Some Rudyard Kipling short stories and poems wouldn't be amiss. Good way to get young men to appreciate poetry.

Some R.A. Heinlein and Ben Bova, just to keep one eye forever pointed upward & outward.

Can't go wrong with C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series, either.

P.J. O'Rourke's and Penn & Teller's books. You can never get too much of poking fun at liberals and idiotarians.

The novels of John D. MacDonald and his heir-apparent, Randy Wayne White. 'Cause ain't nobody better than those two. Travis McGee and Doc Ford in '08!

Posted by: El Capitan on December 10, 2004 10:02 PM

If Matt is serious about being a writer (and he's not getting confused with posing as an artist), may we suggest the best book we ever read about writing: "Stephen King on Writing."

We know - many of you may ask, "Stephen King, WTF?" But trust us on this. If Matt reads that now, he'll save himself from a lot of university silliness.

Matt, avoid the "classics" like the plague. Or if you must read them, make sure it is on your own time - not part of some university literature course.

Also, avoid creative writing classes, too. Those are pretty much a huge waste of time.

Finally, there are some very good writers out here in the blogosphere. If you want to see good writing check out anything by Victor Davis Hanson, Cellas, Lileks, Beautiful Attrocities, Belmont Club. You may not necessarily agree with their politics, but there prose is excellent.

Sorry for the long post.

Posted by: torchpraise on December 10, 2004 10:06 PM

Reading is good. You (and your commentors) have given him a good start.

But he needs to write. And go back a week later and read what he wrote. Then rewrite it. Then read it aloud to himself, cringe, and rewrite it again. And then try to sell it. (Hint: rejections slips can double as wallpaper.)

If he can handle all that, he has a good chance of being a successful writer. If I've managed to discourage him, rather than make him mad enough to go and succeed, then he shouldn't even try.

Posted by: Kathy K on December 10, 2004 10:47 PM's never too early to hook into the sheer genius of the master....

Posted by: mr. helpful on December 10, 2004 11:14 PM

Toss a bit of Heinlein and Stephen Hunter in there and you have a list about right for his age. I should know; I'm in about the same position Matthew is in, same age too, and have read everything by the Dean. Above all else make sure he reads The gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. I'm reading it right now and it is so far a story on par or even surpassing some of RAH's better stories. Anyways, tell him I said good luck.

Posted by: King Steve on December 11, 2004 12:33 AM

You know, the scariest part of this post is that teenage boys are asking acidman for advise! Think about it,,,

Posted by: Michele on December 11, 2004 07:12 AM

Oh wow, I did my Advance Placement essay exam on "A Connecticut Yankee etc." Treated it as an SF novel, which it is, and I suspect that that was how I got such a good score. Got me out of a whole year of English classes at Ga. Tech. Looking back now, maybe that was a bad idea. I wasn't very good at math, had to take diffykew twice to pass it. Owhell.

Definitely Kipling, though, for two reasons.

1. The man had a good ear for English speech and culture.

2. If you can get an unedited, uncensored version, you can see that people weren't always such PCs.

(PC stands for Law Enforcement Vulva.)

A large, OLD dictionary would be good, too, as would be any edition of Roget's Thesaurus before the current one.

Oh, and he must have a copy of the Rubber Bible, AKA "Handbook of Chemistry and Physics." If you don't study that stuff, that means it's even more important to be able to look it up.

Don't forget Tennyson, and most particularly don't forget Houseman. This IS stupid stuff,and malt really does justify God's ways to Man.

Posted by: Justthisguy on December 11, 2004 07:50 AM

Whoops! Did I write "Roget's Thesaurus"? I meant to write "Bartlett's Quotations." The current edition of that one has suffered from the attentions of the Police Cunts. I think the Thesaurus is pretty much unchanged.

Posted by: Justthisguy on December 11, 2004 08:03 AM

"We The Living" and "The Fountainhead" are good starts, too. Let those digest before attempting "Atlas Shrugged"

Posted by: Ralph Gizzip on December 11, 2004 11:13 AM

I would like to throw in a suggestion of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. It's a good book and she wrote it when she was 17 years old. This would show the young man that he doesn't need to "mull" anything. And that if he gets after it maybe he'll find that he has some talent.

