Book Recommendations

The best way to get better at writing is to read.  Exposing yourself to as much high-quality writing as possible is the fastest way to improve your own writing style; when you surround yourself with great writing, some of it is bound to rub off on you.

With that in mind, here are a few recommendations from Wordsmith Essay’s staff on some great books to read and enjoy.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

A classic sci-fi comedy filled with the absolute finest in British humor.  Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.  They, and a cast of wonderful characters, go on to travel the galaxy in a number of fantastic adventures.

The book is filled with fantastic character work, and some truly dazzling cases of wordplay and unexpected twists to sentences—the phrase “the ship hung in the sky in much the same way bricks don’t” is one that immediately jumps to mind as being playful and fun.  The series—there are five in the increasingly misnamed trilogy—is filled with exciting plots, great pace, and sophisticated satire.  The first two books—Hitchhiker’s Guide and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe are phenomenal.  The series goes downhill from there, but are still very much worth reading.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi tells the story of Pi Patel, the son of a zookeeper from India planning to move to Canada along with all of their zoo animals.  The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea.

The story is very much in the vein of classical adventure stories like Robinson Crusoe, mixed with deep philosophical musings on the strengths and weaknesses of religion, the difference between truth and fiction, and dealing with fear, despair and desperation.  A gripping read from cover to cover; it’s highly recommended.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Hemmingway museum in Oak Park, Illinois, and it tempted me to bring down some of my old Hemingway books and re-read them.  They’re just as good as I remember.

The Sun Also Rises tells the story of Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley, as they travel from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. It is an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions.  And it’s amazing.

Hemingway was a war correspondent and journalist, and that sort of spare writing—without unnecessary adjectives and descriptions—comes through in his style.  Hemingway’s style is simple, direct and unadorned.  He rarely uses adjectives to describe things, instead letting the emotion of the scene come through from the descriptions and events that take place.  It’s suggestive—it forces the reader to find the themes and deeper meanings hidden between the lines.  It was a stark break from the flowery writing of the Victorian era and still stands out today.  He’s simply one of the best writers of all time.



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