Top-Shelf Books

The writers of these top-shelf books are my teachers, the ones I turn to in order to learn how to write. They are the people whose work has shaped not only my writing but my thinking and my spirit. They have no idea they have done such a thing to me, save the one I met twenty years ago and with whom I exchange letters on occasion.


Some of those top-shelf books are on writing, though only a few of them. Others are autobiographies whose pages describe the joy and the cost of living the life of a writer. A handful are collections of essays or volumes of poetry. There are a few novels there too, one or two of them perfectly written, at least by my lights.


Any writer should have a shelf of such books. He need not read the writers I read. But he should never forget that we are all going to write under the influence of someone. Better for him if those writers are better than most. At the very least they should be the ones who make him want to lie down and take deep breaths before taking up his pen. Those are the books that will make him live, and write, more intensely. Reading anything less will not help him grow as a writer.


A direct relationship exists between the caliber of the writing you read and the caliber of the writing you make.

 – by Robert Benson, “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”