Posted by: Wayne on December 11, 2004 11:52 AM

You have to add "Have spacesuit will travel"
by R.A. Heinlein, no young man should go thru his teen years without reading that book.

Posted by: buba on December 11, 2004 04:05 PM

Geez, the only book that grabbed my attention in school was "Animal Farm"

I think that's just the person I am though.

If you have a 50$ gift certificate, don't waste it on stuff you can get on loan from any library.

Posted by: ErikZ on December 11, 2004 10:09 PM

I sent these off to Matt, I think I cc'd you, but I'm not sure, so I'll put 'em here as well.

- - - - -

I offer the following supplemental list for any age, from 12 on up, as examples of good writing:

ANY of Robert Heinlein's so-called "juveniles" - i.e., Rolling Stones, Red Planet, etc.

Robert Heinlein "adult themes" - Starship Troopers, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. Stranger in A Strange Land, if you're feeling .....odd. Although it won the Hugo, I don't believe it measures up to Troopers or Mistress.

Heinlein's Grumbles from the Grave (edited by Mrs. Heinlein) - a fascinating at the letters he sent back and forth to his agent, and to J.W. Campbell, among others.

And yes, I'm a Heinlein fan.

Mark Twain - Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer

The above should provide entertainment, at the very least.

For dialect and regional usage of English, I suggest A Journey to Matecumbe or The Travels of Jamie McPheeters, by Robert Lewis Taylor.

For a theory of Why Western Culture Is Dominent in the World Today, check out Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. Good, clear, no-frills writing.

For military history - The Two Ocean War by Samuel Eliot Morrison - meticulous and interesting, with a postive wealth of ideas for aspiring writers. Again, good, clear writing.

For mysteries - Ellery Queen - Very clear writing, and ALL the clues are there. Great fun.

Rob, if you haven't read 'em, why not?

Glad you had fun in Costa Rica. Remember, non illegitimus carborundum!

Regards....WARD (

Posted by: Ward Gerlach on December 12, 2004 12:38 AM

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz, I agree w/ Ward, anything by Heinlen

Posted by: bren on December 12, 2004 06:53 PM

How about the National Lampoon 1964 High School Yearbook?

Posted by: Jim on December 12, 2004 07:47 PM


Posted by: Brett on December 13, 2004 10:20 AM

Steinbeck (especially The Winter of our Discontent) and Hemmingway.

Anything by John Gardner, especilly Grendel, The Wreckage of Agathon and The Sunlight Dialogues. For an aspiring writer, The Art of Fiction should get the juices going. Gardner is good. If you haven't read him you're in for a treat.

Posted by: Gramps on December 13, 2004 01:02 PM

I'll second (or third, whatever) just about anything by Mark Twain -- I love his .. oh, I forget what it's called, but he wrote a great bit about why the French don't like the "Famous Jumping Frog..." story.

Heinlein is also excellent. The Moon is a Harse Mistress ("Nobody bounces like a Lunie gal") is on of my faves.

But the top book I would (and have) recommended to people that age is "Flowers for Algernon". Still one of my all time favorites, and possibly the _only_ book I've read more than twice, as I rarely reread books.

Posted by: Strider on December 13, 2004 01:19 PM

I really appreciate blogs like this one becuase it is insightful and helps me communicate with others.
thanks.also, that guy billyz, I really need to talk to you about that cure you mentioned.

Posted by: online pharmacy on February 1, 2005 11:55 AM

I really appreciate blogs like this one becuase it is insightful and helps me communicate with others.
thanks.also, that guy billyz, I really need to talk to you about that cure you mentioned.

Posted by: online pharmacy on February 1, 2005 03:28 PM
Post a comment

*Note: If you are commenting on an older entry, your
comment will not appear until it has been approved.
Do not resubmit it.