5 Books and the Lessons They Taught Me About Writing

Hello, friends! I would like to extend a grand THANK YOU for helping me to reach a significant milestone: Though this blog has only been around for less than a month, it has already racked up 50 FOLLOWERS! (Shoutout to Gravy for being my 50th follower)! That is insane. A huge thank you is in order for those who read, like, comment, and follow the stuff I post. If you’re interested in following me on my Road to Authorship and joining the 50 of my incredibly classy posse, have no fear! The ‘subscribe’ option is located at the top of the sidebar. For mobile users, it may be located at the bottom of the page. My phone is a rock so I’m not entirely sure.

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I’m feeling as accomplished as I did that time I golfed with the knights. And won. Gallantly.

I’ve really enjoyed interacting with fellow bloggers as well. There are a host of fascinating people out there, many of whom who are also braving the Road of Authorship! For me, the blogging experience has been more about consuming than creating, and I am content with that dynamic, as I find great joy in reading what other bloggers write.

I look forward to reaching 100 followers and beyond. But until then, I have something else to share! I’d like to present 5 lessons about writing I have learned from 5 of my favorite books.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee…

pvcategoryimage280220140516421605.jpgtaught me how powerful a character can be.

Strong characters are often taken to be of the “gritty fighter” breed. Jack Bauer and James Bond are strong, resonant characters because they kick ass at the expense of their well-being. Daryl Dixon of the Walking Dead is beloved for the same reason: All three characters are wounded tough guys who fight for the greater good with their fists (or crossbows).

Atticus Finch, however, showed me that there was a whole different way for a character to be badass: by embracing virtue. Whether Atticus is offering Scout wisdom or delivering his legendary appeals in the courtroom, his morality is palpable through his calm, honest countenance. In my mind, Atticus Finch should be considered among Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln as being a moral figure who exudes strength. That’s how real he is. And now I know that evoking a visceral reaction through a character by way of the pen is possible.

4. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain…

Kitchen-Confidential 2.jpeg…taught me how integral it is to hold onto voice (I wrote a post on this exact topic last week. You can check it out here).

You know who Anthony Bourdain is. Chances are, you’ve seen him on Travel Channel or CNN running around countries, drinking alcohol, and making edgy jokes.

That’s the Anthony Bourdain I knew before I picked up Kitchen Confidential, the book that propelled him to fame. I am pleased to say that the Anthony on TV is no different from the Anthony on the page. I literally read the book in his voice. Not in the literary sense, in the literal sense.

The book features Anthony’s opinions, insights, and style without any filter. Every crass joke, every filthy story, every brutally honest observation is true to his style, his persona, and his worldview. If the book was filtered, it simply wouldn’t be Anthony’s book. And then I wouldn’t consider it to be one of my all-time favorites. I am committed to holding onto my voice as a writer, and that is largely thanks to Bourdain’s stellar book.

3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini…

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…taught me that, even today, “new classics” can be ushered into the world.

“There is nothing new under the sun.” I agree with that bit of wisdom. Every story that surfaces owes dues to stories penned by Shakespeare and Homer and the unnamed authors of ancient Mesopotamia.

It is no secret that the Lion King was heavily influenced by the story of Hamlet, and the story of Hamlet was undoubtedly influenced by stories that came before it. Even Inception, a sci-fi thriller whose concept appears to be the most original seen on screen in decades, is a nostos tale comparable to the Odyssey. But those comparisons don’t negate the profound impact of the Lion King or Inception on the audiences who have experienced them.

In much the same way, the story of the Kite Runner, to me, reads like a “new classic.” The tale tells Amir’s personal story, yet its concepts and its scope could be applied to any time in history all the same. Hosseini showed me that writing a new classic was possible. And that thought is inspiring to me as a writer who is seeking to tell a story that resonates.

2. The Treasured Writings of Kahlil Gibran by Kahlil Gibran…

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My personal copy

…taught me that language is best used honestly.

Often times, writers feel compelled to sophisticate their writing by adding pounds of abstract detail and convoluted ideas into their work. The practice is tempting, after all. Elevating one’s work to a higher degree is certainly a goal worth striving for. But the way Kahlil Gibran achieves this “higher degree” is by approaching language in such a way that can best be described as honest.

