5 Books You Should Read to Help You Write Better
Updated: Apr 11
A lot of the time, people say to me, “you write so well, what can I do to write like you?” or “I also want to be a writer, what can I do to improve?” and my answer to them is this - read more, write better. It’s really that simple.
Ever since I was little, I’ve been a voracious reader. Seldom would one find me without a book in my hand – and I read everything I could get my hands on. No seriously, anything! Apart from books, newspapers, and magazines, I read the backs of cereal boxes, and instruction manuals for electronic devices … I even read the backs of shampoo bottles! At the age of 6, I knew the word ‘dimethicone’. Did I know what it meant? No. But I knew the word.
Reading helped me immensely. It didn’t just introduce me to new vocabulary, it also inspired me to become a writer. It made me also want to tell stories and paint pictures with words. More than long-form text though, I took to poetry because I was consumed by the works of Shelly, Frost, Poe, and my all-time favourite, Blake. After many years of writing poetry, I found my way into journalism, and later blog writing for IT companies.
It's been a long road, but the pavement has been the same. Without reading, there’s no writing. Which is why in this post, I’m going to introduce you to 5 books that will help you write better. Not because they tell you how to write, no. Because these books inspired me, honed my vocabulary, and made me a better writer. I’m hoping it’ll do the same for you.
How To Be A Writer – Ruskin Bond
The names Bond. Ruskin Bond. If you are an avid reader, you definitely know the name, Ruskin Bond. If you’re not, then you should. What makes Ruskin Bond interesting for me as a 30-Something With M, is the fact that I grew up reading his books, as he grew up writing them. Sure ‘The Room on the Roof’ was published in the late 50s and Bond is inching toward his 90s, but his massive collection of children’s stories kept me rather occupied till my teens along with the likes of Enid Blyton and Rudyard Kipling, and then his other books like ‘The Night Train at Deoli’, or ‘Delhi is not far’ was my introduction to India after I moved here from Dubai when I was an adult.
So, to be able to get into the mind of one of the most prolific writers of our time, and to have him talk about the process of writing in his inimitable humorous way, is quite literally a gift from a god. Sure there are others such as Stephen King and his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, but very few writers have a knack for simple storytelling that captivates readers of all ages.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
Yes the Bard of Avon has to feature on this list because let’s be honest, he’s inescapable. There is nary a literature programme in any school that will not include one of his works – the most popular being Julius Caesar, Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and my personal favourite, Macbeth.
A lot of what we say today comes from Shakespeare. From vocabulary to common phrases. We owe a lot to the man. Words like bump, dishearten, laughable, reliance, critic, auspicious … Heck, even the word ‘road’ was given to us by Shakespeare, along with a hundred others. Thanks to him, we also have such commonly used phrases like, “fight fire with fire”, “good riddance”, “baited breath”, “break the ice”, and probably the most famous, “knock knock! Who’s there?” It’s no wonder he is considered by many to be the father of modern English Literature.
Reading the many plays of William Shakespeare opened up my vocabulary and introduced me to phraseology, personification, alliteration, and the use of metaphors and similes. It helped me and inspired me to improve my craft – particularly poetry, by showing writing techniques I didn’t know I could employ. If you’re serious about becoming a better writer, then there is no better instructor than the Bard himself.
Meditations - Marcus Aurelius
Of all the books on this list, believe me when I tell you that this is practically the lowest barrier to entry. Available for less than ₹100 on Amazon (at the time of writing), it really doesn’t get easier, or cheaper than this – for the wealth of value that you’re going to gain.
Many writers will tell you that the best way to start writing, is to write. I know that sounds a tad redundant, but what it means is that your first outing doesn’t necessarily have to be a novel or a book of poetry. It can be as simple as a journal where you put down your thoughts, feelings, and observations. Much like how Marcus Aurelius, who is perhaps the best-known Stoic leader in history did with what is now come to be called ‘Meditations’. Originally written in Greek, Meditations has been translated many times over the last two millennia into numerous languages, so it’s not surprising that should you pick up two different copies of the book, they may not match up word for word – but that’s okay.
