Writers On Reading

“When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.”
— Maya Angelou

What’s the best way to read a book? In addition to enjoying the pleasure of reading, these writers show us why it is important to read like a writer with an attention to detail and a keen literary eye. And more often than not, the best advice for aspiring writers is to read.


Genius And Ink by Virginia Woolf

Who better to serve as a guide to great books and their authors than Virginia Woolf?

Here is Woolf the critical essayist, offering, at one moment, a playful hypothesis and, at another, a judgement laid down with the authority of a twentieth-century Dr Johnson. Here is Woolf working out precisely what's great about Hardy, and how Elizabeth Barrett Browning made books a "substitute for living" because she was "forbidden to scamper on the grass". Above all, here is Virginia Woolf the reader, whose enthusiasm for great literature remains palpable and inspirational today.

How To Live. What To Do. by Josh Cohen

Literature matters. Not only does it provide escapism and entertainment, but it also holds a mirror up to our lives to show us aspects of ourselves we may not have seen or understood. From jealousy to grief, fierce love to deep hatred, our inner lives become both stranger and more familiar when we explore them through fiction.

Josh Cohen walks us through the different stages of existence, from childhood to old age, showing that literature is much more than a refuge from the banality and rigour of everyday life - through the experiences of its characters, it can show us ways to be wiser, more open and more self-aware.

Unfinished Business by Vivian Gornick

Unfinished Business is Vivian Gornick's celebration of passionate reading, of returning again and again to the books that have shaped her at crucial points in her life. In nine essays that traverse literary criticism, memoir, and biography, one of our most celebrated critics writes about the importance of reading - and re-reading - as life progresses.

Guided by Gornick's trademark verve and insight, Unfinished Business is a masterful appreciation of literature's power to illuminate our lives.

Where I'm Reading From by Tim Parks

Should you finish every book you start? How has your family influenced the way you read? What is literary style? How is the Nobel Prize like the World Cup? Why do you hate the book your friend likes? Is writing really just like any other job? What happens to your brain when you read a good book?

As a novelist, translator and critic, Tim Parks is well-placed to investigate any questions we have about books and reading. In this collection of lively and provocative pieces he talks about what readers want from books and how to look at the literature we encounter in a new light.

Read Dangerously by Azar Nafisi

What is the role of literature in an era when one political party wages continual war on writers and the press? What is the connection between political strife in our daily lives, and the way we meet our enemies on the page in fiction? How can literature, through its free exchange, affect politics?

In this galvanizing guide to literature as resistance, Nafisi seeks to answer these questions. Drawing on her experiences, she crafts an argument for why, in a genuine democracy, we must engage with the enemy, and how literature can be a vehicle for doing so.

In The Margins by Elena Ferrante

Here, in these four crisp essays, Ferrante offers a rare look at the origins of her literary powers. She writes about her influences, her struggles, and her formation as both a reader and a writer; she describes the perils of “bad language” and suggests ways in which it has long excluded women’s truth; she proposes a choral fusion of feminine talent as she brilliantly discourses on the work of Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, Ingeborg Bachmann, and many others.

Who We're Reading When We're Reading Murakami by David Karashima

Thirty years ago, when Haruki Murakami’s works were first being translated, they were part of a series of pocket-size English-learning guides released only in Japan. Today his books can be read in fifty languages and have won prizes and sold millions of copies globally. How did a loner destined for a niche domestic audience become one of the most famous writers alive?

David Karashima synthesizes research, correspondence, and interviews to examine how countless behind-the-scenes choices over the course of many years worked to build an internationally celebrated author’s persona and oeuvre.

Tolstoy Together by Yiyun Li

"I've found that the more uncertain life is," Yiyun Li writes, "the more solidity and structure War and Peace provides." Tolstoy Together expands the epic novel into a rich conversation about literature and ways of reading.

Along with Yiyun Li's daily reading journal and a communal journal with readers' reflections--with commentary on craft and technique, historical context, and character studies, Tolstoy Together includes a schedule and framework, providing a daily motivating companion for Tolstoy's novel and a reading practice for future books.

And The Lurid Glare Of The Comet by Brian Aldiss

Science fiction is everywhere. Imaginings of the future allow us to reshape our understanding of all that we experience - and through classic science fiction we are better able to understand the hopes and ambitions of the past.

With precision and humour Aldiss uses science fiction as a lens with which to examine some of his favourite authors and their work, the role of art and literature - and to look globally at nationhood and culture. With humility and rare insight Aldiss also turns the lens on himself and the experiences which informed his long career in the genre.