Gibran pulls from nature and emotion to convey ideas clearly and without pretension, a style which suits his subject matter. His clarity has more impact on me than any flowery piece I’ve read. His messages and the imagery with which he delivers them are incredible.

The way Gibran uses language is how I would like to use language in my writing: Properly, clearly, and honestly.

Without a doubt, this 900 pound behemoth is worthy of your read.

1. Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan…

LOCCover.jpgtaught me that stories can transcend the page.

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan is my favorite book series of all time. And that is putting it lightly. In the future, I will write up some WoT-centric posts, so if there are any Robert Jordan fans reading, say hello in the comments so we can bask in the glory of the Pattern together.

Lord of Chaos is the 6th book of the 14-book fantasy series. This installment is not only my favorite of the series thus far (I am currently reading book 9) but my favorite book of all time. (cue Kanye). Now, don’t get me wrong. The Wheel of Time universe became real to me from the very beginning. Books 1-5 had plenty of exciting, engaging moments. But Lord of Chaos cranked up the profound nature of the series from a 10/10 to a 25/10.

Above the host of story-changing moments throughout the narrative, various significant character moments, and a refreshing look at the antagonists’ perspective, there is another thing which sets Lord of Chaos above anything I have ever read. Two words: Dumai’s Wells.

The effects that this event at Dumai’s Wells had on me, on the characters, and on the story amalgamated into one big, “Oh my God.” In the same way that one is shocked by national tragedies and the deaths of beloved celebrities, Dumai’s Wells was, for me, very, very real. I was nearly ill at the details. For writing on a page to force me to articulate this one event so strongly is evidence enough that, if crafted with passion and read with excitement, fictional word can become a part of somebody’s life. And that is powerful.

~J.J. Azar

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11 thoughts on “5 Books and the Lessons They Taught Me About Writing

  1. Excellent post, J.J.! I particularly liked the way you offered Atticus Finch as an example of a character who is powerful because of his intellect and morality, not because he can beat “the bad guys” with brute force.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Really enjoyed reading about what you enjoy reading. Really intrigued by the Wheel of Time series and the Anthony Bourdain book specifically… looks like I have some new books to add to the end of my long “to-read” list! This is a really cool post concept I’ve been considering creating something similar to myself so thanks for the inspiration you bring me, man. Great work.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Really cool of you to say! Really cool. (I had to. It’s no problem though. Comment-writing doesn’t count).
      As for writing up a post of this style, definitely go for it. Thinking back on what I’ve read and framing certain books as lessons/landmarks was cool, to say the least. The variety of book-types that popped into mind was surprising. I wasn’t expecting to reference non-fiction, let alone poetry.
      Kitchen Confidential is a riot. Bourdain’s rants against vegetarians stand out in my mind. No hate for vegetarians, but my Gosh, Bourdain is hilarious.
      Wheel of Time, as I mentioned, is something I can go on for ages about. But I will spare you. All I will say is that if you start it, understand you’re in for a long, joyous, unbelievably immersive experience. The books are so dense, so rich, and so full of good stuff. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you ever pick up Book 1!
      As always, thanks for reading, Roderick! It’s always appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can only imagine how productive such an exercise can be, definitely gonna try it out within the next couple days. In reference to you referencing non-fiction and poetry, I feel that I’ve learned some of the most profound things from these genres. Specifically, biographies which allow you to essentially live through another person’s life and get to absorb literally years or decades of knowledge boiled down into something that can be consumed in hours. I think that’s really cool. Really.
        I enjoyed watching Bourdain’s TV show immensely a few years back but am disappointed at the utter lack of vegetarian bashing. Not that I have anything against that either (my two sisters are actually both living the rabbit-lifestyle) but I can only imagine how hilarious such rants could be. Definitely gonna pick that one up.
        I’ll definitely check it out sometime even though I’m not the hugest fantasy fan. I prefer sci-fi when reading for recreation but a good fantasy series can definitely be cool. I do have a ‘to read’ list about 50 books long at the moment though… so it might be a while before you hear from me on the first in the series!
        Thank you for being such a cool guy J.J. I always enjoy chatting with ya and reading your work. Really.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: 100 Followers! + Q/A Announcement! – J.J. Azar

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