There are two reasons why this book Is on my list. Firstly, it is extremely easy to read, because this is not a story. Like I mentioned earlier, Meditations is almost like a journal where Aurelius recorded his thoughts about Stoicism. You can open the book to any page and be inspired by quotes such as, “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength” or “What we do now echoes in eternity.” Secondly, Meditations contains complex thoughts in simple language. Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions, and the book puts forth these thoughts beautifully. If you’re looking to be inspired while at the same time encouraged to think, Meditations is a great place to start.
Animal Farm – George Orwell
This modern classic is easily one of my favourite stories of all time, and makes the list for one very simple reason – a good writer can convey the deepest thoughts in the simplest language. Animal Farm is a novella that tells the story of a group of farm animals who rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where the animals can be equal, free, and happy. On a good day, the average reader can finish the book cover to cover in under an hour and be left spellbound. But what is so spellbinding about a bunch of animals you might ask. Well, it’s because Animal Farm is really a political satire about the failure of Communism.
Okay, that may be considered a spoiler, but I promise you, hand the book over to an early teen and ask them to tell you what they’ve learned after they’ve read the it. They’re likely to say that the book talks about inequality, misuse of power, or is just a great story about animals. To an adult on the other hand, Animal Farm has the makings of a Grisham thriller, in the guise of a Coelho parable. For those familiar with Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto (which the book actually references), the parallels are uncanny and cleverly intertwined.
In short, Animal Farm is a masterclass in storytelling, and the perfect introduction to Orwell’s other classics such as Nineteen Eighty-Four, Coming Up for Air, or his many essays. As someone looking to improve their writing, this is a book that proves that the best stories are often the simplest ones.
The Bible - Mathew, Mark, Luke, John, and Friends
If you recognised it in the header, well, I’m not kidding. I was raised Catholic so believe me when I tell you that there was A LOT of Bible reading in my house while I was growing up. As a child though, I will admit that I found a lot of the stories, especially the Old Testament rather fantastical. Jonah and the Whale, Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath. There are hundreds of Children’s books in fact that are based of off these stories. Why? Because they are great stories! They all have a lesson to learn, feature some interesting characters, and are timeless. Everything a great story should have. Even the parables of the New Testament make for great reading.
But it was as I grew older the Bible started to transform in its literary providence. I started to explore the darker sections of the Bible, you know, the fire and brimstone bits that talk about hellfire and apocalyptic revelations. I had so many questions, enough to write an entire anthology of poetry titled Cross Connection that I recently published and is available on my website. When you read the Bible, you will find much like in a Shakespearean drama, the language is very intriguing. And like Meditations, the Bible has been translated many times over in the last two thousand years, that you are likely to find different versions of it. My version of choice is the KJV or King James Version because, unlike the Good News Bible, the KJV has annotations and explanations in the centre column, along with footnotes. For those looking to understand the Bible, it’s a great place to start.
But as a writer, I encourage people to read the Bible because it is one of the greatest books of all time. Old to New Testament, the Bible has everything. Stories and prophecies aside, the language in the Bible is often simple, and yet in the same breath deeply profound. There are times when it gives you confidence, Isiah 60:22 “When the time is right, I the Lord, will make it happen” and there are times when it scares the pants off of you, 1 Peter 4:7 “But the end of all things is at hand, therefore be serious and watchful in your prayer.” And really, only the Bible can do that. As a writer, it didn’t really improve my language or vocabulary, as much as it inspired me to ask questions and be curious, and to do the same with my writing.
These are just five books that have made an impact on my writing journey. Of course, there are many others from master storytellers that I look up to –Paulo Coelho, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen – the list is endless. But the idea is still the same; the more you read, the better you will write. Every book has something to take away. Whether it’s the ability to build new worlds over 500,00 words like J. R. R. Tolkien did in The Lord of the Rings, or simply inspire you to be a better person like Richard Bach does in Jonathan Livingston Seagull using a mere 9000 words, never stop reading, never stop writing.