Lists of books that journalists or journalists-to-be should read aren’t hard to find. Inspired by one of the latest (A Reading List for Future Journalists at the Columbia Journalism Review), I asked second-year students what inspired and informed them. They came up with a great list and solid explanations.
Two things: There is a wide variety of interests, sources and inspiration, and my students — encouragingly — are a well-read bunch.
(Along the way, I discovered that while in high school they were assigned many of the same books I had to read 40+ years ago ‐ Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, etc.)
Here’s the list. I jotted down their explanations on the fly, so they’re telegraphic and short on nuance.
Learning to write
- Writing With Power, by Peter Elbow — good advice about the writing process that makes sense
- The Book of Your Voice, by Julie Elizabeth Leto — good writing advice on finding your voice
- Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark — easy to understand and some uncommon advice
- What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, by Malcolm Gladwell — explains complex stuff vividly
- New Kings of Nonfiction, edited by Ira Glass — compilation of great long-form writing
- Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936, by David Clay Large — deep, well-researched book on the 1936 Olympics
- Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler — Not for inspiration, but because you need to read to understand. (This addition to the list provoked, as you can imagine, some great discussion.)
- Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, by Mark Kriegel — great, deep biography, extensively sourced
- Punk, compiled by Mojo — read for interest and understanding
- 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann — Great popular science writing
- Songbook, by Nick Hornby — Showed me that I could be a journalist and write about music
- The Damage Done: Twelve Years of Hell in a Bangkok Prison, by Warren Fellows — short and powerful; profound storytelling
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson — inspiring, got me excited about journalism; showed me you can be different.
- 1984, by George Orwell — for the storytelling and the writing
- The Jade Peony, by Wayson Choy — finding and telling good stories that haven’t been told
- Brokeback Mountain, by Annie Proulx — writing for story and emotion
- The Road, by Cormac McCarthy — writing in different prose style, playing with structure and sustaining poetic flow
- Obasan, by Joy Kogawa — fiction based on reality
- The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova — writing about different places and customs
- Schismatrix, by Bruce Sterling — the creativity needed to create new worlds
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams — how to write humour
- Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov — precise, inventive use of language
- A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey — a different structure that works
- The Book of Negroes, by Lawrence Hill — empathetic writing and writing in other voices
- On the Road, by Jack Kerouac — a peek into the life of a writer of his time; inspirational
- King Rat, by James Clavell — good storytelling about human nature
- The Plague, by Albert Camus — a journalistic style that gives it the ring of truth; it reads like it could had been a true story.
- The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde — shows the importance of phrases and sentences that stop you
- Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts — great writing