Information expands at an exponential rate, and more books than a person can ever hope to read have been written. While we should expose ourselves to a broad body of knowledge, I believe we have the special task in this chaotic world to find the books that truly speak to us, so that we may learn them deeply.
Literature is not static. As we change, so do the lessons we take away.
That’s why I’ve made it a priority to begin collecting the books and tools that have influenced my life to such a degree that they have become indispensable.
My personal canon will be a forever-unfinished project that reflects the stories and ideas that matter to me. That way I can revisit them at different points in my life to learn something new and deeper about the world, as well as myself.
I hope one or more of these items speak to you, too.
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this novel has been described as the quintessential book on American politics. The prose is gorgeous; the story dramatic; and this is my favorite novel.
Different Seasons by Stephen King
From his prolific body of work, this book stands out not just as his best but among the best. It’s a collection of four novellas, including “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” (which inspired one of the best films ever made), “Apt Pupil” (which takes you places even the film didn’t dare go), and “The Body” (which became Stand by Me).
Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
The basis for the classic film noir directed by Billy Wilder and co-written by Raymond Chandler, this tale’s hard-boiled prose is both wicked and intimate at the same time.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
A memoir about his time in Paris in the 1920s, this book is a great insight into his writing process and his interactions with artistic luminaries of the time. Favorite quote:
I’ve seen you beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and pencil.
Speaking of quotes
This one acts as a guiding/humbling force, spoken by Michelangelo when he was 87:
Ancora imparo. (‘I am still learning.’)
Poetics by Aristotle
This classic text examines the elements of story and rules of drama. It’s required reading in film and theatre classes, but it’s conspicuously absent from fiction workshops. The language is thick at times, but if you’re a writer, this will become your primary reference.
Because it’s the Constitution. And because the clarity of thought and purpose this document communicates is so wholly impressive that I cannot suppress my amazement every time I read it. It even values authors.
Obviously, not a book. This music holds an important place in my heart and, as such, plays a role in my first novel. As one of my characters says of jazz enthusiasts: “We’re a small but strong group.”
If you’ve ever attended a show—hopefully in a small venue, where the atmosphere is concentrated to its purest form—the energy of the audience cheering on the musicians is contagious.
With the number of jazz stations dwindling, it’s important to keep America’s original art form thriving. Tune in to LA’s public radio station KJazz 88.1 FM when you get a chance, or listen on the web at jazzandblues.org.